Music, sunshine and beer – the perfect way to volunteer?
Orla Keaveney on working with The Workers Beer Company, a charitable organisation that serves drinks at festivals and donates to organisations, campaigns and charities
Volunteering is an easy way to get bartending or service industry experience, which can come in handy when applying for jobs in future. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images
As students, we are increasingly exposed to the world’s injustices and problems, but feel powerless to do anything about them.
As much as we’d like to give to the homeless people who line our streets, or the charities that appeal to us for donations, students are a notoriously cash-strapped bunch, and rely on emergency funding services more than we can give back.
Volunteering is the most feasible option – and is often sought by prospective employers down the line – but few charities have activities in place that cater to the student lifestyle.
There’s little on offer that directly helps causes we care about, doesn’t require huge training or time commitments, and, above all, is actually an enjoyable way to spend your limited free time.
What many students don’t know is that there already is a volunteering opportunity that could tick all these boxes, and then some.
The Workers Beer Company (WBC) is an organisation that arranges for volunteers to serve drinks at festivals and concerts during the summer. In exchange for donating their wages to an organisation of their choice, volunteers get free snacks, t-shirts and even a pint to enjoy as part of the audience once the bar closes.
It’s also an easy way to get bartending or service industry experience, which can come in handy when applying for jobs in future.
This year, volunteers were sent to major music events during the summer, including the Guns N’ Roses reunion tour in Slane, the Trinity Summer Series concerts, Longitude and even Electric Picnic.
You can ask to be paired with friends or go on your own to meet new people – most of the volunteers are students, who’ll also support your chosen charity, so it’s very easy to make like-minded friends.
The vast majority of Irish WBC workers sign up with the Abortion Rights Campaign, which is currently using the funding to help repeal the eighth amendment.
If you wouldn’t support the aims of this group, you can also volunteer with organisations such as Latin America Solidarity Centre (LASC) or the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), though they may not offer the same range of events.
Anyone over the age of 18 who provides a verifiable reference is welcome to take part. After filling in an online form, you get to pick however many events you want to work at: most events are under-subscribed so you’ll nearly always get your first picks.
Then the charity you sign up with arranges all the details – you simply have to show up on the day. The duration of your shift depends on the sort of event you sign up for: typically, a concert will be about 4 hours, while a festival could be about 8 hours with a 30-minute break.
Free transport is provided for non-central venues, as well as camping for those that volunteer on multiple days of the same festival.
There are two main roles for volunteers: pulling pints and serving them.
The first is definitely the less demanding – once you master the art of getting the perfect head on a pint, it’s a fairly straightforward process.
Serving the drinks to customers requires you to be a lot quicker on your feet, between checking IDs, keeping track of orders and giving the right change.
On the bright side, servers can earn tips, and get a much better view of the main stage than their counterparts behind the bar – plus the public can be more entertaining to deal with than a beer tap.
The bar generally closes up around 10pm, allowing enough time for all the volunteers to grab a free drink for themselves and join the crowd for the last few songs.
No matter how much you like the band, your enjoyment of the experience largely depends on who you work with.
A great partner can keep you smiling even as you deal with drunken flirts or underage chancers, and help you have as much fun as the people who’ve paid to be in the audience.
But in the same way, a clumsy, lazy or nagging teammate can make the job unnecessarily stressful, especially if you can’t rely on their support when the crowds get busier.
The best way to avoid spending your shift in a role that doesn’t suit is by acting sooner rather than later – the organisers are usually pretty accommodating if you ask to switch bars early on, and are even happy to let you rotate between pulling pints and serving if you find someone who’s willing to swap.
Alternatively, you can request to be put in the same group as any friends you’ve signed up with, to avoid the possibility of a dodgy pairing, though this could lead to you missing out on the chance to meet new people.
If you’re not sure how helpful a teammate you’ll be yourself, it’d be advisable to first sign up for a shorter shift at a concert to see if you enjoy it, before taking on a full day at a festival.
On the whole, volunteering at concerts and festivals is one of the most fun ways for students to give back to charity, as well as bulking up their CVs.
Although most of the opportunities are available over the summer, the Abortion Rights Campaign, for example, posts regularly about upcoming events on its Facebook group, “ARC Festival Volunteers”, which is worth joining for updates.
So next time your favourite band is coming to Ireland, but you don’t have enough to shell out on tickets, it’s handy to know that there’s a way to see them for free – and even get a free pint while you’re at it!