CONCERTA Case Study: Volunteers & Rural Touring

Volunteering sits at the heart of the rural touring programme. Most of the promoters are volunteers, every performance is supported by volunteers and many of the venues are run exclusively by volunteers; even those venues who employ professional staff utilise the help of a network of volunteers in promoting and supporting performances.

Case Study Taken from CONCERTA report

Historical NRTF data suggests that in any one year there is something in the region of 110,000 volunteer hours committed to supporting rural touring[1]. Given that during the five years of study, there were 9,467 performances in 4,354 venues this would mean that each performance had something in the region of 58 volunteer hours associated with it.

Our Case Study evidence would suggest that this substantially underestimates the amount of volunteer time dedicated to supporting rural touring performances. In Borwick and Priest Hutton Memorial Hall in Lancashire, for example, when researchers arrived at the venue three hours before the show was due to start, five volunteers were already hard at work in the venue putting up temporary staging, arranging tables and seats, helping the artists unload equipment and liaising with the artist’s technician in order to integrate the hall’s lighting and projection facilities into the technical requirements for the show. Behind the scenes other volunteers were preparing a meal to be eaten by the artists and their team before going on stage. As show time arrived, other volunteers arrived to operate ticket sales and regulate the door and seat audience members. When the show finished members of the audience stayed behind to help clear away the chairs and tables and put away the temporary staging. Volunteers helped the band load their van, put away the staging and it was a volunteer who swept the hall at the end of the night and switched off the lights and locked up, long after everyone else had gone home.

In Caunton Dean in Nottinghamshire, different volunteers take on responsibility for ticket sales, for poster distribution and for preparing food as well as preparing the venue. In Devoran, in Cornwall a group of volunteer parents organise a whole programme of children’s shows and activities.

Even in venues with professional staff, the amount of volunteer time dedicated to a performance far outweighs the amount of professional time. In Wem Town Hall, for instance, for the performance of Just Us dance company, there was one duty manager on duty during the whole event; however audience members arriving at the venue bought their tickets from a volunteer in the box office, ordered and were served their pre-show and interval refreshments from a volunteer and were greeted and seated by volunteers. At the end of the night volunteers cleared the hall and put away seating. Night after night, this scene is repeated in all the venues participating in rural touring.

Every performance is supported by a rich network of volunteers and volunteer labour, but it is important to understand that volunteering goes far beyond preparing the venue and helping out on the night.

A point emphasised repeatedly through the study fieldwork is that ‘voluntary’ does not equate to poor quality. Artists interviewed talked about the professionalism of locally-run venues. Promoters talked with pride about the different roles that volunteers took on and the professional way they carried them out. Schemes themselves operate a contractual relationship, which demands the same kind of accountability from volunteer promoters as it would from professionals. 

This is a very important point. While the NRTF and local Schemes offer a range of packages of support to promoters, there is very little practical support around supporting volunteers and volunteering as such. Venues that have paid staff, have some capacity to run schemes to recruit and support volunteers, but the reality for most voluntarily-run venues is that most promoters rely on a group of people to help them out who receive very little in the way of support or training. Usually they are people who have self-nominated or are known previously to the promoter.  Often the groups of volunteers stay relatively fixed over time and promoters often say that it is difficult or impossible to get new people involved.

“People tend to mix and match for other activities but no one come forwards for the arts” … no-one younger wants to come forwards to help you see” (Volunteer Promoter)

Although it is understandable that there may be a reluctance for new people to get involved, interestingly our audience survey responses (Section 3.12) indicate that there is a small but significant number of local audience members who would be willing to get involved and to help out. This would appear to be an opportunity for future development and could contribute both to sustainability and to succession planning in local venues.

Our Case Studies indicated, as does the literature, that there are a range of motives for people to volunteer at rural touring events.  One volunteer started to help-out because his wife was volunteering, another found that it was a great way to meet people after moving to the area and developed a range of friendships as a result. All the volunteers we talked to expressed a real sense of pride and enjoyment from their volunteering.

“We get a buzz out of it and people enjoy themselves obviously… and when people come up at the end of the show and say that was a blooming good show. Best yet or whatever.”

“I do get enormous satisfaction from the village hall being a success for putting on things that people enjoy and making a bit of money. I do get emotional. You know, I mean I enjoy it coming to fruition and when it comes off we all have a good time.”

