Article by Sarah Williams, originally written for the Manchester Punk Festival 2020 programme.
The heart of DIY is a willingness to dedicate your time and energy for the love of punk. While MPF is run by a collective, there’s a supportive group of volunteers working behind the scenes at the event: packing and selling merchandise, running the stages, looking after the bands, wrist-banding and making sure that you’re having the best festival possible.
“The volunteers are such a crucial part of this weekend, we wouldn’t be able to do it without them,” says Kaz Hinsley, who helps to head up the volunteer team. “Each and every person that helps in some way really does make the weekend run more smoothly.”
Volunteering at MPF is unlike volunteering at any other event. Everyone pitches in a few hours, with a big grin on their face, proud to be helping the festival run without a hitch. It’s a stark contrast to commercial festivals, where volunteering can mean struggling through a six hour shift on a comedown, covered in glitter and mud, doing the bare minimum to earn yourself a ticket. MPF’s volunteers are all keen to see that the festival operates at the highest standard possible.
“I started volunteering because I believed in what the guys were trying to achieve and create, and I wanted to be a part of it any way I could,” says Enda McCallan, who’s worked since the first MPF. “By volunteering, I get to be one of the faces of the festival. I get to meet so many people and make new friends each year.”
“MPF is like being part of one large family,” says Chris ‘King of Merch’ Brown. “You’ll meet bands and fans who will become friends for life. The music is always great and you’ll probably find yourself wanting to clone yourself at some point, so you don’t miss any of the bands you want to see.”
Weeks before the event, the official merchandise starts to arrive. The boxes fill up the spare bedroom, dining table, hallway and garage of Kaz and Chris ‘Big Hands’ Hinsley, whose three cats enjoy having somewhere new to play. The work that goes into preparing, packing and shipping the huge volume of merchandise is unenviable, however the income from t-shirt sales is essential to ensuring the festival’s able to pay all its performers.
Chris and Kaz naturally fell into the role of heading up the volunteer team; it’s an extension of their involvement in TNSrecords. “If we can take a bit of the pressure off the guys that literally spend all year planning this beast, then I feel like we’ve helped,” says Chris. “After putting that much effort into making the festival what it is, they should at least be able to enjoy it.”
“Every single one of the volunteers wants the festival to work and run smoothly,” Chris continues. “It’s so much easier when you’re working with people who want the same thing. As long as we put the prep in, it pretty much runs itself when you’ve got a team like we have.”
Part of the reason the team works and runs smoothly is the love and care that Chris and Kaz put into planning it. The most challenging aspect for them is putting the rota together. Kaz explains, “Chris tries his absolute hardest to make sure volunteers are working shifts that allow them to watch their top five favourite bands. We don’t want any volunteer to miss out if we can help it.”
“The main thing, for me, is for the volunteers to have fun,” Chris says. “It’s hard work sometimes, when it gets busy. Some of the team refuse the free ticket because they just want to help make the festival better, so the least we can do is try to let them see the bands they want, and enjoy the festival as well.”
It hasn’t always run this smoothly. “I’ll never forget that when MPF started, it was a case of being stuck on merch for most of the weekend and grabbing people we knew walking past, asking if they minded helping out for an hour or so,” says Chris. “Every year since then, we’ve gone away with a bigger list of things we need to sort out for the following year.”
It’s not just merch and wristbands. The stage managers who make sure the bands are happy, everything sounds great and stays on schedule, also volunteer their time. Tim Loud’s been running the acoustic stage since the first year:
“Even when I was touring full time, I always made a point of ensuring I would be in the UK and available to help for MPF weekend. The guys from TNS have provided me with nothing but support over the years, so if I can go some way to repaying them by giving them my time, then I’m more than happy to do that. I’m sure that all the volunteers feel the same way with regards to all the organisers.”
It can be hard work, especially for stage managers with greater responsibility. “All the punters and organisers that I’ve come across over the years have been accommodating and helpful so there are rarely any issues for me,” Tim continues.
“The most rewarding part of volunteering at MPF is seeing it go so well each year and seeing so many people have fun,” adds Enda. “People rave about the festival, and return every year. It’s great to be a small part of that!”
MPF’s volunteer team also know the festival better than most. If you want any advice over the weekend, they’re happy to help. “Pace yourself. It’s a long weekend with a lot of things happening,” advises Chris Brown.
“Enjoy yourself and have fun!” advises Kaz. “If there’s a band you really want to see, then get to the venue early to ensure you can get in, and be kind to your fellow festival-goers.”
“Buy any volunteer you see a drink,” says Chris ‘Big Hands’ Hinsley. “They’re the unsung heroes of Manchester Punk Festival.”
Article by Sarah Williams.