An artisanally crafted blog curated by Cooking Lager for discerning readers of beer bloggery

Monday, 12 October 2015

On volunteering

These ladies have volunteered their own time to serve you a beer, be grateful.

As the Indy Man beer “conference” concludes my thoughts have turned to the nature, reasons and motivation of people that volunteer for things. I did think of why they might prefer the nomenclature conference to festival. The former brings up memories of a naff hotel, wearing a suit with a badge on with my name and company, rubbery food, free pens and having a married middle aged lass trying to seduce me in the hotel bar. The latter brings up memories of getting pissed, having a laugh and dancing with a girls knickers on my head. I know which I’d prefer, but that would be a short blog, being just what’s written there.

Who would volunteer to work at such a thing as a beer festival and why? I mean volunteer, not get paid to do a job of work, which is quite logical. We all need basic things like a roof over our head, food, clothes, a big telly and fridge full of cheap cans of lager. It is obvious that in a society where such things cost money, some of us go out into the world to work for it. You can either work for money or have money work for you. Most accept the former, as we don’t have enough of a stash for the latter. We do things for the money we want and need. Some of us do things we enjoy, some don’t, but we all get paid.

So why work for nothing? Why go serve beer at a beer festival on a Saturday afternoon and not get paid?

In my time I have encountered people in the voluntary or charity sector, they tended to fall into 3 camps. Young people after a reference, middling aged people looking for a social life and older people looking to use their time meaningfully and productively. I say none of this to be disrespectful but I would put everyone I encountered as people engaged in enlightened self-interest rather than naked altruism.

Sometimes the politics of this world is framed in terms of left or right, or selflessness versus selfishness. It negates how 90% of people go about life. That is enlightened self-interest. They are by and large out for themselves but not at the expense of others or to the detriment of society and recognise that to get something you have to give something and by giving something you get your reward in this life, not the next.

It could be considered a good thing for all concerned if the school leaver struggling to find an opportunity did a bit of charity work and picked up a decent reference and bit of work experience that helped them in that first step in life? It was what most people 18 or under doing this work were after and what they give is useful to the community charity they give it. Something to be respected, not derided. A self-starting young person improving their own CV. Good on them, even if they have a nose ring.

Is there anything wrong with a 40 year old single woman, whose friends have all married and procreated expanding her social circle via going along with a local charity on a day trip taking disabled kids out in a mini bus? Sure, she’s hoping at least one of the other volunteers is a decent looking employed none drunk unmarried male equivalent of herself worth going on a date with, but that’s not a problem is it? The kids get enough people to help out; the volunteers have a nice time getting to know each other. There’s nothing wrong with singletons mingling, it’s how the next generation comes about existing. Everyone wins here?

Retirement can be tough on some. Some don’t take the transition from responsibility and having a job that confers purpose and meaning to yourself and others to being someone that watches the Rockford Files on daytime telly and goes out on the piss in the afternoon like Tandleman or Stonch. They still need to be needed and have useful skills they want to use. So why not go help those disabled kids at the local swimming baths? Offer to drive the minibus? Get involved and see what you can do for the community? The old timers I have seen do this seem to live longer. They remain active well into their 70’s. They don’t give up. They appear to be coherent right up till they kick the bucket.

So I get the whole giving up your time for nothing shtick and understand there might be a circumstance when I am, let’s say, as old as someone really old, like Mudgie, that I might put my hand up and volunteer to help my community.

So why volunteer for a beer festival? Well it might surprise you to know but in the time I spent out of blogging I volunteered for a few, both beardy CAMRA and “community” festivals and here are my thoughts.

The organisers have very different reasons from the volunteers. For the organisers there is a very definite and defined loyalty to the organisation they proscribe to. There is a strong “for the good of”, whether that be CAMRA or a local community project or charity the proceeds are going to. It isn’t a piss up. The event is to raise money for such and such. Now my opinion is that the community/charity ones had more of my sympathy here. I started off with a kind of bias based on my own values. I kind of think giving up a Saturday to raise money for blind kids is more my style than raise money to send off to campaign to increase the price of Tesco lager but for those organising it, their own organisation is the ultimate worthy cause. This is just observation, mind.