“I never ever would have thought, ‘I’ll go and watch a ballet’, and it’s just changed me and enabled me to watch things and see things that I never thought I would enjoy even. Some of them are hard work …”

“Just remembered, I forgot to say why I was doing it and it’s the same reason as everyone else has, as in it’s nice to meet people and I genuinely believe the same things as you, the Town Hall is important but also for selfish reasons that, because I have used it for myself as a venue to do my art, where I have received some income, so it only seems fair to balance that with supporting it on a voluntary basis as well.”

The benefits of volunteering are many and varied. Our conversations with volunteers, promoters and with schemes identify many benefits both to individuals and to communities that accrue from volunteering. These range from the individual skills and health and wellbeing outcomes to the more macro community benefits related to increased community capacity, richer social and cultural interaction and civic society. Some of thing volunteers reported to us included the following quotes:

“It anchors you to the community.” 

“It’s enabled me and now makes me watch things I never thought I would watch.”

“I really wanted to put something back into the community.”

“It makes you more positive about where you live.”

Individual volunteers were much more likely to talk about their personal benefits, often related to a greater sense of involvement, friendship, purpose and pride with being involved and associated with touring events.

“… and so I came here because I returned back to the village after a bereavement and really was looking for an out to get to know people. So, that, yeah, and have met lovely, lovely people”.

Yet it was notable also that many people who started volunteering on rural touring activities had ended up being involved in other projects and skills and confidence learned through being involved in the touring events had soon transferred to other activities.

For example, we gathered many examples in our study of how volunteering on arts events often leads to and generates other arts activity. In one example, in Borwick and Priest Hutton in Lancashire, a core group of volunteers were so inspired after hosting professional acts in their local hall that they decided to form their own ceilidh band, and which is now a fixture at many local events and has proved both an asset to the local community as well as of great personal value to those involved. Another example was in Wem, where an individual who saw that after attending a film performance, the audience tended to stay and chat about the film, through this experience she was inspired to introduce film performances as part of her volunteering with U3A.

Rural touring, then, both builds and further enables community capacity. In Caunton Dean in Nottinghamshire, for example, the local history society was set up partly as a result of interests and social contacts fermented at rural touring events.  Today, many of those involved in supporting the rural touring events now also support local history society events. As a result of the experience gained through rural touring events the organisers know what goes into planning and promoting events and have the mechanisms for publicity such as the parish magazine and word of mouth networks, and which they have the skills to exploit. They now host guest speakers. Equally, all the village events benefit from this skill and legacy; village fetes, MacMillan coffee mornings, bring and buy sales, Christmas events, all reflect the fact that there is an embedded knowledge of what goes on into promoting successful events that interviewees connected back to having been fostered through rural touring experience.

Another example, from Borwick and Priest Hutton, illustrates very graphically how volunteering can lead to very practical and substantial economic outcomes. In this part of Lancashire, the local speeds for broadband were extremely slow and many people had been talking about how this was hampering the development of business and other initiatives locally. The promoter in conversation with other volunteers he worked with at the memorial hall on arts events saw the opportunity to do something about it. The immediate circle of people he asked to support him were the same group of volunteers who supported the arts events. Over two years this group met one day a week to physically dig and install the community broadband across the local countryside which resulted in the local community installing a hyper-fast broadband infrastructure at a fraction of the cost that it would have been if a professional company had undertaken the work. Already after two years, there are reports of more local businesses springing up and at least one media company has relocated to the area as a result of the development[1]. Although Borwick and Priest Hutton is a particularly strong example of the knock-on effects of volunteering, it is a powerful reminder that many people who start off volunteering in one area of activity often get involved in other volunteering when the opportunity arises

“Really, in an area like this, you’ve got huge human potentials. People with tremendous talents and experience and so on and often an enormous willingness to get involved and work hard and all the rest of it, but most frequently what’s missing is anyone to catalyse that process. I mean, if you’re prepared to do that, I mean, for me, relatively small amounts of effort can get a huge payback in terms of what you can achieve.” (Volunteer Borwick and Priest Hutton)

Our Case Studies indicated how volunteers involved in rural touring events are involved in a myriad of ways in their local communities. Although rural touring events are just one of the many activities that volunteers support, they enjoy a symbiotic relationship with other areas of volunteer activity, and if rural touring wasn’t always the catalyst which started many volunteers off on their volunteering journey, it continues to sustain and develop this critical capacity for rural communities well beyond the arts.


