Festivals turn to deprived areas for volunteers

A volunteer at the 2014 Commonwealth Games gives advice at Glasgow Central Station. Picture: SNS
A volunteer at the 2014 Commonwealth Games gives advice at Glasgow Central Station. Picture: SNS
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Volunteers are being recruited from some of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas to help form a new army of volunteers to welcome people to the city’s festivals during their 70th anniversary year.

Some participants in a new “Festival City Volunteers” scheme are expected to get their first taste of the city’s flagship cultural events this summer during the roll-out of the project in August.

The volunteers are planned to become the new friendly face of the festivals in both the Old and New Towns - highlighting the range of events that are on, helping to find key venues and offering advice on buying tickets.

A 40-strong army of volunteers is due to be recruited for the street patrols scheme, which is hoped to be expanded to several hundred in future years and involve events throughout the year.

All participants will undergo two days of training about the festivals, how to find your way around the city when they are on, visitor attractions, customer service and public transport. During the festivals they will get access to major events like the opening curtain-raiser to the Edinburgh International Festival and a preview performance of the Tattoo, behind-the-scenes access and guided tours of venues, and discounted ticket offers.

Lothian Buses, one of the main partners in the project, will be creating special uniforms for the volunteers, as well as providing a base for them in their shops and offering free travel passes. Volunteers must agree to do a minimum of six four-hour shifts during the festivals.

Areas like Granton, Craigmillar and Sighthill, where there are low levels of participation in the festivals, have been targeted for the £30,000 pilot, which is being run by umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh.

Initial funding for the pilot has come mainly from the city council, with VisitScotland, Marketing Edinburgh and the various festivals also supporting the new venture in various ways. Trusts, foundations and commercial sponsors are being asked to come on board to ensure the Festival City Volunteers become a familiar sight on the streets of Edinburgh when major events are on in future years.

Festivals Edinburgh director Julia Amour said: “As part of our 70th anniversary celebrations we wanted to help more people across the city feel part of the festivals family.

“We really want to reach out across the city to different communities to give more people an opportunity to experience the festivals, learn more about them, and then share that enthusiasm with visitors to the city. They will get to feel part of something really special, but will also gain from new skills.

“There is a really unique opportunity here. We’ve obviously been inspired by the Host City Volunteers project in Glasgow in 2014, but of course that was a one-off project for the Commonwealth Games. Edinburgh has this major event happening in the city every summer.

“They will be helping people to navigate around the festivals and they city. They will be asking people what they are looking to do and whether they are thinking about other things, and whether they know if there are certain festivals going on and where they all are.

“They can also help the people with questions they have about what to do, places to eat and where to get the best photographs. It’s about helping and welcoming visitors, as well as championing the festivals and how people to get the most out of them.”Edinburgh College students are being encouraged to sign up for the project, which is hoped will help some participants find work or secure places on training programmes. The scheme, been partly inspired by the success of volunteers during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, is also open to anyone in the city to apply to before the 3 July deadline.

The project website states: “It doesn’t matter if you don’t have experience. We will train you to build confidence, customer service skills and cultural knowledge. We’re looking for people who want to develop an interest in arts and culture, and who would like to increase their confidence, connections, skills or employability.”

“When we first started discussing the project with the festivals we all felt strongly that the emphasis should be on the experience people got and they skills they gained. We wanted them to be genuine volunteer roles and not in any way be substituting for jobs.

“For some of the volunteers, depending on what their ambitions are, there may be routes into training or work.

“For others it may be about being part of something special and meeting new people. It should be great for what people want it to do for them.

“We are very clear that the emphasis is on how the volunteers benefit from these experiences. We want to see them get the very most out of it.”

Gaynor Marshall, communications director of Lothian Buses, said: “The services we provide are absolutely integral to city life and we’re really committed to delivering a fantastic experience for visitors to Edinburgh.

“Supporting the festival city volunteer project is a perfect match with what we’re trying to achieve as a company. It’s also a great way to reach out to the community and involve Edinburgh residents, who are often the greatest ambassadors for our amazing city and all that it has to offer.”

Donald Wilson, culture leader at the city council, said: “Who better to champion the city and the festivals in this milestone year than our citizens?

“This is a fantastic opportunity for both seasoned and new festival fans to be part of the beating heart of Edinburgh in August.

“The council is delighted that this programme will shine a spotlight on our people and our communities, provide vital training and skills development, and the opportunity to share Edinburgh’s love of culture with visitors from all over the world. I imagine the roles will receive a lot of interest.”