Wednesday, 26 August 2015

When having fun is a serious business

GIVING to the collection after Regatta and Carnival Week fireworks, a visitor added: “Thank you – we’ve had a great week. You’ve all worked so hard.”

What could better capture the essence of Regatta and Carnival Week? “The spirit of carnival is deep within us all,” says committee chairman Andy Brown. “Creating a bubble of fun for everyone is important in serious times.”

Carnival has hard-headed purposes, too. The money raised stays in the town, helping local causes (17 last year), especially those that serve the young and the old, and that foster our community ethos. Over £80,000 has been shared in the last nine years.

It successfully promotes and works with the town’s businesses. These support Carnival through advertising, sponsorship, joining the procession and in events like ‘Spot the Window’ (over 100 businesses) and the imaginative new ‘Decorated Ducks’ competition (more than 80 ducks). The pay-back is a town full of visitors in a mood to spend money.

Many return every year, anticipating a special week safely mixing familiar and new activities organised by people they know and trust. Carnival’s emphasis on ‘fun for the whole family’ really works.

But this is also a truly community event, not simply about visitors and businesses. It draws together holidaymakers and residents, old and young, parents and children, and all those elements of Lyme itself which, occasionally, become unnecessarily parted. That togetherness (the ‘spirit of carnival’ again) was nowhere better experienced than among participants and spectators at this year’s procession.

The Carnival procession was typically Lyme – not too showy, nothing big or expensive, simply a cheerful mix of local people and organisations with children and young people to the fore. Taking over an hour from start to finish, spiritedly led by the Bournemouth Youth Marching Band, full of movement and variety, and attracting big crowds, its carefree atmosphere left the workaday world (and the traffic!) far behind.

Major events like the procession, the duck race, the beautiful fireworks display (sensibly moved to Thursday) and the Walk of Light are key fundraisers. Yet most Carnival activities are on a smaller scale, pitched directly at children and families: while raising less money relative to their organisational demands, these are crucial to Carnival’s purpose.

What lies behind it all? Essentially, volunteer team work absorbed into a feat of unpaid management that few towns could match.

Andy’s committee of ten works all year. Soon it will review Carnival 2015 and each event within it: value for money, participation, quality of organisation. Then it will invite applications to share the funds raised and agree on allocations. After each annual distribution the Carnival budget retains enough to cover next year’s insurance, licenses and modest working costs. Every other penny of profit goes to local causes. 

With their creative hats on, committee members will bounce around ideas for 2016, seeking to retain the philosophy, preserve the familiar and successful while keeping the programme fresh and evolving, develop the ‘family-friendly’ focus and involvement of businesses, add money-raising ideas... The hard graft of shaping the week’s activities – when the practicalities (not least, supply of volunteers) really bite – reduced some 40 possible new ideas for 2015 down to eight.

Then comes planning, booking and scheduling events, ready for the team that lays out, proof-reads and prints the programme, which this year contained 85 advertisements: a tribute to Lyme’s businesses, but also to the work of obtaining them.

Meanwhile there’s running the Christmas Tree Festival, Easter Bonnet Parade, May Day Fete and Solstice Parade – all under the Regatta and Carnival umbrella – before the final weeks of intense preparation.

Finally, each of Carnival’s nine days sees a core of the committee master-minding events, mostly on the seafront. Probably few of us truly appreciate the logistics and organisation lying behind intensively managing more than 60 events: planning, gathering and preparing materials, setting up, overseeing, and clearing everything up afterwards. No wonder these volunteer stalwarts can clock up 16-hour days.

Why do they do it? It’s worth listening to Andy and other key figures, whose answers are remarkably consistent. “This is such a welcoming community – you want to respond”, “People here put themselves out for each other, so you should take a role”, “It’s not your community unless you’re part of it.” 

And it’s about pleasure: “The enjoyment of seeing other people enjoying what you enjoyed”, “The reward of putting a creative stamp on events.” 

The shortest response – “Why not?” – is unanswerable if you think about it.

All emphasise the vital team factor. The committee relies on many other, more occasional, volunteers: supervising specific events, wielding collection buckets, helping behind the scenes... The procession alone used 44 people with collection buckets and 11 for road closure duty, quite apart from all those volunteer participants. So for Andy it was “wonderful to see people offering help – our volunteer list has grown.” He hopes that next year many more people will say, “I’m going to be part of it, too.”

“We’d love to have more, and younger, helpers; it would be great to have more people taking responsibility for an event and seeing it through; and our seafront team needs reinforcements.” 

With his hopes come reassurances. 

“Let’s demolish the idea that Carnival requires a heavy commitment. It’s horses for courses: people do what interests them and what their time allows. We work hard at making them feel welcome and valued. And volunteers have fun, too.”



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