What it takes to give something back


On the eve of Volunteers’ Week, we take a look at the invaluable work done by volunteers at Lighthouse...

As a nation, it’s in our nature to help out – according to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, more than half the UK’s population regularly does something for nothing for people who are not friends or family. 

This informal volunteering to go shopping, provide childcare or do housework is in addition to the 8.3 million people involved in more organised volunteering activity at least once a month. 

And that includes our treasured and much-admired Lighthouse volunteers, whose efforts and experiences are vital to the smooth running of the organisation. 

“Volunteering is a two-way transaction – volunteers are able to be involved in our busy events and play a part in looking after our customers as well as having opportunities to see some of the many shows we present,” says Lighthouse Chief Executive, Elspeth McBain.   

“It is a collegiate activity that offers a social connection with others. For the organisation, it helps us to keep our costs down, which is more essential than ever, and it also enables us to provide additional levels of friendly customer support, which gives our audiences an even better visitor experience. We know that volunteering is rewarding on many levels, and the contribution that our volunteers make is essential to our business model.” 

Lighthouse volunteers perform a range of duties from greeting audiences and showing them to their seats, to selling programmes and ice creams, arranging interval drinks, clearing up, packing away and restocking for the next performance. They’re a visible presence during performances and if there are any issues they’re quick to alert the stewards or duty managers. 

“To many people they are the face of Lighthouse, and I don’t know where we’d be without them,” says Volunteer Co-Ordinator Fay Gilland. 

So, what makes a Lighthouse volunteer? 

“They can’t be shrinking violets; they have to be outgoing, and they must have a passion for the job. And it is a job. Their interest must be about Lighthouse, not about the performances. Volunteers will do most things asked of them. They are conscientious, dedicated and hugely experienced. Their knowledge is invaluable. We have a very reliable, enthusiastic team, that works well together and complements the work of the staff.  

“Typically, they want to give something back, to remain engaged, contributing and useful. Many, not all, are retired, but all of them are able, capable and willing to muck in.” 

Qualities that Lighthouse volunteers have been readily able to transfer to other organisations including the National Trust at Kingston Lacy and Brownsea island, and the Friends of Poole Hospital. 

Over the years, among their ranks have been retired teachers, nurses, an occupational therapist, a nutritionist, former military and law enforcement personnel, artists, accountants, dancers, plus college and A-level students. Former volunteers now on staff include a Senior Ticket Sales Advisor, a Senior Steward and other stewards. 

“All our volunteers have different abilities, and I would never leave anyone feeling exposed by asking them to do something they were uncomfortable with,” explains Fay. 

“The role has changed since the pandemic and the introduction of digital ticket scanners. Before, volunteers would be outside either the theatre, and for busy performances also the studio, checking physical tickets, but now the job of scanning is done by stewards and volunteers are inside the theatre or, on busy nights, outside greeting people before their tickets are scanned.  

“At the BSO concerts we have two regulars who sell programmes on the ground floor – our very own Dynamic Duo – and the BSO audiences love them. They are part of the whole experience of coming to the concert, something that’s distinctive and unique to Lighthouse.” 

Before ’going solo’, all volunteers receive comprehensive in-job training, typically shadowing more experienced volunteers to get a feel for the work. 

“They need to have a certain level of experience, which is why, if we recruit, we do it at the end of the summer so that their training period is across one of the busiest times of the year, the autumn season, when they’ll encounter more real-life situations.” 

Having grown up in Bournemouth, Fay spent much of her working life in the Cotswolds before retiring in 2007 and returning to her home town with husband Gil. In search of new friends and purpose she volunteered for the Salvation Army, cooking up to 70 meals every Friday for homeless people – “I can’t tell you how rewarding that was; I still do two days a week in their charity shop.” 

A year later Fay came to work as a steward at Lighthouse and took over as Volunteer Co-ordinator about ten years ago. 

“When the previous person left I asked Craig what the job entailed and he just smoothed out a blank sheet of paper and told me I could do it however I wanted! 

“It was a steep learning curve, but everybody has their part to play in the organisation and those who stick at it and get the most from it are the ones who just get it. I’m on a WhatsApp group with the senior stewards and the number of times we see a message that says, ‘Thank goodness for the volunteers’ – their work is hugely appreciated and essential to the way Lighthouse runs.”  

For more information about Volunteers’ Week visit https://volunteersweek.org/

The NCVO’s Big Help Out 2024 takes place from 7-9 June. More information at https://www.thebighelpout.org.uk/


Why I volunteer…  

I’ve worked at Lighthouse for 13 years and I think I know what I’m doing now! I’m very happy in my work, but I felt I needed a new challenge, an opportunity to put what I’ve learned to use elsewhere. I’ve always thought the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum is one of Bournemouth’s best kept secrets. It has some amazing paintings in its collection – particularly the Pre-Raphaelites – and some really interesting touring exhibitions as well. Now that it is going to be independent of BCP Council they’re having to look at how they do things so I’ve joined one of the steering groups. I go to meetings once every three months and I have a bit of homework to do, but it’s got me thinking outside of my focus on Lighthouse. I’m also meeting new people, hearing about their experience and bringing some of that back to Lighthouse. I really enjoy it – it’s good for me and incredibly rewarding.  

Craig Kingshott, Duty Manager 

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An original Poole Arts Centre volunteers' badge