Volunteering at Span Arts
By volunteer Sarah Miles
I’ve been a Volunteer for Span Arts since the end of March, around 7 months. Since starting I’ve been able to work alongside staff and other volunteers to help deliver events in Narberth and other areas. One of the first things I noticed when I began volunteering was that I was often the youngest person volunteering. It made me wonder if I was volunteering at the right type of organisation, if I should try and volunteer elsewhere. My worries soon subsided after getting to know everyone better, and being around people with similar interests and values, I’ve found, is a great way to spend a few hours a week.
I had first thought about volunteering for Span Arts after feeling the need to get back into the industry while working in a different sector. I had just moved to West Wales from South Wales, where one of my local arts centres had recently shut down (it opened back up September 2015). It had been quite a successful arts venue, but, as many with many recreational and leisure activities during economic austerity, suffered with lack of support and funding. Now that I had a new local arts centre, I didn’t want to see the same happen again, so felt the need to contribute my help to a similar arts centre. My previous job before moving to West Wales was situated in Cardiff Bay, and there I worked directly opposite The Coal Exchange, previously used as a live music venue with one of the best reputations in Wales for artists to perform. It had closed down many years before, and was a giant decrepit example of what happens when performance venues die. Seeing it almost every day really had an influence on me.
I had also studied Event Management in Cardiff Metropolitan University, and as someone who attended lots of live performances and events, loved learning about the industry, and what Wales’ role was within it. My favourite module of my course was arts and culture studies, where I enjoyed learning about the importance of the arts industry, how to engage audiences and where the industry had its shortcomings. The best part of the course that it made me think about areas of events that I had never considered before, and loved the challenges we would encounter and try to solve from a management perspective.
I visited the Span Arts website, and read about their Mission Statement, ’Arts for Everyone’. This resonated with me because it is something I have always believed in. At a time when money is tight, people are using food banks and struggling to heat their homes, places for entertainment and enjoyment are forced to close down. At a time when it is most needed. I also read about The Cheerful Project, an offshoot of Span Arts whose main goal was to decrease rural isolation and increase cheerfulness. The population of the town I had moved to was a fifth of the size of the town I had moved from, and I had found it hard to meet new people, so Span Arts seemed like the perfect organisation for me to give my time to.
When I first began volunteering for Span Arts, I was very excited that my first role would be to help out at a music gig in The Queens Hall as an usher. The band were called Babyhead, and were fantastic to watch live. I felt very privileged to be able to take part in the event, and to work with the other volunteers and Span Arts staff to deliver the experience to the audience. Seeing everyone enjoy themselves, dancing, singing and talking, made me look around and think what these people would have been doing if Span Arts wasn’t around to host and promote the night. I felt very grateful to be able to be part of it.
I continued my volunteering by offering to help in the Span Arts offices, which are right next door to The Queens Hall. Here I was able to get an insight on the inner workings of what was needed to achieve a successful event. I was given the role of helping with the volunteer database, where information on all volunteers was stored. For every event that Span Arts runs, there needs to be volunteers to help. From advertising events by putting up posters, setting up the equipment in the venue, to managing the box office and selling tickets, ushering and selling refreshments – all the volunteers need to be coordinated from the volunteer database. It was surprising for me to see how much Span Arts depended on volunteers, and very rewarding to feel part of a team of people who also felt the need to support their local arts centre. I have now tried my hand at most of the roles available there, and get great satisfaction in being so involved.
I enjoy being able to use my skills, and improve them, while also helping out somewhere that needed my support. I had volunteered at different places before, and hadn’t always been valued as much as I’d have liked, but it was different here, and everyone made an effort to treat each other the same, whether they were staff or volunteers.
When Summer came, Span Arts put on a great programme of events that I had the pleasure of being involved in. Most notably, The Big Plant Sale, which I learnt was quite a pinnacle event for Narberth, as well as Span.
Working with Span Arts as a volunteer has done all the things voluntary work should – allowed me to meet new people, improve my skills and allowed my confidence to strengthen. But it’s also allowed me to learn first hand how important it is to work together to achieve memorable experiences. The more people get to enjoy what Span Arts do, the more likely they are to support it, and the more likely it will be that people will be able to enjoy it for years to come.
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