Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth, or so the saying goes, and researchers have continuously found evidence of the health and mental benefits of volunteering. But how do long-term volunteers maintain their momentum and continue to give up their time? What drives groups of people to work together on projects?
The group behind Clones Film Festival think of the event as Ireland’s “biggest little film festival” – quite the achievement in a town with no cinema. For the past 16 years, every October Bank Holiday weekend, a committee of 10 people have hosted screenings of features, documentaries and Irish and international short films in a variety of locations in Clones, Co Monaghan, with funding from the Arts Council and Monaghan County Council, and local sponsors.
“We are on the border up here,” says Siobhán Sheerin, one of the founding members of the festival. “It’s too far to drive to the IFI [Irish Film Institute in Dublin] or the QFT [Queen’s Film Theatre in Belfast] to see exciting new films, so we decided to bring them to us instead.”
Being a volunteer for the Clones Film Festival committee means lots of late nights gathered around a kitchen table to plan and programme.
“Time is our greatest challenge,” says Sheerin. “We all have busy day jobs and family commitments, but we pool our skills so that the workload is evenly distributed.
“We make all decisions as a committee, which makes for animated discussions and great craic. But we always come to an agreement in the end. We basically meet all year except for a lull of a few weeks after the festival each year, which we need for recovery purposes. The committee are great friends; over the years we have managed to grow the festival while minding at least 15 children. We’re proud of what we have brought to our town. ”
It’s that sense of pride that motivates the Pride of Place committee in the Dublin city neighbourhood of Stoneybatter. A core committee of around 30 volunteers was formed two years ago, when various volunteering groups in the area combined forces to enter the All-Ireland Pride of Place competition in the Urban Heritage Category, which they won in the 2,000-population category in 2016. To build on that momentum, they organised a Stoneybatter Festival for a weekend in June this year.
“All of this came together because of the committed, diverse, talented community in Stoneybatter,” explains committee member Davina Smith.
“Organising a three-day festival is hugely demanding on time and energy. It was important for us to ensure that the committee were all volunteers and that the festival activities were locally based and locally sourced.”
The committee met weekly in the months leading up to the Pride of Place competition and the Stoneybatter Festival, and sub-committees met on a weekly or fortnightly basis.
Apart from the competition win and organising a festival, what were the less visible results of all this time and effort? “The activities have harnessed the remarkable talents of all our community,” says Smith. “Old and new residents came together with community organisations and businesses to demonstrate the fantastic community spirit.”
In the village of Multyfarnham in Co Meath, the volunteers of the Multyfarnham Tidy Towns continually improve the overall appearance of their town while encouraging an appreciation of nature through planting schemes and tidying initiatives.
The village has entered the Tidy Town competition for over 50 years, and won the national prize in 1977.
“In recent years the previous committee was finding it difficult to recruit new members,” says Thelma Greene, one of the committee volunteers. “But as this year marked the 40th anniversary of Multy’s ‘big win’, there was momentum behind setting up the new committee.