I had more of a view of my fellow volunteer and found a different purpose. I was the only traveller doing it to find out what it was all about. Having drank at enough of these things, why not experience a few as a volunteer and compare the experience? Maybe if I did it I would understand why people do it through my own desire to do it again?

I found the single main motivation was social. That people wanted to be part of something. There were old hands for whom the event is something they do every year. This is where they meet up with friends they haven’t seen since the last one and won’t see until the next. There were new hands that appeared to want to be part of something and connect with others that might become the friends they then looked forward to seeing at the next one.

There was of course, the presence of the slightly socially awkward type. These appear to be given jobs as stewards or as back room staff. The more socially engaging appear front of house. This appears entirely self-selected. Nobody is putting the weirdoes out of sight; the odd balls presumably opt for the jobs they prefer. Even they wanted to feel part of it, even if they remained alone.

Upon asking my fellow volunteer how they ended up doing this or why they do this every year, the answer I got was almost always social (or they didn't really know, or their partner got them into it). It was something they enjoyed; they were part of something bigger than themselves. The CAMRA volunteers appeared a little more beer focused than the charity festival volunteers but neither was doing it for any “For the good of beer” or to convert people to beer or any campaigning purpose you might think of.

It was entirely about being part of a community. Either a local community that’s raising money or a community of beer enthusiasts. It was the community more than any other factor. You were part of this in a meaningful way.

Those I met that did a lot of festivals seemed to want more of that community. For them, this was their hobby and they met up with their friends once a month, around the country, doing beer festivals. They were as surprised by people not wanting to do that as others are surprised they would want to do so many beer festivals.

What surprised me most, it wasn’t about free beer or T shirts. Sure they liked them, and some considered it a form or payment in kind, but by and large they were not working for beer. Seems a stupid thing to do anyway. Any job earns you more pints or more t shirts than volunteering for any festival. When I say it wasn’t about this, that’s not to say this wasn’t important. The t shirt was a souvenir. Something they intended to wear on their day off to say “I did this”. Likewise the free beer was something they noticed if this year’s allocation was stingier than last years.

From my own experience, I enjoyed myself. I walked around in the T Shirt. Served some beer, helped out on a stall or two, talked to many people. All appeared decent people. I drank my free beer and blagged more free beer once my tokens were used. I learnt to ask for a “staff half” rather than half when using a half pint token as this is nearer a pint. Can’t complain that I had a miserable time, I enjoyed myself. Not sure I worked that much, I am by my nature a skiver. Prone to chat and swig beer rather than help lift stuff and lug it about. Not sure I enjoyed it enough to be a regular habit but I’m pleased I gave it enough of a go, at a range of events, to form an opinion, and my view was of either a fun day or weekend.

That opinion in summary is that’s it’s all about being part of a community of people but who gets the money at the end is something you have to be happy with. For me money towards blind kids, kids in wheelchairs are all things I’m happy with. Beardy people wanting to hike the price of lager or craft wankers building business empires they intend to profit from I have more difficulty with in justifying my time. But it’s a free country. You take your own choice and to be honest the better choice is going along as a punter to these things, spend a quid, get pissed, run about with someones knickers on your head, all considered. They also need customers or else they wouldn’t consider it a success.


steve lamond said...

For me I generally volunteer at festivals (beer/music/whatever) I would have gone to anyway and thus save the money on both entry and beers and likely a free feed too; plus I'm helping the festival to be successful by cutting down staffing costs. There is of course also a great camaraderie amongst staff, especially if you work multiple sessions; you get to meet like minded people and chat to customers about your hobby.

Specifically for beer I like being able to recommend people something that suits their tastes & drumming up a few extra clicks on my blog/ networking for future stories/ leads is a handy fringe benefit. ~Also personal development wise you learn a lot of practical beer dispense tips at beer festivals

Ed said...

I thought CAMRA had dropped support for minimum pricing.