Edition number 9; dateline 6 August 2008
Finding the community spirit
“A result! I’ve managed to miss or avoid the village carnival. What a relief.” However, this reaction to a community institution got me thinking about why I had this feeling of joy at being in Ipswich rather than Derbyshire on the day of this prestigious day in my locality. Of course Ipswich is a nice place and the work I was doing was enjoyable but if I’m honest being out of the way for our community’s annual day of celebration gave me at least as much pleasure.
Why should this be? I like the village in which I and my family have lived for the last 150 years and the more I thought about it the more I began to chastise myself. Community celebrations are very important to all of us, whether it’s the annual pancake race or the Notting Hill Carnival. Dressing up as an outrageous clown or standing on the back of a float dancing to Agadoo (or whatever annoying song the designers come up with) at first sight appears to be silly but in fact these activities can be very important in creating bonds within the community and also in encouraging younger and older people to work together or, perhaps more importantly, play together.
This nudged me to consider what underpins a community celebration which could range from a pantomime to a sports tournament, a well dressing (if you come from my neck of the woods), a carnival or street party. It always involves a group of people coming together to organise the event who are usually passionate about their cause. This group is often quite diverse and will almost always see people who wouldn’t normally work together sharing their joint mission – the Vicar of Dibley’s motley crew comes to mind.
During the build up this group of organisers will learn about tolerance and working in teams. They will find that there are many people and organisations who will help and many who say they will and don’t. They will certainly learn about a variety of laws and regulations which no one had ever dreamed would exist and they may also learn about catering, traffic management, timetabling entertainment, health and safety, etc. The list is endless and don’t forget that most of these people are volunteers and won’t do any of these activities in their day jobs, so no wonder they make the odd mistake, although in truth they actually do a very good job most of the time.
Why do they take on this responsibility? For many, they want to see their neighbours having a good time, particularly the ‘kiddies’. For some it is to do something different to their normal work and an opportunity to ‘give something back’. For the odd one or two, of course, its an opportunity for personal glory and though we gripe about these folk we should not be too hard on them. Often the rest of the organisers often don’t want ‘centre stage’ and there is always the need for someone to be up front; they just need to be carefully managed.
So we have established that there is a committed group of people who are behind these community events but who is it that attends? Well, it’s the rest of the people from that community. Most people like being with other people and a community celebration is a great opportunity to mix with others. More and more in our society we scurry about our daily lives without any real interaction with friends, family and definitely not our neighbours. I am lucky if I bump into my neighbours once a month and even then it is only a quick wave as I leap in my car. This is not good considering I have known one set for over twenty years and the other one I grew up alongside so have known all my life! Going to these carnivals, or whatever they are, is also a great opportunity to partake in more simple things like chatting with others, playing simple games (pin the tail on the donkey… careful it kicks!), sitting in the sun or rain and eating ice cream, not having to think about a lot except how to get to the beer tent and even spending time with family members who have begun to become distant memories over the last year. Even more delicious than the ice cream is the opportunity to catch up with the gossip.
The event may be driven by the need to raise funds for a good cause, to raise awareness about an issue or to celebrate the end of other activities such as a football league or a coaching programme or a drama festival. We all like to have a focus to an event although for most of the spectators it often doesn’t matter. However, for the organisers and the direct participants it gives direction, which is important. Not only might we have a ‘mission’ for our community event we will also have a theme. This gives everybody, even the largely apathetic spectators, a reason to dress up if they want to, even if it is just a silly hat to match the day.
I am now beginning to feel really bad about my reaction to our village event and will make every effort to attend the next gathering, ‘The Victorian Christmas Fayre’, an important time when we light up our locality at the time of year when it is most gloomy and dark. We are social creatures and it is important to mix with others outside our daily grind and I will make an effort from here on in. For those of you who support these events as part of your job, then perhaps rather than letting out a groan when you are heading off to yet another a meeting about whether to hire three bouncy castles or have an extra tombola stall, remember that even for the cynics in those communities these events are important for both leisure and community well-being and we volunteers are in desperate need of guidance on many, many issues.
Well OK; I will let you off being put in the stocks and have wet sponges thrown at you – perhaps a little more dedication than the salary band commands – but come on, get involved and have some fun even if it is work. I don’t think there is a law against it yet!
Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.
View from the hot tub
the last word in contemplative comment on the leisure industry
Kay Adkins, hot tub correspondent