For more information on CONCERTA see – https://www.ruraltouring.org/project/concerta-social-impact-study-2/

Why is Rural Touring so Important?

Rural Touring Advocacy

What is National Rural Touring Forum?

National Rural Touring Forum supports rural touring schemes, promoters, artists and communities to bring high quality and professional creative experiences to rural venues and audiences. It does this through advocating on behalf of the sector, creating national projects, networking, showcasing and hosting an annual conference.


What is rural touring and why is it different from urban touring?

Rural touring is where professional performances take place in rural venues. These rural venues usually take the form of a Village Hall or Community Centre, but can also be pubs, libraries and outdoors. They are rarely fully equipped arts venues. Performances are programmed by a rural touring scheme, who will curate a varied season of events. Instead of all the events taking place in a couple of rooms in one building, they take place in lots of venues across a specific geographical area, sometimes whole counties, sometimes even further. Rural touring work is very different from touring to city centres or venues in urban areas. Artists express high regard for rural touring venues and the level of professionalism from the promoters. They often talk about their appreciation of a certain “magic” and warmth of the audiences that happens at rural events which aren’t the same at larger halls or festivals.

“The heart of the reason why it’s different from a town centre art centre is that the audience knows each other. That contributes to the other thing that is distinctive, which is that rural touring events become part of shared memory, part of what builds community. So, for both of those reasons, I think that it is a very distinctive kind of artistic experience.” François Matarasso, March
2019


Green Touring
Touring is inherently greener than venue-based work. Large venues consume vast amounts of energy and expel lots of carbon. People invariably drive to them – or drive to a station to get a train to get to a city where the venue is. Small-scale touring – where one van is on the road for a small cast – has a low carbon footprint in comparison. Rural touring is generally set in villages where many audiences walk to the venue. And if they don’t walk, they live usually within a 10-mile radius, so journeys are short. Previous NRTF annual surveys report that 90% of audiences travel for less than 10 minutes to get to their village hall.

Rural Promoters

Rural touring couldn’t happen without promoters who host the events. They work with the schemes to identify which performance or artist is the most relevant for their audience and do everything from box-office to get-ins, promotion, hosting artists. Many know their audiences on a first name basis.
Volunteering sits at the heart of rural touring; most promoters are volunteers. Venues employing professional staff utilise the help of a network of dedicated helpers. Promoters maintain an engaged audience for shows, know what they like and are aware of the level of risk they are comfortable in taking in their programme.

Performers

All genres of work are represented in rural touring. Creative practitioners and performing companies are selected via recommendations, showcasing, introductions, festivals and seeking out shows independently. They all have a few things in common – flexibility, relevance to the audience, and professional quality work.
It’s about putting artists in front of audiences and audiences in front of artists. Everything else is fundamentally about getting that moment working Properly. Our job is to make sure that that marriage is right and the right communities, the right shows and the right artists end up in the right place at the right time and that’s very important to us.” Director, rural touring scheme

Health in the Community

Rural touring brings high-quality arts to people who otherwise would not have access to it. This can contribute to reducing the effects of isolation and to developing community cohesion, while also strengthening the capacity of local people to organise and to develop themselves.
Bringing quality, diverse, and challenging arts activity has been shown to be integral to catalysing and supporting community life in rural areas, especially as other village ‘anchors’ such as shops and pubs have diminished. The act of programming touring arts into rural areas generates a range of individual and community benefits, including personal development, improved well-being and supporting community buildings and infrastructures such as pubs, halls and schools. The strengthening of existing community organisations through networking and volunteering and bringing people together positively fosters community cohesion by reducing loneliness, breaking down age barriers and even, enhanced local democracy. 

Guest Blog: Blaize Village Halls Week Interview with Worlaby Village Hall promoter

Friday, January 25, 2019

This Week is National Village Halls Week, and the NRTF have teamed up with ACRE to celebrate along with our rural touring schemes, promoters and artists. All week we will be releasing new content here on the blog and over on our Social Media to celebrate just how much Village Halls do for their community.

