Having spent more hours than I can even count collecting and posting photos of our volunteers, screengrabs from websites that featured us, scans of magazine and newspaper articles, pieces of writing from journalists and BFS members, news about groups and events, behind the scenes stuff and official Board of Directors information for this blog I realised today that I don’t often write about my own personal experience of a BFS festival.
Personal experience is a huge part of what we try to express through our online presence and something I’d like to include a lot more of here, so I thought it was about time I wrote something from my own perspective as a volunteer Group Organiser. I’m Tanya and this is my story. For Samhuinn 2012, Zander and I organised the Samhuinn Support Team, a group of over 30 stewards, photographers and bucketeers. It was a huge undertaking. Hats off to anyone else who has ever co-ordinated a group of this size.
It began with a plan and some legal stipulations. Did you know that the police and council have requirements for how many stewards we need to have at our festivals? And that there’s legislation related to what we should wear to ensure that we’re visible to the crowd and emergency services? Hearing the words “This is what we need or the event can’t happen” was a terrifying moment which gave rise to what has been a unique challenge in my time as a BFS volunteer.
Recruitment began in September and group training started in October. There’s a lot more to being a steward than simply standing around in a hi-vis vest. There’s health and safety protocol, crowd management techniques and interpersonal skills to work on and we decided that the best way to have an effective team was to steward-train the photographers and bucketeers too. So, fully recruited, rehearsed and ready to rock, Samhuinn arrived!
At 5pm on Wednesday evening, we headed to our getting ready space. Big thanks go out to the Banshee Labyrinth on Niddry Street who very kindly donated the use of their Pool Room for us to get dressed and painted in. We even had the bar next to the Pool Room to relax in once faces were painted and layers of clothing were put on, and the staff were wonderful. When you’re organising a large group, getting ready in someone’s flat isn’t an option so when you see groups of painted and costumed BFS members dancing through the streets, you can be pretty sure that some lovely establishment in Edinburgh has offered discount room hire or donated space to help make that possible. This is something that our audience rarely hear about but that we genuinely couldn’t function without and we are grateful for the support of local businesses and organisations for their help.
After a careful tidy of our room at the Banshee, we ventured out onto the Royal Mile and up to Cathedral Square to run through our processional order and do some last-minute information sharing before the festival started. At this point, I was too focused on making sure everything ran smoothly to feel excited, scared or anything else really…apart from a slight concern that the interview Zander was doing for STV would be punctuated with me shouting “Ok, everyone, get into the right order and make sure you know who is in front of and behind you”. It wasn’t. Recording technology is obviously better than I thought.
At 8pm we left a small group of stewards with tech in the Square to form the gate for the procession when it arrived and made our way up to Johnston Terrace, depositing people at points along the way, with hands full of flyers and big smiles on our faces. Then we got to work! Crowds had begun to gather already, so there was lots of chatting, flyering and photographing going on while I met our police escort. The police officers we had at the festival were absolutely amazing – polite, friendly and just generally really nice.
Then the other groups started to arrive, the procession formed up and we started moving! That was when the excitement really kicked in…the realisation that after months of preparation, it was actually happening. Our audience this year was huge and there was such amazing energy with tourists and visitors mingling with local people, many of them in costume and face paint and seemingly most of them either filming or taking pictures.
During the performance, I spent most of my time in the crowd, handing out flyers, talking to spectators about what was going on and collecting generous donations from our audience. At one point I even found myself explaining a (rather abridged!) version of the Samhuinn story in French to two very excited tourists. Something that really blew me away was how many people already knew quite a lot about the festival and mentioned having visited us on Facebook. BFS’s social media has been a big focus for me this year, so it was fantastic to have first-hand experience of its effects.
After the drums stopped and the crowd dispersed, it was time to go to the after party. This year’s post-Samhuinn club was at Espionage, where we had our own private section of the club for performers and guests only. The atmosphere was electric and it was great to catch up with everyone and share stories. 3am came too quickly and having been on my feet and in full social-mode for hours, a hot shower beckoned.
I’m still buzzing with excitement and in spite of being completely exhausted, sleep hasn’t come easily. The festival might be over, but the online updates, photo sharing and post-event admin and debriefing has only just started. My to-do list of Board of Directors business to tackle in the down-time between Samhuinn and Beltane is long. Samhuinn is my favourite time of year and always leaves me with a feeling of potential and joy. One journey ends and another begins.
Thanks to Raini Scott for the photo and for the Samhuinn Support Team for being a wonderful bunch to work with over the last couple of months.
If you would like to share your experience of being a volunteer, performer or audience member at a BFS festival, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org