Volunteering at London’s Other Olympics

Article originally published on HerUni.com in 2012.

Volunteering at London’s Other Olympics

You might have heard about this thing that was happening this summer – what was it called? – oh yeah, the Olympics. But surely even more of you have been taking part in the Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World. No? Haven’t heard of it? Well, it’s ok. There’s still time to get involved with one of the most exciting cultural events in recent years.

The Festival of the World at the Southbank Centre in London is a kind of cultural Olympiad. Over the course of the summer, until September 9th, artists, writers, performers, and all manner of creative people from all over the world are descending on London. Records may be being broken by the athletes, but new ground is being absolutely smashed along the South Bank.

I’ve been lucky enough to have volunteered at the Festival of the World since June, and now that my time there is finished, it’s been fun reflecting on the experience. Travelling down to my interview in May, I had no idea what to expect. Then in late June, I was thrown into the very middle of the cream of London’s cultural crop, and have loved every second.

My role was as a welcomer, which meant assisting visitors to the Southbank Centre, and even the artists who were taking part in the festival when they got lost! It sounds straightforward, even dull – I wasn’t exactly overjoyed when I found out that 90% of my time would be spent handing out leaflets and directing people to the loos. But what I wasn’t counting on was the amazing atmosphere and opportunities that would greet me by being a volunteer. What began as something I was doing for no pay and only for the rather selfish reason of making my CV a little less rubbish, became an absolute privilege. Free tickets to events showcasing the very best talent in the world? Yes please. Chance to mingle with friendly members of the public, artists and high-flying Londoners? Yeah, go on. Opportunity to review a lecture by one of the finest poets writing today, thanks to the Southbank Centre and Young Poet’s Network? Ooh, now you’re twisting my arm. Given the Centre’s philosophy that ‘art changes lives’, how about the chance to maybe, just maybe, in a small way, change the world through art? Now you’re talking. A better CV was just an added bonus after all that!

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Festival of the World is its scale. Lasting from June to September, every week brings to light exciting new work in all different fields of the arts. The first week of July welcomed poets from each of the 204 Olympic nations for Poetry Parnassus. A full programme of cabaret and burlesque in the Priceless London Wonderground, and comedy at E4’s Udderbelly, are running throughout the summer and not to be missed. Community projects that help those in the direst need were given the chance to reach a wider audience, and the quality was astounding, from the sold-out shows of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, who give underprivileged children in Venezuela the chance to learn a musical instrument, to ’Wastescape’, an amazing art installation resembling a winter wonderland, but made out of rubbish salvaged by families in Colombia. To coincide with the Paralympics, disabled musicians and dancers are descending on the Southbank Centre to show the amazing things that humans can accomplish in the face of adversity.

And best of all – so many of the events and exhibitions and experiences to be had are absolutely FREE. So, if you’re in London over the summer, hop on over the river to the Southbank Centre for a free lunchtime concert and the chance to rub shoulders with incredibly talented people from all over the world – there’s still time! This is the Olympics on a human scale, but even if the Festival of the World is not for you, get out there and volunteer. Whether you’re guiding lost artists who don’t speak a word of English, helping school children grow and old people feel more comfortable, or even making your country proud and helping at the Olympics, money cannot buy or surpass the glow you’ll get out of lending a hand. And you never know, your involvement just might help change the world.


Feature image from http://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/5491/1.haslightboxThumbnailVersion/Orta_Southbank-flags-04.jpg


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