Long-standing West End Centre volunteer, Martyn Wilson talks through a 'day in the life' of volunteering at one of Hampshire Cultural Trust's arts centres.
It’s 6.30pm and time to set off to the West End Centre in Aldershot as a Front of House volunteer. Whether it is a music, comedy or theatre event, I never quite know what is in store for the evening.
Drive into the car park, hoping there will be space and then checking which entrance is open ahead of time.
Once inside, after a hello to everyone, I pop into the main studio to see how the set up is going, I usually find the Technical Manager doing a sound check for the upcoming event.
Next thing to do is seek out the Duty Manager, to find out what is required for the evening; is it seated, how many tickets have been sold? This will determine the seating layout. Do we need tables? Are there any requirements such as spaces for wheelchairs?
Another useful piece of information, is the format of the evening. Is there a support act, how long is the set, is there an interval, if so how long? Will there be a merchandising stall?
Depending on the type of event and the size of the audience, there may be more than one Front of House volunteer and possibly some security. For a seated event we allocate reserved spaces for the volunteers, close to the theatre entrance and the main fire exit.
There is normally a chance to catch up with other colleagues before the audience begins arriving, and also the performers, especially if they are already known to you.
As the numbers increase, the atmosphere in this wonderful building increases and we need to be around to interact and help with queries as they arise.
When it is time to open the doors, we get the nod from the Duty Manager and position ourselves to collect tickets and help get everyone seated. These days we hold onto the whole ticket, but let people know they can collect them from the box office, if they would like them, at the end of the performance.
On a busy evening when there is unreserved seating, we try to keep an eye on where there are spaces, to help latecomers to a seat with the least disruption.
The last thing before the performance begins is a nod from the Technical Manager that all is ready for the start, so they can close the doors and we head for our seats or a suitable position in a standing only event.
One of the joys of being a Westy volunteer, is coming across a singer, band, comedian who is totally unknown to you and sharing in the same new experience as the audience.
As soon as the interval beckons, you need to get into position to open the doors and allow the rush to the bar to take place. Just outside the theatre we have a table when people can leave empty glasses, making it easier for us to collect and take them off to the dishwasher.
Soon, the second half is set to begin and again we get ready to close the doors and take our places in the auditorium. It always seems to me that the second half seem shorter than the first, regardless of the actual length!
At the end of the performance, again, we need to get the doors open and send people safely home with a smile and a thanks for joining us, always a pleasure to see the smiling faces of a contented audience, and that the Westy has cast its magic yet again.
There tends to be a lot more empty glasses in the auditorium at the end, so the first task, is seek out as many as we can find and help the bar staff getting the dishwasher going.
Finally, we need to know what packing up is needed; is the seating/tables remaining or does it need to be removed? Sometimes, though not so often, assistance with the mics and other stage equipment is needed.
Finally, I get another chance to catch up with everyone before heading home with a big smile on my face, from the jewel in the crown for arts and entertainment here in the North of Hampshire.
If you would like to find out more about volunteering with Hampshire Cultural Trust, please click the link below.