10 years ago Keith and I decided to be a host family for a couple of children from belarus. The whole ideas is to open your home and your heart to these kids to enable them to live in a ‘clean’ land, breathing clear air and not eating food that is contaminted from the soil in which it all grow.
Long story short is that the girls came and lived with us, at the time money was short, I was back at uni full time training to become a pshychotherapist ( A life long dream)
I was breast feeding and working full time teaching. All this was going on and along with my kids and keith business still in its infancy, money was short.
So we called around some local attractions to see if they could donate a couple of tickets to allow us to get the russian girls into places and allow us to give them a great experience.
One of the places we contacted was the Northern Green Gathering, it was happening just up the road from us, we offered our skills and painted up the composting loos so we could get a couple of free tickets for our guests.
While I was there I supported the team in the welfare tent and continued to create bits of arts around the site. I’d not been to a festival for years and years and it felt like going home, talking to folks like us, letting the kids runs wild and watching our Russian girls enjoying such simple pleasures without poisoning themselves with every breath that they took.
From that weekend, lots of weird things came together and before I knew it I was selling a concept to number of festivals, offering a free creative space and asking only for donations.
Volunteers came forward and a crew formed and we suddenly had a prospective business that could allow us to enjoy the festival scene offer something back and assist others to get into the festivals without having to buys tickets.
Looking back, Keith and I were funding it all ourselves, we bought materials and paid for insurance, fuel and various other bits and bats…( I still remain in awe of the kits we have collected over the years and maintaining it is always a challenge. )
by the end of that first season i had plowed over £3k into the space and was still not charging festivals for the work I was doing.. things had to change, I was funding not only the festival organiser’s profit margins but was litrally paying for my crew’s summer!
I learned fast and things got better, I started to ask for a small fee which covered costs and began to look at ways in which i could make enough money from the space without over charging and charging the public tons of money… my aim was to provide free creative activities.. I didn’t want to loose that.
Things grew and my stratergies developed and by year 4 a system and concept had evolved. I invited subcontractors into the space who charged the public and gave me a percentage, this paid for the free activities we offered, some fuel costs and other random items such as phone bills and stationary galore.
Suddenly it felt viable, it had taken time but we were nearly there, nearly paying for the hours per day i was working and also offer others the chance to make a few bob too.
But with growth came casualties, crew who had vollunteers wanted to develope their businesses, and quite right they were too, they like me needed to make a living. But my business wasnt ready to pay anyone, I’d only just started to cover costs and still needed £7k to come back to our savings account to repay our investment over the years.
I didnt dare to work out what my hourly rate was, i just knew it was best not to look. But no one saw it and friends left, often unappy, feeling I had let them down, that i was been stingy and greedy. I felt awful, it hurt me to think folks could feel this way
But.. It’s our tenth anniversary and things are much clearer these days. We have an amazing ethos and the community we have created a wonderful space and business.
I have a mixture of staff now, we have paid managers and performers as well as traders who pay a pitch fee or percentage to us to be in the space. We still have volunteers and I work hard to ensure they don’t feel cheated.
Festivals have run off the back of the work of volunteers for years and without people working in return for their ticket, the whole sector would collapse.
It’s a funny thing but it’s actually the volunteers that get more out of working for us! And in turn we get more in return! They are the ones who arrive with ideas and nervous energy and the ones who come away inspired and content. Those who are paid tend not to emerge themselves in quite the same way.
Maybe when you get a wage you get responsibility? You need to fulfil your role and with that expectation comes more stress? When you are employed you feel you need to fulfil an aim and objective and I find it holds people back in terms of confidence to explore their work.
I find volunteers are much more able to explore their own ideas and happily and confidently take ownership of their roles. They come up with ideas and go above and beyond with the opportunity to experiment with their role.. Maybe this isn’t something you can do if you’ve been paid a fee for a specific task? I don’t know.. I’m trying to work it out,
It’s important to me that all crew wether volunteers or paid , feel trusted and acknowledged. We have very high standards and expect the best , but the best way to do this is not to design and force people in to roles that simply act put your ideas. (Square peg round hole)
Giving staff the trust and freedom to own their job means everything. We all know that if we feel secure, interested and confident then we thrive. I happily encourage everyone to take a given role with an object and aim and let them decide how to play it out. .. Let them run with it!
This creates a collective of massive diversity, a range of exciting activities and a whole host of unique experiences for the public.
When we started I used to set up each tent and out a workshop activity in it. Staff would be on a rota and just turn up, run the workshop and go! It worked but it wasn’t special.. It was missing the angel gardens magic that oozes out of the space today.
Now we have huge amounts of workshops (designed and run by volunteers) and activities. All set out differently and all looking and feeling different too. All owned and reflecting the crew who are running it!
It’s what brings a vibe to the space.. Each little area buzzes to its own tune.. Together the whole space sings as an orchestra playing the most modern and exciting score… I’m just the conductor.. The skill and work comes from those sat in front of me,
We work hard to offer our volunteers not only space to explore their abilities and ideas.. But also to demonstrate what they are capable of. Working in the arts and music sectors is tough and the first step is finding a way to be heard.
By offering creatives an audience and opportunity to create something for that audience you are providing a kind of self guided aprentiship . We encourage group and one to one mentorship but find the crew don’t need guiding into mentorshipdom as they are empowered enough to share and take freely from their fellow crew on their own terms.
I’ve never seen anyone loose their confidence in the space. We have had crew in who brought negative energy in the past and it really did bring down the group.. One bad apple can change the whole barrel! So we work hard to ensure people understand that bitching and negativity isn’t welcome. We aren’t the happy police we just encourage everyone to respect, hear and support each other openly.
If people don’t want to be there then they shouldn’t be there.. Our spaces are well fought after and we always have a waiting list, thankfully we find these days that those that don’t fit in simply move on.. No hard feelings .. It just wasn’t for them…
Some people stay forever, some people jump in and off, some find their mojo and go off and go start doing things on their own… And getting good money for their amount work… It’s all ok!
We don’t just ask that crew take ownership of their role in Angel gardens but ask that they learn to take ownership of their role in life.
We will play our part in that in however they need it,, it’s our payment to them…to support and believe in them and their work.