“BEST SHIFT EVER!!” one of our volunteers’ screeches, whizzing past me on a mobility scooter dressed as a bright green plant. The Hull Carnival is in full swing and I’m completely lost in a sea of colour and sunshine… and giant shrubs making their way around Queen Victoria Square. Moments like this have carried me through the festival, allowed me to forget about my aching feet and have made me realise why organisations like the Freedom Festival Arts Trust are so important in bringing the city of Hull together.
For me, the festival began on Thursday, after the atmosphere in the office reached a state of commotion quite like the turmoil in my own house on Christmas eve. We were thrown into a realm of last minute changes, final preparations and welcoming half naked acrobats into the Festival Big Top. Not a bad start to the festival weekend. The smiles on people’s faces and the awe in their eyes as they gathered to watch pure talent from Australia made all the work and all the stress worth it. Art is always going to mean something different to everyone, but on the opening night people connected through one singular show and came together as an audience. Isn’t it strange what a couple of glistening abdominal muscles can do?
After a climatic start to the weekend, I make my way to Hull Minster which lies quiet and empty, apart from the huge grey mass hanging below the archways. In a setting steeped with so much history and religion, something that has hung in the sky for billions of years is now on our doorstep albeit a smaller version! Illuminating the space below, I’m totally captivated by the detail, an image taken from NASA of the lunar surface. I do a quick scan of the room before reaching for the exterior; this is the closest I’m ever going to get to touching the moon!
A huge part of the festival involved me getting to know our wonderful volunteers and ambassadors, something that I was initially very excited about but also quite nervous. Everyone seemed to know each other, making me question if I had enough time to get to know individuals at an in-depth level like everyone else already had. On Friday however, I learnt not only what our volunteers do for Freedom Festival but what Freedom Festival does for our volunteers. “Volunteering saved my life” was a phrase that slipped in and out of the weekend, all enriched with different stories: an illness, mental health problems, family issues to touch upon a few. Getting out and about, talking to people, putting on a uniform and knowing that you could make a difference to someone’s day had really changed some of our volunteers lives. Freedom Festival and other volunteer opportunities gives people their own tailored form of free, self- help medication.
Throughout the weekend, I manage to catch glimpses of certain acts and I’m blown away by the crowds that snake their way down Whitefriargate into the magic. I witness people debating topics of community around the Pig, spot stunned faces as crockery and apples fly across the stage in Smashed and observe a merry-go-round transition into a performance space presented by Southpaw. On one of my lunch breaks, I meet Marcelo at The Print Shop and we discuss matters that we feel are important: politics, climate change, religion. The same is happening at the next table, and the next and a catalyst for change materialises in the form of t-shirts, placards and banners.
On Friday evening, a wicker puppet is woken up in Trinity Square, and a large-scale procession meanders through the city, attracting clusters of onlookers and beckoning them to follow. A revolution begins, and people dressed in red and white emerge from the shadows clutching posters and signs. The atmosphere is overwhelming and as the bass grows louder, flares are clutched up into the night sky followed by people shouting “RISE!” It felt brilliant to be part of something so powerful.
Looking back over a weekend crammed with memories and stories, I find it hard to communicate the exact words on how Freedom Festival has impacted me. The experience has been so personal and so enriching, I’ll be happy if I’ve made a difference to even one aspect of the festival; whether that aspect is a volunteer, an ambassador, a member of the public or a colleague. At the moment, I think I’m still wrapped up in the festival world and I’m not quite prepared for how hard it’s going to hit me when I realise that it’s all over. An involvement as monumental as this has been unbelievably rewarding and remarkably I find myself considering a festival filled future. After all, when am I next going to have a chance to touch the moon?
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