Today we have a guest blog post from Blaize who deliver Rural Touring events through Live Lincs and Artery. To find out more about Blaize and their programming visit their website. 

Remember if you have a Rural Touring Story you’d like to share, email us admin@nrtf.org.uk!




Here at Blaize, we join the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) to celebrate #VillageHallsWeek! Village venues play a vital role in the lives of many rural communities.  Today we hear from one of our valued promoters, Richard Beeforth, who is responsible for our Live Lincs’ events at Worlaby Village Hall in North Lincolnshire. Richard explains;


Worlaby is a small village in North Lincolnshire but despite its size, it has great community spirit and is a nice place to live. The village pub closed some years ago so our village hall is the hub for most community activity and is very well used. We have a fairly new village hall and our Village Hall Committee works hard to maintain and improve it. 

The Live Lincs rural touring scheme has been superb for Worlaby and the surrounding area. Not only providing quality entertainment for our residents but providing much-needed income for the upkeep of the hall. Because the quality of acts has been consistently high, it makes it easy for me, as a promoter, to sell tickets. I usually only have to put out a promotion email to our locals and the demand for tickets comes flooding in!

We usually fill the hall which creates a great atmosphere for the entertainers as well as providing a memorable night for the residents.  As a promoter of the scheme for Worlaby, the most rewarding time is getting good feedback from our audience after a performance. I then feel satisfied that I have chosen well! It’s particularly rewarding when the entertainers also provide good feedback that we have looked after them well.

Thanks to my wife Pam and our volunteer helpers, performers always get well fed at Worlaby!

I hope the funding for this scheme continues and Blaize continues to provide such a high standard and diverse mix of entertainers. Long may it continue!

Richard Beeforth
LiveLincs Promoter.

How The NRTF Works with Village Halls – and how you can join in!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Water Yeat Village Hall, a Highlights Rural Touring Venue

This week is National Village Halls Week and across the country thousands of village halls are hosting special events, on top of their already packed schedules, to celebrate.

Village Halls are integral to the work of rural touring.  Of course, rural touring events happen in spaces of all shapes, sizes and varieties. From community centres to libraries, but Village Halls play a huge role in providing their communities with arts and culture activities, through rural touring and otherwise.

But how does the NRTF work with these village halls?

Through Schemes

Our main link to village halls is through the Rural Touring Schemes. Schemes cover specific geographical areas and most will put together a programme of events, like any theatre or venue would do, across a season. However, instead of programming several rooms or spaces within one building they are programming work across whole areas, using Village Halls and other community venues.

The NRTF works closely with Schemes to advocate for arts and culture within rural areas and to support them in being able to continue our joint mission of making every village a cultural hub.

You can find your nearest Rural Touring Scheme here.

Through Specific Projects

As well as supporting schemes in their core work, the NRTF is also a partner in a number of projects which directly help Village Halls and Schemes to deliver high-quality performances in their spaces and areas.

The Rural Touring Dance Initiative is one such project. Contemporary dance suitable for rural spaces is hard to come by – the RTDI aims to change that! We work with dance companies to think about how they can make work suitable for rural spaces, and we work with schemes and promoters to help them build audiences.

Another project we are currently helping to deliver is a Social Impact Study ‘CONCERTA’ which has been a national research project into how rural touring impacts rural areas, from delivering culture on your doorstep to making long term social and economic impacts on a community.

You can find out more about Our Work here.

Via our Membership

If you’re a Village Hall promoter already associated with a scheme then you can join the NRTF as a member. This gives you access to our discussion boards where you can pose questions and discuss rural touring with colleagues nationally. You’ll receive weekly bulletins which highlight funding opportunities along with other things, and you’ll get access to some small grants and early access to conferences and other events.

If you’re a village hall and you’re not yet associated with a local Rural Touring Scheme then we can help put you in touch! And if there isn’t a scheme in your area (very unlikely) then we can help connect you to rural touring artists and other projects.

Find out more about becoming an NRTF member here.

Guest Blog: Blaize interview Jazz Musician Dave Newton

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

This Week is National Village Halls Week, and the NRTF have teamed up with ACRE to celebrate along with our rural touring schemes, promoters and artists. All week we will be releasing new content here on the blog and over on our Social Media to celebrate just how much Village Halls do for their community.

