Blog #5: I support because...
In conversation with Maggie Lee (and Jamie)
Did you know that Canterbury Festival is a charity? We hope so, but if not, we’re glad to be able to give you an insight into the many ways to support your local International Arts Festival – by interviewing just a few of our current supporters.
THE VOLUNTEER – MAGGIE LEE
2016 was Maggie’s first year volunteering with Canterbury Festival although she has been attending Festival events for many years. Maggie lost her hearing a number of years ago and has been with her hearing dog, Jamie, for three years.
What do you do?
I’m a Front of House Usher at The Gulbenkian which includes all you would expect, but generally looking after people, making people feel they’re valued. I think their night starts from the moment they arrive on campus, not when the film or performance starts – it’s a whole evening.
What made you want to volunteer with Canterbury Festival?
I suppose being deaf I’d never thought about volunteering but when I started working at The Gulbenkian about five years ago, my confidence increased and I thought well, volunteering with the Festival is no different to what I do in my job, I can do that. I’d already enjoyed the Festival and this was an opportunity to see much more. I suppose also, it was talking to Rosie, the Festival Director; she planted the idea there.
We talked in depth about signed performances, stagetext performances, things like that and obviously how difficult it is to arrange them especially at Festival venues, because of the costings. I have previously been involved with SPIT, Signed Performances in Theatre (now Signed Culture), doing mystery shops for them and then I would give feedback to the Stage Managers afterwards and of course with stagetext performances, they have to reserve blocks of seating which if not sold, would cost the theatre a lot of money. So, I always say, please do try and attend a stagetext or signed performance as it’s no different to seeing it any other day but you’re supporting this necessary service.
What’s been the best thing about volunteering this year?
I suppose seeing behind the scenes, you get an insight to how the Festival is run and to how much work goes in throughout the year. I think the friendliness of it as well and the diversity of the events. It’s been what I expected, in a good way of course!
Do you have a stand out experience?
Something I think was quite amazing was speaking to Mrs Pym (Hugh Pym’s wife, Susan) to find out that she is so involved in deaf issues – that was amazing, you never know what people’s interests are and I thought that was great. One of the proudest moments was how well Jamie behaved everywhere he went. I’m saying that because he had never been to some of those venues and he was so amazing the way he just settled down and behaved. I felt really proud – some nights when I walked out, I would look down and say oh Jamie, you really are a credit to your Mummy!
When I asked you to take part in this blog, you said yes, in that you hoped it would encourage others with disabilities to volunteer…
I know I’m deaf and that I’m technically considered disabled (even though I don’t feel it) and I believe I should reach out to the hearing world – it’s no good sitting here saying ‘I’m deaf’ and expecting the hearing world to come to you. If you reach out, the hearing world will look after and take care of you. Sometimes people don’t know what to do but if you know what you want, you should say. And I think I’ve got a bit better at that with Jamie, saying I need a place for him out of the way etc. I think if you do reach out, you’ve got to educate people as well. Of course, a lot of the time, people are just a bit embarrassed, they think ‘what do I do, what do I say, what if I get it wrong’ so I think it’s up to, for want of a better word, ‘the disabled person’ to make the first move and then other people will take what you say on board.
What is it that volunteering with the Festival provides?
It provides an opportunity. With me, when I went deaf, I didn’t speak to anyone for a long time until I learnt to lip-read and to cope with being deaf and I lost my confidence. Wheras now, I can walk into a room and start chatting away, I used to walk into a room trembling unable to speak. I suppose if someone else sees me and thinks ‘oh she’s deaf and nobody minds’ it might help them to realise ‘oh she’s deaf, she’s got a hearing dog but she can do it. My hearing isn’t very good but I can give it a try too.’ Everybody these days is looking for something that’s perfect but nobody is perfect. That’s why this is important – to try and catch more people who have lost their confidence and give them a way to come out and enjoy themselves. And if people do come forward or aren’t sure, I’m always happy to chat. If people have been through this life-changing thing, there is light at the end of the tunnel, you are useful and worth a lot.
Canterbury Festival is continuously trying to improve accessibility of the Festival and is looking for people with an interest in the arts and experience of hearing, visual or mobility impairments to join a focus group to help us make access to our events better than ever. If interested, please call or email Rachel on 01227 452 853 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re interested in becoming a Festival volunteer, please email email@example.com stating your interest