16 November 2021

From vollie to running the WOMAD volunteer programme

A former WOMAD volunteer can't quite believe that she's now running the event's volunteer programme.

Whitney Wilson fell for WOMAD when she first went to the festival in 2014, helping a friend who worked for the back-stage technical team. She loved it, and signed up to volunteer the following year.

“It was just like, ‘This is amazing.’ Seeing how many people were there, the number of stages, and the number of people involved in putting it together...I just wanted to know everything about how it worked.”

After volunteering in 2015, Wilson was offered paid technical work at the following two events. She’s worked for TAFT since 2018, including as WOMAD’s Artist Liaison Manager, and this March will be the first time she’s managed the event’s 500-odd volunteers.

“I never would have thought that I'd be doing the job I'm doing now. I knew pretty quickly that this was something I wanted to go forward with, but I wasn’t locked into anything further.

“Just meeting the people on the inside like [WOMAD technical director] Michael Keat, [TAFT CEO] Suzanne Porter and [Event Director] Emere Wano has led to more work. Without volunteering I never would have met any of them.”

Wilson’s role includes assessing volunteer applications, allocating roles and managing the volunteer programme, which is funded by TOI Foundation. 

TOI Foundation has contributed more than $2 million to the programme since 2004, helping to cover operational and logistical costs, as well as taking acts to communities around Taranaki in the lead up to the event.

“WOMAD is such a world-class operation, and that’s testament to the dedication and hard work of the volunteers,” says TOI Foundation chief executive Maria Ramsay.

“The event is about engaging with different communities, and volunteers really add to that aspect of whānau and people supporting each other.”

The vast majority of volunteers won’t go on to work in the events industry, but many like Wilson get the bug.

Hannah Weatherall is returning in March for her eighth year of volunteering as a driver for the artists. She says she loves being able to see a lot of the festival as it’s going on. 

“Being able to mix with all the different artists is pretty awesome. I’ll meet them at the gates and drive them to their stage on the golf buggies. We get to have a lot of fun, even though they’re not long trips.”

Kayla Bridger is also lining up for her eighth WOMAD as a volunteer, except she’s in the Kid Zone. She says it brings a lot of joy to the kids, who have all sorts of WOMAD-style activities.

Bridger is volunteering with her niece for the fifth time, which she says just adds to her own experience.

“She gets in with the kids and has just as much fun as they do. It’s such an incredible way to give back to the community, and it’s great to plant that seed that it’s cool to volunteer, and you don’t have to be paid to do something.”

As well as useful work experience, volunteers also get time to enjoy the festival and its musicians, artists and experiences as a regular punter too.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the event in March can apply HERE.