Today we have a guest blog post from Blaize who deliver Rural Touring events through Live Lincs (North Lincolnshire) and Artery (East Yorkshire).

To find out more about Blaize and their programming visit their website. 

Remember if you have a Rural Touring Story you’d like to share, email us admin@nrtf.org.uk


This week, (22-28 Jan) The National Rural Touring Forum highlights the vital role that village halls can play in rural communities.

Here at Blaize, we decided to join the celebrations! We decided it would a good idea to hear from one of the acts we commissioned about their experiences of touring small venues. Last season audiences in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire couldn’t get enough of jazz musicians, Dave Newton and Alan Barnes and having heard them play, we can understand why. The two have been playing duets together for over 40 years. These multi award-winning performers cover a vast repertoire from Louis Armstrong to Chick Corea. Their fantastic music, coupled with their interaction with smaller, more intimate audiences is what made each of their tour dates with us such a fabulous success. We spoke to Dave about what it was like for him, playing to audiences in village venues. Here is what he shared with us.

Q. Ok, Dave, so you’ve obviously performed to audiences large and small – what’s the largest audience you’ve ever played before and what’s the smallest? (roughly) Which do you prefer (if any) and why?


A. The largest physical audience I can remember was when I played as part of the support group for a Frank Sinatra concert at Ibrox football stadium and that was about 10,000 people but playing live solo piano for radio broadcasts on Radio 2 where the audiences would have been in hundreds of thousands was probably more nerve-wracking. As to the smallest, I sometimes play for people in their house and that can be to as little as ten folk lounging on easy chairs in a nice room with a lovely grand piano that might not get used very often. I really don’t have a preference. I enjoy playing in most settings.


Q. What do you like about rural touring? You build a very good rapport with your audience – does it feel more intimate in a rural setting? What is the secret of connecting with an audience – is it easier or harder in a smaller venue?

A. Rural touring for the most part, means playing to people that are unfamiliar with jazz or improvised music but having it brought closer to them means it’s easier to pluck up the courage and go and see for themselves that it’s not as esoteric, discordant or unfathomable as some would have them believe. In fact, if delivered with some humour, it can actually be quite entertaining. The village hall is a wonderful setting to hear acoustic music as you are up close and there’s no distraction which give the listener the chance to absorb themselves in the music completely.

Q. Do you have any anecdotes about rural touring you could share with us?

A.I can’t think of any anecdotes other than the apologies forthcoming from a lady who was running one particular village hall who was five minutes late in arriving because she’d been up in the hills ‘doing the lambing’ all afternoon and had forgotten the time! They really are fantastic people who deserve fantastic music.

Q. Is it difficult being on the road, driving long distances away from home or is it just something you get used to?

A. I love getting into the car and going somewhere new so it’s always been 50% of the job for me and as a result, nowhere feels obscure, just different.

Q. Why do you think rural touring is important? Should we make an effort to do more of it? 

A. The feedback from our rural audiences has been marvellous and very vocal from people who once lived in cities but now live a country life and are thrilled the city has come to them for a change.

Q. Is it difficult working in smaller halls with equipment etc and sound?

A. We have never had any technical difficulties as there’s only the two of us and there’s never a shortage of plug points or anything of that nature. In fact, it’s usually much easier to get in and out of village halls as you can get the car right up to the door!

Q. What would you say to other large acts considering the rural touring circuit? 

As long as a group has keyboard equipment of their own, I would encourage anybody to get involved in rural touring if I thought their music was the right mixture of ingredients. I can only reiterate my observation of earlier, that the audiences and especially the volunteers, really are fantastic people who deserve fantastic music.


If you’re an artist looking to get more involved with Rural Touring then be sure to check out NRTF Membership here.

Top Tip for Promoters: Talk us through your apprehension

Friday, October 12, 2018

This week’s top tip comes from Carn to Cove Scheme Manager, Claire Marshall and is aimed at venues and promoters.

The main points are:

  • If you’re worried about taking a show for any reason talk to your Scheme
  • Schemes are here to make things work for everyone involved
  • Schemes can’t help if they don’t know there is a problem

For all our Rural Touring Tops Tips, for artists, promoters, venues and schemes click here.