“Why not give up a weekend and graft in the dining room, help serve and clear away after 1,500 young carers and their leaders”? The question I asked my family about five years ago. A rather more enthusiastic than expected, “Why not”? came back. And so, ever since some, if not all, of the Hand Family has been on duty for the Young Carers Festival (YCF). This year all three of my children had escaped abroad to avoid it – but actually I don’t think that’s really true, I am pretty sure that they would like to have been there, it’s one of the things we now do as a family.
So, reduced to just Sue and I, we were joined by Concordia Volunteers from South Korea, France, Finland and Wickham; by Jane from Southampton; Trevor from Whale Island shuffled in for a stint; Sally issued bread with authority: a job recreated slightly quieter by Claire from Townhill the following day; Pete C and Emma kept an eye on all things gluten free; and the Basingstoke massive: Adam and Gina kept service on track until they were called by the village fete on Sunday; and finally (unless I’ve missed someone in which case I am sorry) Tia a YMCA Change Agent from Western Australia. That’s the thing about volunteers, they are rarely involved in just the one thing. This formed the front of house team and, of course, behind the scenes is Caroline and her fantastic team.
Eighteen years ago, YCF was a little less polished than it is today, in fact the first festival was really something that we got away with! You will have all heard how the festival came about with a conversation between Jenny Frank of the Children’s Society and our own Peter Cooper but what is less often told is that Pete was away for the week before the festival, only returning in time to MC the event. We had borrowed tents from anyone we could and were still pitching them after midnight on the Friday, when the last group, from Cornwall, arrived. Many of the tents looked as though a slight puff of breeze or a heavy dew fall would render them useless, fortunately the sun shone and the weather was great. I can’t remember a great deal about the catering operation except that it was in the old dining room, which was so horrible that we decided to build a new one in 2008! I do recall a moment at lunch time when I asked if anyone wanted an ice-cream and the resulting stampede nearly turned over the truck I was in the back of! The programme was full-on and ran from Friday teatime to Sunday lunchtime. But the thing I remember most vividly was that England beat Germany 1 – 0 in Euro 2000 and as the final whistle blew, the Disco (which we’d subbed out to YMCA Romford) bellowed into life with the Village People and YMCA. Instantly 649 Young Cares stood as one and danced – definitely one of the most brilliant moments of my YMCA career. On the Tuesday following the festival it was tipping down with rain and England had lost 3 – 2 to Romania and were out of the tournament – that was the moment that I realised we had got away with it and immediately set about hiring proper tents for the following year. There are loads of YCF stories to be told, every year has something of note about it but any more stories will have to wait for another time.
So, what of the dining room crew this year? They served and cleared away something in the region of 6,000 meals.
That means that each table was turned over about 8 times at each sitting. They dealt with about 200 sacks of rubbish, served over 6,000 drinks and probably each walked 5km per sitting. It was the hottest year that I have been in the dining room and we each needed to drink about 3 litres of water on Saturday evening alone. So, as you can see it seems like hell but in fact its great fun. The team were all up for it and nobody was slacking; there was a fair amount of banter; there was Caroline’s full English breakfast to look forward to; but most of all there was the hundreds of conversations with a group of young people who deserve a little waiting on now and again.
I guess I’ll be there again next year, hopefully with all the family and maybe one or two new faces who don’t mind a bit of grafting for a good cause.
If you’d like to find our more about our Young Carers Festival, click here.