“Together We Stand” – WiM 2016

WiM is a magical place, so obviously it comes together spontaneously through some undefined magic.

No? Well, then obviously the WiM Co-ordinator is a magical person who makes WiM happen through their undefined magic.

As I more than once had to tell the 2016 WiM Co-ordinator to go and lie down before she fell over because she was so ill, I don’t think this is true. WiM is put together by a team. A whole group of people working together behind the scenes so by the time WiM starts, it looks like magic. That team is made up of people like you.

I don’t, as a general rule, volunteer for things. I realise I’m writing this as a member of Rev’s National Volunteer Team, so obviously something went wrong somewhere along the line. I’m taking my article on WiM 2016 as a chance to think about why. For the last two years, my volunteering hasn’t just been confined to the national network. I’ve also been an active volunteer in the organisation of WiM; Rev’s annual week away. If someone like me can do that, I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to as well. Whether on the national team or an event team, Rev has something you can do.

I’ve mentioned before how it took me a long time to make it to my first WiM. When I eventually did go, in 2013, it was only because of a bit (or more than a bit) of nudging from a friend. It was a scary experience, but rather brilliant, and I enjoyed myself very much. Feeling quite triumphant about my successful attendance, I did the same thing next year. I saw no need to do more. I’d found somewhere I was comfortable and the idea of volunteering still seemed unnatural. Besides, no one needed me.

The next WiM, in 2014, was when I ended up on the National Volunteer Team, but that was entirely an accident. I wrote one piece for one concert programme and my ever encouraging friend had suddenly nudged me right into writing for Rev all the time. It wasn’t my idea. There wasn’t even a position waiting for me – they had to create a new one from scratch. That just shows you how eager Rev is to give new people a chance in whatever way they can. You don’t have to know what you want to do – just say you want to help; they’ll find you a place.

That same friend who nominated me to write for Rev also suggested, and I just kind of nodded (as I usually do) that 2015 would be a good time to try being on WiM team. After all, there were media positions on the team that were pretty similar to my new national role. I could write letters to people, which was one of my specialities.

I considered. Could I do it? It was theoretically inside my capabilities, but it was also a little outside of my comfort zone. I was still considering the day before the job application deadline. It really did seem quite a lot of effort. I was perfectly happy just attending WiM as an attendee. I thought I might not bother.

That evening, I received a Facebook message from that year’s WiM Co-ordinator. She wasn’t the person who normally nudged me into these things, but she was (and still is) a friend. It seemed that just because I didn’t think they needed me, it didn’t mean they didn’t want me. She said, “I was just wondering if you are considering applying for a position on team this year. I’d really love to have you on my WiM team! Would be great to have your local knowledge and awesome writing skills.”

What can you do when a friend says something like that? When I expressed my uncertainty, she said, “I’d love you to be on team but no pressure, it has to be the right thing for you.” She was being far too understanding. There was no way I could say no.

My first ever WiM job was Press and Sponsorship Secretary. I had to send letters to businesses asking them if they’d send us free stuff because we’re a charity and letters to local media asking them to tell the world we were putting on a concert. It was a job I could finish before WiM even started. I felt quite satisfied with myself as I typed and sent out my e-mails. Absolutely none of the people I contacted replied, so the success of my first WiM role can be debated, but no one was angry at the lack of sponsorship and I was able to spend the week of WiM itself relatively chilled.

At least at first. Right until concert day. You see, the media team (of which Press and Sponsorship Secretary is part), are more generally responsible for things like concert programmes and tickets at WiM. These things become more important when the concert is only a few hours away. Especially when you don’t even have a final set list yet. It’s difficult to print programmes when you don’t actually know what’s going in them.

I mentioned in a previous article how I ended up preparing a PowerPoint, folding more concert programmes than I humanly thought possible (why did we not print them until an hour before the concert?) and arranging some biscuits all in in the one half hour of free time we had on concert day. Well, plus during half a rehearsal that I ended up skipping (I knew the songs as well as I was going to by then). It was a bit ridiculous, but it wasn’t just me. There were three of us on the media team. There’s another important lesson – when you’re volunteering with Rev, there’s always someone there ready to help and support you.

My position was overseen by the Media Secretary and she didn’t mind that no one responded to my sponsorship requests. She did compliment my letter writing and made herself available whenever I had questions. I didn’t have to be alone. As I added words to someone else’s pictures on the PowerPoint, there was a feeling of satisfaction at seeing the work being completed. Half the joy of WiM is making the impossible seem possible.

For reasons best known to herself, nudging me onto the National Volunteer Team and helping me on WiM team weren’t enough for my friend. When WiM was over, she told me that I should be Admin/Treasurer at WiM 2016. As we have established previously, when she tells me I should do something, I generally end up doing it. Admin/Treasurer was a leadership role, bigger and more important than Press and Sponsorship Secretary. I’d be in charge of e-mailing all WiM attendees, of managing their payments and making sure they knew where the church was and what kit they had to bring. I would be the one who made the signup forms, then sorted the information they gave me. It was all very important.

Again it was a job I could mostly do before WiM even began. Again it required plenty of writing but little face-to-face interaction. Unlike other leadership roles, I wasn’t responsible for a team of my own. The only other member of WiM team I had to collaborate with was the WiM Co-ordinator, with whom I shared an identical taste in books and therefore could work with well. When we weren’t too busy talking about lady knights and militant librarians. She also rapped the plot of Macbeth to me at one point. It was a perfect partnership. Still, it was quite a lot of responsibility.

