There may be some readers who are puzzled as to why folk volunteer to work at The Art House. After all, generally when one seeks work, one hopes for a financial reward as recompense for the aches and strains of labour (that is, unless you’re giving birth, which is an entirely different matter). The money and work equation seems quite reasonable. In fact, it is a thought process that motivates the majority of us to leave our cosy beds each morning and head off to exchange time and skills for a salary to pay mortgages, bills, and to keep us in cocoa powder or whatever else it is that brings happiness to our lives.
To work for nothing may seem contradictory to such expectations, yet the Art House has an army of volunteers, eager and chomping at the bit to get stuck in, to roll up their sleeves and wash dirty dishes, make coffee, serve food, and clean up mess like Wombles of Wimbledon Common. How can this be, I hear you cry, when there is not one iota of financial incentive on the table? Are these volunteers completely bonkers?
Now, you may have a point. There might be an element of bonkers rationale behind the concept of volunteering, but really it isn’t so strange, depending on how you view the situation. Let’s start with that evil W word (and I’m not talking about Willy Wonker and his Chocolate Factory, either).
Work often conjures the image of something you don’t want to do but have to do. There’s the ‘it’s a lovely sunny day and I’m stuck in here, working’ scenario to get over first. Then there’s ‘God, I really don’t want to do this’ scenario, which is even worse. At the Art House, such scenarios are replaced by far happier imagery.
For a start, if you’ve gravitated towards this blog, there’s a high probability that you have something arty about you. You might be a closet stitcher, a toilet paper poet, a bedroom guitarist, or just like playing dustbin lids on a sunday night when the pub closes. Or, you might be one of those haute couture types, or even just a hauteur of haughtiness, which sounds rather like naughtiness, hence its inclusion in the list of ‘types’. Whoever you are, I bet there’s an artful bone in that body of yours.
How do I know this? Because just about all volunteers at The Art House are just like you! Slightly bonkers, refreshingly different, and passionate about creativity, be that in numbers, words, paints, music, or paper-folding. So, you’ll find like-minded company, which is great if you like chatting about good quality arty stuff.
Then there are customers, most of which are just like volunteers, though they help keep The Art House in business thanks to their generous support. If you want, you can sometimes have a jolly good chat with them too, whilst serving a blend of tea from the vast emporium behind you (if you’re stood at the till, taking their order, that is). Maybe you could squeeze in a word or two about Pete Docherty in that arty new French film whilst handing over that dish of deliciousity that is making you feel just slightly peckish?
This brings me neatly to the next reason why it’s a good idea to volunteer. At the end of a shift, you get the chance to sample some of that quality cuisine for yourself, to fill your tummy with food that equals yummy. Yes, you heard correctly; the voice inside your head did just say, what?, free food? A modest meal for the modesty of your service. How about that? Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you might get a piece of cake, too. Unless you don’t like cake. Then you’ll have to suffer watching someone else getting a piece of cake, so if you’re a jealous type, it might be better at this point to close your eyes and think of goat’s cheese or something more to your fancy.
Now, at Moving Voices last week, believe it or not, there was this woman who read a poem about her goats. To accompany the rising resonance of assonance and alliteration, she also bought along some pictures for us to look at, just so we could visualise those goats whose merits were extolled with poetic furor. This is another advantage of volunteering – you get to find out about what’s going on, and sometimes, just sometimes, you might think to yourself, ‘well, I’m here already so why not just hang out for an extra hour and catch the evening’s entertainment.’
To complicate matters further, it might not be the evening. It might be the afternoon, in fact, giving you a chance to let your French flourish at Le Café des Amis or talk about something other than sauerkraut at the Stammtisch German café. Really, there is plenty to occupy time at the Art House – and time, as we all know, is a very busy ticker of tocks.
Even if you’re not particularly arty, or if your artistic talent lies hidden beneath the nail of your little finger, there are things other than money to be gained by volunteering at the Art House. You get to work in a real life café, for starters. Better still, for plebians like me, you can learn how to serve up scrumptious food that will steal the socks off granny’s feet or charm the knees from the bees of any beloved. There’s also a kitchen where you can make stuff and learn new culinary skills or maybe even contribute some of your own veggie knowledge.
Now knowledge is a funny thing. It’s what we store in our heads from reading or listening, in readiness for the right moment to spout forth and impress present company. Sometimes this might be in the form of a story (did I say there’s a story teller’s club at The Art House?), or a pithy saying of worldly wisdom. Like this little gem – Did you know that volunteering can help you live longer?
C’est vrais mon amis! According to researchers in Kansas City (that’s somewhere over the rainbow, if you don’t know exactly where it is), volunteering is powerful medicine that works by keeping you physically, mentally and socially active. Why hunt for the elixir of life when the viagra of volunteering is such a short journey away? For those who might struggle with the expense of such a journey, you could even get a little help with cost of bus fares.
So, if you want to spice up your life with a bit of oregano and mixed herbs, serve the perfect smile, or stimulate creative juices, why not take a trip to The Art House and check out all the positive vibes that you could be sharing. It doesn’t cost anything to come inside and sit for a while to observe this hive of arty activity. Just ask for a glass of water and someone will be happy to serve you. Who knows, it might even be me. If you’re feeling brave, please ask about volunteering. It could be the best thing you have done for year and in a week or two you could be part of the crew that keeps this good ship sailing.
By Matt (café volunteer)
If this has convinced you, why not express an interest in volunteering here!