Blog #2: I support because...
In conversation with Penny Cornet
Penny Cornet is officially our longest serving volunteer having done so for over 30 years. Volunteering nearly every night during the three-week Festival and at other fundraising events throughout the year, Penny (and her husband, David) are true Festival stalwarts. Here, she fills us in on her experience of being a Festival volunteer and shares some lesser known facts about Canterbury Festival.
What do you do?
Now, I have retired but I was the Visitor Services Manager for the Wildwood Trust for nine years. For most of the time I’ve been a volunteer with the Festival, I have been a stay at home Mum but I’ve worked at The Canterbury Tales, so lots of experience with tourism, before moving on to Wildwood.
What are your favourite things about Canterbury?
I would say the history, the fact that there’s the Cathedral, the fact that there is culture. It’s a small city but it’s full of culture so it’s a pleasant place to be. Inside the City Walls, there’s mostly no traffic and I do quite like having tourists because it’s vibrant. Because there are tourists, you feel it’s a nice place because people want to come here.
What drew you to volunteering with the Festival?
We hadn’t long been in Canterbury, maybe a year or so, having moved from North Kent and I’d always wanted to live here. David was asked to open the Radio Kent Studio to be based here so we came down and I realised that there was a Festival. I think the Festival may have advertised in the newspaper but all my girls went to Simon Langton Girls School and they advertised there for 6th Form students to sign up as volunteers so I jumped in on that.
I was a stay at home mum, didn’t have much confidence, hadn’t worked for several years and I didn’t have a lot of spare money to go and see things. It gave me all those things; it restored my confidence, it opened my eyes to lots of the arts that I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to and over the years I’ve met so many lovely people and formed real, good friendships.
What’s something about the Festival that the public may not know?
They probably don’t realise it is a charity which is so important. They probably don’t realise it covers the full spectrum of art forms. People may think it’s just events at the Cathedral and those quite classical concerts but there is so much on offer and of course, now we have the Science Strand.
I think young people, young professionals in the City don’t realise how much is on offer for them; affordable, enjoyable events. That’s when it helped me so much, when I was in my thirties. Cultural events really do open your mind to everything, don’t they? Take the French for instance, who tend to consume much more culture; I remember reading an article saying that they have less mental illness, less criminality because they have more culture. And of course, the arts in general are vital for good wellbeing.
You are officially the Festival’s longest standing volunteer, what’s kept you coming back, and what would you say to others considering signing up?
I’ve kept coming back because you so enjoy being part of the Festival. When you’re on the fringes, you’re not so much in it, you go to the concerts and the Festival staff are lovely but when you’re part of it, you’re part of it. You get to know everyone so well; you may not see some people for a year then when you see them again it’s just like old times. Over the years, all the Festival staff have been delightful and a joy to be with, and they make you feel important. You think ‘Oh well, I’m only a volunteer’ but that’s not what the Festival team make us feel.
Why is it so important to you to support a local charity?
I couldn’t sell myself, but because I feel culture is so important to our wellbeing, I’m very happy to devote my time and to be enthusiastic about the Festival because of everything that people get out of it. I think if you asked all the volunteers, they will all say what they get out of it, which is fun, comradery and the feeling that you’re doing some good.
It’s been a long time! But can you pick a favourite experience at Canterbury Festival?
The most recent ones are always those that stick out the easiest! This year, I loved Erik Satie: Memoirs of A Pear-Shaped Life, Dillie Keane and I always enjoy the closing concert with the Choral Society at the Cathedral, it’s so uplifting. I have favourite memories and then I struggle to remember the name of the artist! There was a very spellbinding concert in the Cathedral some years ago, where the choir walked in complete darkness through the Cathedral – it was stunning (Tenebrae, 2006). Other things that stick out are when I first saw Etienne Pradier and his magic at the Festival Club – I’d never seen anything like it before and he actually came around to each individual table – it was so intimate and a lot of fun. Finally, I always enjoy the Talks Series because it’s not very often you get the chance to see such a high quality of speaker. I remember I really enjoyed Douglas Hurd; the politician, who came to speak years ago. One thing he said is still so vivid; that now in the days of instant communication, it doesn’t give politicians time to think. Somebody will come up to you with a microphone, straight away after something has happened and you’re expected to give your opinion and he stated how important it is for politicians particularly, to have time to weigh up the situation before they speak, and I thought it was so interesting and it has stuck with me.
Penny is one of over 60 volunteers who give their time during the three-week Festival in October and at fundraising events throughout the year. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org stating your interest.