Volunteer with Us

This year we’re inviting a number of guest bloggers to write about the Harp Festival. Today’s post is by Louise Douglas, a long-serving volunteer with the Festival. This is Louise’s account of Festival life as a Steward!

To Steward or not to Steward? That is the question. 

Or I should say that was the question!

I have 31 strings on my little Briggs harp and just the other day it occurred to me it will soon be 31 days till the start of the festival.  How many strings are on your harp?  Has your countdown already started?

The closeness really struck home to me when the Stewards Volunteer form arrived.

Four years ago I asked myself “should I or should I not be a steward?” Feeling completely inadequate I put my name down to steward. The day of the festival dawned I was jittery but there was no turning back now—I had studied the information booklet on stewarding I had lost sleep and gained bags under my eyes.  I attended the stewards meeting—what more could I do? The answer to this was really simple—do your best and don’t worry.

As I pinned my badge on, someone asked me “excuse me but where is the nearest toilet” ?  With an air of authority I said “through the double doors and it is just on the left”. With that my fountain of knowledge began to bubble forth at least, that is, until the second question was asked.  “I am an OAP. Do I get a concession on concert tickets and if I buy three or more do I get a further concession, also may I just ask at the same time where is Chalmers West and is the Tai Chi class there?” I sought refuge in the office after saying to the lady “could you just excuse me for a moment”. Here I was given the answers and an understanding smile.

Over the last four years I have chatted with other stewards and gained insight into reasons why people take on steward duties. Last  year Haley Hewitt was steward for the first time. I asked her how she felt about putting her name forward.

I wanted to be at the festival on my Spring Break from school and I wanted to help out where I could so I volunteered to Steward. I was mildly apprehensive of not knowing anything but also very excited to be surrounded by harping—but the learning curve for helping is quite easy and participants are generally friendly and patient.  It wasn’t nearly as scary as it could have been and I was happy to help.

Haley Hewitt 1st time steward

I agree with Haley, people in general are friendly and patient and she has to be commended for her ‘happy to help’ attitude.

Young Jack Westwell has approached stewarding for entirely different reasons. I am not sure about the free home bakes and hot chocolate in the office being the best of incentives but when you are Jack’s age it could be a bit of an inducement. The young being involved is so vital. The harp festival depends on them to carry the festival into the future. Jack had a real enthusiasm that I found contagious.

I enjoy stewarding because it makes you feel part of the festival, even if you don’t play the harp.  You can enjoy home bakes and drinks.  This year I was stewarding at the ceilidh dancing workshop and was requested to participate as there was a shortage of males.  Seriously speaking apart from being good fun, it gives you experience of working a till and using a card machine.  I’ll be able to put it on my CV when applying for a summer job.  I will volunteer again this year and would encourage others to do so too.

Jack Westwell, Age 16

Not to be overlooked or underestimated is the invaluable contribution our long serving stewards make. I asked Charles Hope his view on stewarding.

After coming to the Festival for 3 years, I felt I ought to put something back, so offered to help out.  I found that being involved at the organising level helped me make new friends.  I stewarded at a couple of concerts and also helped at the registration desk on the first day– A great way of getting to know people— and was barman at the Corner Room Bar a couple of nights.  This year with a slightly longer class and workshop timetable, I’ve been buzzing!  I’ve been running the bar every night as well as manning the information desk.  “Where is the the nearest toilet” is the most common question.  The bar – even with two of us – can get very hectic.  The ability to add up in your head is essential as is remembering what everything costs.  And, of course, nearly every one has £20 notes after using the cash point.  The best bit is the look of horror on the faces of the session participants when I say the bar is about to close!.

Charles Hope

By becoming more involved he has really added to his enjoyment of the festival.

Ann Carter who accompanies her daughter said:

I decided to do a bit of stewarding as this is the third year that I have accompanied my harping daughter and I finally know the lay-out!  My first stewarding session was a fairly relaxed and friendly experience—anything I couldn’t deal with was dealt with efficiently by the senior steward.  It is largely a “’learn on the job’ experience and a pleasant enough task.  Lots of friendly people and a sociable way to pass the time which I would thoroughly recommend.  It is nice to be able to offer some support.

Ann Carter

The number of people I could have interviewed would all have given different answers but the point is they all have reasons.  We have the example of good, hard work, selfless leadership at ‘the top’. So last year when the stewarding application form arrived on my door step, I opened it up and I came to the part that asked “are you willing to senior steward? ” I did not tick the box.  I just wrote below to Helen “Oh dear Helen, should I or should I not senior steward?”

When the rota came back I was down for senior stewarding.  Once again I was jittery but there was no turning back—I studied the senior steward notes, lost sleep, gained bags under my eyes and attended the stewards meeting. The day came and I pinned my badge on and guess what?   Someone asked me a question I did not know the answer to and yes, once again I found myself in the office being helped by the same kindly faces with that smile of understanding.

So my conclusions were as follows:

  1. I am not going to ask myself should I steward. I am going to steward
  2. I am not going to be overly anxious about what I don’t know.
  3. I am part of a large team and among us we will do very well.
  4. I am going to enjoy.

Now here is my strategy so that the 4 points can be made possible. So as to be completely familiar with as much of  the festival before it starts I am helping out on the 4th of April with the setting up and in this way will know who is who, what is what, where is where, and maybe even ‘where is the nearest toilet to allow dads to change nappies?” (careful how you answer this)

Some people have said “I wish the festival was longer” If you wish the harp festival to be that little bit longer, come along on the Thursday before to help set up. Get in touch and ask for a stewarding form. What better way to conclude than by letting our dear Isobel Mieras have the final word;

“Without the stewards there would be no festival”