Luckily, I again had support, both from the WiM Co-ordinator and the National Finance Administrator. Payments couldn’t be made for WiM without the National Finance Administrator’s access to the Rev bank account. Guess who the National Financial Administrator was in 2016? If you guessed the same person who had been my supervising Media Secretary and who had convinced me to come to WiM in the first place, you’d be right. Yet again Rev proved I didn’t have to do anything alone. Even better, I didn’t need to do any of the mathematical half of my job, which was what had almost put me off applying.

One of the most important things for me to decide was the WiM budget. My guidance said I needed to consult with the National Finance Administrator and the WiM Co-ordinator to decide how much money we had to spend and to inform the team. I couldn’t attend the Forum where the budget was first discussed, but NFA and WC put together their first draft and sent it to me for any improvements I thought could be made.

As the NFA is a qualified maths teacher and the WC is a structural engineer, they’re both reasonably familiar with working with numbers. I am a writer. Maths is not particularly my area of expertise. The only numbers I worry about are word counts in my stories (which I’m not very good at sticking to anyway). I told them I was sure they knew what they were doing and gave it my stamp of approval. See, being on WiM team is easy. Just delegate or ask for help.

Making signup forms proved a trickier responsibility for me as WiM Administrator. Trying to figure out all the information we needed to know and how to frame questions so they would fit in the limited format of Survey Monkey took some experimentation. However, it was the sort of puzzle I enjoy. Then there was repeatedly e-mailing the WiM Co to make sure she approved of the form before I sent the link out – she wasn’t always the quickest at responding to messages.

When WiM actually began, my main role became making sure people had filled in their medical forms (to the extent of texting one person at eight in the morning because she was staying at a hotel and needed reminding to bring her form back to the church). Please be prompt filling in your medical forms, to save administrators headaches and reduce the chance of you dying in a sudden and unexpected emergency.

There were elements of WiM that didn’t go to plan. The WiM Co became ill on the very first day and by Sunday had been reduced to enthusiastic gesturing as her main mode of communication. Her voice had completely gone, which is awkward when you’re at a choir event anyway, let alone when you’re meant to be instructing people. It was time for the rest of the team to help her instead of the other way round.

Then I woke Thursday morning with a tickle in my throat. By evening it was fuzziness through my whole head. When we did a sound check on Friday, I spent most of it sitting down. Even during the concert, I ended up leaving stage during the last number as I felt myself swaying where I stood. I do recommend not being ill at WiM if you can help it (or at least plan ahead and bringing all possible cold, flu and sore throat medication with you).

During my time of illness, I ended up with a somewhat unexpected role, not connected to administrating or treasuring. On Friday, the National Co-ordinator and National Finance Administrator (a former WiM Co in her own right) were discussing buying our current WiM Co a present to thank her for her hard work. This is a WiM tradition, but they wanted to make sure they bought her something she would like, as opposed to a plant that might die two days later (NFA is not horticulturally minded and had not managed to preserve her own WiM gift).

For some reason, despite the fact that the WiM Co had been coming to WiM for over ten years whilst I’d only been there for three, NFA decided I was the best person to pick a gift. It must have been the identical taste in books, because I was sure there were people who’d known the WiM Co longer and better than me.

What followed was a long trek down the narrowest streets of Norwich with the NFA, poking our heads in every gift shop we saw as I looked for the craft shop I was sure I had seen earlier in the week. We walked past it several times, only to eventually buy the gifts from the shop next door. Dragonfly cushion and Norwich colouring book in hand, the NFA phoned her husband to discuss whether it was a good idea to spend an extortionate amount of money on a cushion with a badger on it. Don’t ask. By the time we returned to the church, my brief surge in energy had disappeared and I was ready to curl up and be ill again.

Other than that shopping trip, my memories last few days of WiM 2016 are blurry at best. I do vaguely remember that I left the moneybox full of our profits in an unlocked room in the church whilst we all went to the pub. That wasn’t my proudest moment. This is why being a WiM treasurer is better than working with money in the real world. You aren’t fired for something like that. Everyone continued to be lovely and supportive and took over my job whilst wishing me a speedy return to health.

WiM ended with me receiving the best thank you card ever for my administrative help (it was gold and fancy and had a quote from my favourite Shakespeare play on it). There’s no risk of not feeling appreciated when you volunteer with Rev. Despite the illness, WiM 2016 was pretty successful for me.

This year, I decided something a bit different at WiM. I’m not going for a job that’s all sitting behind a computer and no human interaction. I’m going to be on the environment team. This will involve me actively being nice to people and socialising, which is even more unnatural to me than volunteering in general. Still, it’s people like my previous bond group leaders who made WiM a comfortable enough place that I was willing to keep coming back and trying new things. I hope I can do the same thing for someone else.

Trying to push yourself and find the skills you never knew you had is right there in Rev’s Aims and Values. It’s a fundamental part of the choir. Whether it’s music or other performing arts, concert tech or concert decoration, publicity or social activities, catering or paperworking, we have a place for you. There are positions open on the national team at this very moment and if you’re not sure what you can do, you can always e-mail to say “I’d like to be helpful but don’t know how.” We’d love to have you. Why don’t you give it a try?

© Devon Hazel 2017