Volunteering: Festival of Nature

Last week, I finally got around to volunteering (it took me long enough).
I signed up to help set up for the Festival of Nature; while not technically sci-comm, it’s still useful volunteering experience, and a chance to get used to events in a relatively comfortable environment. So far, I’ve been put off from signing up to most of the volunteering events I’ve seen because of their social aspects, and the potential for making a fool out of myself in talking to new people.

However, the Festival of Nature had two different types of volunteering available; the Engagement Team, and the Production Team. The Engagement Team duties would have been helping exhibitors at their stalls, helping run activities, and talking to visitors face-to-face. The Production Team, on the other hand, were the background helpers- taking part in setting up stalls and exhibits, running equipment around the festival locations, and generally being helping hands.Having that option available made it a lot easier for me to be ok with starting here.

Another part of why I get nervous about the idea of volunteering was being worried about doing tasks wrongly and being unhelpful. But because the Production Team role was basically what I used to do every week setting up for my youth group (just on a larger scale and with much less equipment held together by duct tape) that fear was reduced too. I also hoped that being expected to be on the move/doing something all time would make talking to new people less of a big deal, as we would all be focused on our individual tasks.

My first shift was on the Thursday, and I seriously underestimated how hot the weather would be! There were 7 of us on today’s shift, all students and almost all science students; I was expecting a bigger group, but 7 was a good number as it meant I wasn’t ever standing around with nothing to do.

Most of our tasks were about what I expected- lots of plant loading (which my hayfever didn’t appreciate), fence panel moving, taking things between Millenium Square and the Mshed and Arnolfini, and setting up the festival flags (mine was the one in the picture). However, we were warned at the beginning to expect the unexpected, and my favourite mission of the day- retrieving a paper bear sculpture and paper squirrel sculpture and wheeling them through town on a trolley was a surprising highlight, for weirdness value alone.

My next shift, on Friday, was much quieter; in fact, we were rained off an hour before we were supposed to finish. I was kind of disappointed at being rained off, as ending so early meant I didn’t get the same feeling of involvement and progress I had the day before. However, the day itself was still good; some of the friendly volunteers from Thursday were there again, and I bumped into a uni friend too. Also, I saw a few seconds of Science of the Lambs being tested on the Big Screen; I’m excited to see that run fully on Saturday.

Now that both my shifts are done, I’m glad I chose this as a starting point. Being able to focus on doing logistical tasks and just helping out meant I wasn’t worried about taking part, so I was able to just go there, join in and be useful. That’s made taking part in more volunteering seemmore doable, which is what I was hoping for.

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