Being a volunteer at the Handmade Fair last year changed everything for me. This year I wanted to share a little of why it is such an amazing experience.
The Basics of Being a Volunteer
You volunteer for part or all of the three days of the fair (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and you roll up on Thursday afternoon for the staff briefing and to help set up if possible. You get your (thankfully shower proof) wristband to allow you to get around the site.
I volunteered for the whole three days again this year and I definitely recommend doing that as you get to know people, they get to know you, and you get to be involved with a greater variety of activities.
Be warned it is a very busy three days! One of the reasons that the photos for this post are not top quality is because I was much too busy to carry around and use a DSLR whilst my iPhone was quick, easy and pocket sized!
I spent two days manning (or should that be womanning?) the Information Point and one day helping with the Skills Workshops. Other volunteers helped in the Super Theatre where Kirstie Allsopp introduced and often interviewed famous crafty names such as Charis Williams, Emma Bridgewater, Annie Sloan and Lauren Child. More volunteers helped out with the “Grand Makes” and Skill Workshops (of which there were 6 themes).
You wear smartish clothes for the days of the fair.Comfortable shoes are a MUST at the Handmade Fair as you will probably be on your feet from arrival at 8am until fair close at 6pm. Click To Tweet
Be prepared to work really hard and follow the instructions of your expert or the Brand Events staff (they are the organisers). Volunteers get two tea breaks (although when tends to be a bit hit and miss because of reacting to events) and lunch provided. You also get issued with the obligatory and “glamorous” Hi-Vis vest.
The Pay Offs
One of the top benefits of volunteering for me is that you get to help set up and run the workshops. This means expanding the range of crafts that you understand and at least know the principles of doing. At worst you get to help the workshop attendees with their pieces, at best you sometimes get to start a piece yourself.
Admittedly there is rarely time for a volunteer to finish a piece to the standard you would like as you have a job to do but you can try new crafts without spending money for the kit and take home your piece. With crafts that are expensive on the initial outlay (like needle felting or lampshade making) you have a perfect opportunity to see if they hold any joy for you.
Before the workshops start you layout all the materials for that activity ready for the public, you then collect tickets. The experts will tell you what kit to lay out (I had the great joy of working with Rosy Nicholas, Riannon Selcuk, Ellie Jarvis, Jayne Emerson, Claire Gould, Hester Van Overbeek, Georgie Kirby and Sonia Bownes all of which were lovely and very happy to talk to you about their craft, offering tips and inspiration).
Once the public are in you get to watch the demonstration and listen to the tips from the experts (all of which you can hear and see because they have microphones and video cameras focussed on their table as they work. There is a bit of background noise (hey, you are in a tent after all!) but generally not enough to cause a problem.
Once the demo is over the experts wander and help the public and so do you. I met some really amazing people doing this and the atmosphere is wonderful because nearly everybody is doing something they love and there to “have a go”.
Workshops this year included Modern Cross Stitch, Clothes Upcycling, Knitting at three levels, Marbling, Calligraphy, Fascinator Making, Cake Pops, Flower Crowns, Gift Wrapping, Papercutting, Origami, Lino Printing, Biscuit Icing, Willow Weaving, Upholstery, Lampshade Making, Stencilling, Shibori Tie Dye, Needle Felting, and of course the obligatory Pom Pom’s! There is a HUGE range of things to see and do and you get access to that knowledge without buying a ticket!
As a volunteer you are quite likely to see the workshops that you are assigned to more than once and I found that a bonus because I really got to see what worked, what the common mistakes were and how to sort them out. No two workshops were the same and I got a huge boost from talking to all the like minded people. Ideas and inspiration were bouncing around like Tigger and I came away with a phone full of notes and ideas which was the quickest way I could record things over the weekend without being distracted from my job. If I was helping with a workshop I had seen before it was pretty easy to get the public settled and then pop into whatever was going on next door and see what they were up to for ten minutes or so. I was lucky enough to be next door to the Annie Sloan upcycling workshops and picked up a lot of tips. Their Lampshades were particularly beautiful but I didn’t get to take a picture of one 🙁One expert, who runs workshops herself was even good enough to give me marketing advice for my own business, based on her own experience. Click To Tweet
The next “perk” I found was the shopping!
The Fair has two shopping villages. Being there for all three days gave me ample time to browse all of the stalls. I admit that the recce was in short bursts in between grabbing a cup of tea or setting up workshops but I managed to get a thorough understanding of what was on offer and make wise decisions in my purchases.
When shopping the Fair I fell it that it has a lovely balance of artisans to inspire you (and adorn your person and home!) and craft supplies to play with. There is no pressure or scrum to buy and the artisans are happy to answer questions and give out cards for your Christmas shopping! I am currently drooling over sewing patterns, lino printing kit, books, and a tapestry kit amongst other things.
I have to be honest and say that what really makes volunteering at the Fair for me is the atmosphere. Yes, you will work hard, yes your feet will be killing you but you will also be relaxed and energised. Working on the information point just inside the main gate for two days I met a LOT of the people who came to the show, on the Saturday that was roughly 3,000 people. Most people didn’t know each other but they were happy to chat, share experiences and have a laugh. I ended up with face ache from smiling too much.
The same goes with the other volunteers. A number of us had kept in touch throughout the year via a Facebook group and it was like catching up with old friend. It also meant that instead of camping this year I had a lovely comfy bed in the home of one of the more local volunteers and since last year a friend.
We were invited to attend the Saturday night drinks with all the stall holders and experts where Kirstie herself was in attendance and happy to mingle and chat. This took place in the central “foodie” area and the atmosphere was almost like a cocktail party. The event didn’t last the full evening and going out to dinner with a fellow volunteer and one of the experts afterwards was a really easy walk to a number of great restaurants.
Looking at that picture you can see we were having a good time. That was my friend, fellow volunteer and erstwhile landlady, Dorinda and Origami expert Caroline Preston.
The last of the reliable “perks” is the parking. I know it is shallow but you are guaranteed a free parking space everyday! At the end of a long day on your feet that is an incredible boon to be able to stagger only a few hundred metres to your car.
I won’t lie there are other things that crop up that give you a huge thrill.
Last year I helped to count the Pom Poms in the world record attempt for the longest unbroken chain of pom poms. That meant I got champagne and to meet Kirstie in person. This year I held one end of the opening ribbon for the Fair two days running and had a front row seat as Kirstie opened the Fair. The first year volunteers were given a VIP goodie bag as a thank you and I know of volunteers who have been able to request tickets to the event for a friend or family member.
My advice would be not to rely on anything but to relax and enjoy the experience. In my view it is a really enjoyable and valuable one.
If you are interested in volunteering at next year's Handmade Fair follow their Facebook Page as requests for volunteers are put out via that, usually 3-4 weeks before the event. If you have any questions about being a volunteer I am happy to answer them via the comments on this page or one of my social media channels.