A full-on Strawberry Fair and Arbury Carnival – but Cambridge’s events need more volunteers to continue

The question is: How do organisers find enough suitable people without resorting to ‘the usual social media callouts’?

You can read the write-up in the Cambridge Independent here, and the various links in the Cambridge 105 tweets from their stage on the day below

Above – Cambridge 105 at the Strawberry Fair where they have their own stage.

It was also full on at the Arbury Carnival in North Cambridge too.

Above – Cllr Hilary Cox (Lab – Arbury) and former Cllr Jamie Dalzell below reflecting the turnout of councillors and party activists amongst many local residents who volunteered at both community events.

It’s easy to say “Oh they are only doing it for the publicity” in this era of low trust in politicians – only six months ago the IPPR led with this finding. But then a browse through the history books will tell you that trust in politicians and politics (along with the media generally) hasn’t really been high at any time – and that trust is something that is built with familiarity – where people know and speak to their local councillors or MPs.

“Britons are more likely to say they trust their local MP than MPs in general”

Ipsos Mori, June 2013

So in general I don’t have a problem with local councillors and political activists volunteering and putting in the ground work in their local wards and at local events like this – not least because it’s unpaid, can be hard (physical) work, and you are there at the sharp end facing the public, albeit in more sociable surroundings where people are there to enjoy themselves and not get into detailed confrontational exchanges about local government finance.

“How do you encourage the people that turn up in their huge numbers to become helpers and organisers for future events?

I’d like to think that there are huge volumes of academic research available on this with the catch-all answers, and that I’ve not gotten around looking up. But at the same time we are still in a post-lockdown era and people are still dying from this damn virus on a daily basis. We’ll probably need another round of vaccinations too – my last one was about six months ago. The point being that despite the crowds, the sunshine, and the breeze (which made filming a bit of a challenge – first time I’ve tried with camcorder since probably the general election), there are still a lot of people unwilling to go out and about – some of whom might have been the people who did the organising and volunteering at more than a few past events.

“What about that Cambridge Societies Fair idea?”

It’s been ***over a decade*** since I first wrote about this, and although Cambridge City Council tried out a volunteering-oriented version of it, when they evaluated the numbers it did not meet its targets of numbers of volunteers recruited. I still believe in the principle of running a large event in the style of a university freshers’ fair.

Above – from Volunteer for Cambridge 2016

Furthermore, given the massive hit that the pandemic is still having on so many of our community groups, clubs, organisations and activities, something big to bring them all together along with the general public for me seems essential.

I mentioned back in April 2022 that some of the summer events, such as the Big Weekend on Parker’s Piece might also be suitable. Because people are going to be there in huge numbers anyway, and the main purpose isn’t asking them to do offer to do stuff for free in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

Furthermore, looking at the Cambridge City Council’s volunteering webpage, the Cambridge CVS page and their annual review, and the county volunteering pages, they could all do with a bit of a refresh.

There are other things that might be worth doing if the funding is made available. These include but are not limited to:

  • Surveying how far people have travelled to get to the event – I’m particularly gutted for the Combined Authority who weren’t able to organise a presence at the Strawberry Fair in time to publicise their consultation. For next year’s event they should be putting some research funding into doing some random sampling at the gates to get an idea of how far people have travelled in from, and by what modes of transport to get to the event.
  • A prominent welcome and information stall by each gate that can also catch people on their way out, inviting them to stay in touch and take part the following year
  • Have as part of volunteering plans the offer of teaching people new skills that they might not get to do in their day-to-day work, rather than say inviting someone who works on web design all day to do only the web designing work. This could be linked up to evening classes by local providers, such as the DIY courses at Cambridge Regional College. (As an aside, one of the shortcomings I felt with university is that we didn’t have any provision for general DIY skills training or practical training generally. I don’t know what it’s like now, over 20 years since I graduated, but at the time it reflected both the class and the academic divides between which people went into ‘practical’ occupations and which people went into ‘managerial’ occupations – something I found out long ago to be a very artificial divide.)
    • One incentive could involve giving people a discount/rebate on their course fees if they are then able to apply what they have learnt in a voluntary role at a community event.

Again, I’m thinking/typing as I go and it’s past midnight so the above might not make sense initially. But part of the challenge of the 2020s has to be engaging with, working with and getting to know people who we might not otherwise meet and socialise with in our day-to-day lives. Far, far easier said than done, but essential if we want to become a city that is greater than the sum of our parts. And as things stand being the most unequal city in the country, we are nowhere near even getting to the sum of our parts as it is.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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