Volunteering at festivals: my experience at Durham Book Festival

Getting involved in festivals can be a great way of getting experience in the industry and getting access to events, as I found out reviewing and volunteering at this year's Durham Book Festival.

Volunteering at festivals: my experience at Durham Book Festival

Durham Book Festival is a really exciting event for those who, like me are really interested in the arts and literature — so, when organisers New Writing North called for volunteers at the end of August, I saw it as a great way to get some experience behind the scenes of a literary festival. Alongside reviewing some of the events through my department at university, this would really allow me to get involved in the festival.

The festival runs for a week at the beginning of October with an array of events in venues across Durham. This year the festival attracted big names from Philip Pulman to Lauren Laverne. The events range from the academic to popular culture and cover many art forms including literature, performance, music, fashion and much more.

After being lucky enough to get through the recruitment application for volunteering, I was invited to attend an information evening. This was a short run through of the different events and the types of jobs which we may be required to do. We also got to pick up our free volunteer T-shirts, but unfortunately since I was one of the last people to arrive I was stuck with a size that was way too big! Thankfully I managed to solve this by shrinking it in the wash and some tactful fashion choices when wearing it!

The schedule for volunteering sessions came out the next day. Unfortunately I was only given one evening, though I had been hoping for more, though this was ok since I still had the chance to review events too.

The reviews were the first events I went to, one a panel discussion on Yves St Laurent and the exhibition of his work at the Bowes Museum, and the other was Caroline Criado-Perez on her new book, Do it Like a Woman. Both events were brilliant and incredibly interesting.

My volunteering session was later in the week for an evening performance at the local theatre. I arrived at 6.30pm with the other two volunteers, ready to help manage guests before the show started. My role included directing them to the correct places, handing out programmes and helping them to find tickets if they needed collecting. This part was really fun as in my green book festival T-shirt many people would come up to me as a point of contact and I got to welcome them to the event.

We were allowed to go in and watch the event once everyone was inside. This event, Notes from Underground was a collaboration between renowned poet, Sean O'Brien, and Augustin Fernandez, a professor from Newcastle University, who composed music for the poetry, which was then performed by a choir and orchestra. This was a really interesting event and very different to the kind of thing that I would normally choose to attend so I am glad that I was able to see it.

In the interval and at the end of the show we were tasked with getting members of the audience to fill out evaluation surveys. While it was quite difficult to persuade people to engage in this, it was lovely to talk to those who did about their experience of the festival and how they had found the events.

Overall my experience of getting involved in Durham Book Festival was really fun and a great way to get some backstage experience and involvement in a literary event. I would strongly recommend volunteering or reviewing at a festival to anyone interested in the arts industry!

Photo by Ellen Orange


Ellen Orange

Ellen Orange Contributor

I am a 24 year old Marketing Officer from the North East with a passion for arts and writing. I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in Twentieth and Twenty First Century Literature at Durham University, because I love books and reading! I have experience in writing for a variety of student publications, as well as having contributed to Living North, a regional magazine and Culture magazine, a supplement to regional newspaper, The Journal. I have been part of a Young Journalists scheme writing for NewcastleGateshead's Juice Festival, a young people's arts and culture festival, and have since become a Team Juice member. As well as reading and writing, I love theatre, photography and crafts.

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