Volunteers Week: Meet Don!

1 June -7 June is Volunteers Week and we want to celebrate the amazing contribution that the volunteers make at Storyhouse!

We have 175 volunteers who give up their free time to support the organisation. Their contributions range from stewarding to supporting Young Storyhouse and community events, assisting the wardrobe department, and even planting and growing the set at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre in 2021!

Don Dickson is one of our brilliant volunteers. Here’s a bit more about him.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am 83 years old, married to Karen (also a volunteer), we have 8 children and 11 grandchildren.

My professional life was as a research physicist, working on energy use in the heating and ventilation of buildings. I retired some time ago (25 years!) and now occupy myself mainly in sewing, silversmithing and photography. I have been sewing since my mum taught me how to use the hand Singer sewing machine at age 11 and more recently I have made ball gowns, wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses as well as more mundane things like bags and duvet covers – also my own shirts. I had a photographic darkroom under the stairs when I was a teenager, I never imagined the day would come when photography didn’t need a darkroom. I used to do a lot of offshore sailing in my own sailing boat – the Hebrides, Isle of Man, Ireland, France – I was never into racing but enjoyed the challenge of navigating by drawing lines on a paper chart, pre GPS.

How long have you been volunteering at Storyhouse?

Since the beginning, in fact before the beginning – when events were held in the Town Hall.

Why did you become a volunteer?

It was very strange and quite sad that, for so long, Chester had neither a professional theatre nor a cinema after the Gateway closed. I felt that Storyhouse was the best thing that had happened to Chester in my lifetime and I wanted to support it and be part of it.

Seeing far more shows than I would ever buy tickets for is an added bonus for doing something that is (mostly) fun. It was also something that Karen and I can do together which is good for us and, I hope, good for Storyhouse.

What does being a volunteer at Storyhouse entail?

The job description could be a bit scary – fire safety, evacuation procedures, awkward members of the audience – but the team of trained volunteers work well together, and there is always staff backup if it all gets too difficult – after all, we are volunteers.

Most of my volunteering has been in the theatre (at Storyhouse and in the Park) and Moonlight Flicks. Briefing one hour before the performance, opening doors at 30 minutes, checking tickets and showing people to their seats while being helpful, welcoming and responding to questions and requests. In the theatre there is one volunteer on each door, so you never feel alone. Covid made life more complicated and I have restricted my recent involvement to performances in the Park. During performances, audience toilet visits are the main interruptions as the volunteers have to guide people in and out of the auditorium, with priority to the actors using the same exits. This can mean that you are lucky to get an uninterrupted view of a performance; however you will see a lot of the shows more than once and you are unlikely to miss the same bit every time! The volunteer rota is organised online using Rotacloud, it would be quite difficult to volunteer if you had no access to IT/internet.

Not all volunteering is in the theatre, I have joined Wardrobe as a volunteer on many occasions.

What do you most enjoy about volunteering at Storyhouse?

Obviously, many of the shows have been absolutely brilliant, and being surprised by some I might not have bought tickets for is really rewarding.

However, the best part of my volunteering has been assisting in Wardrobe. I just love it! I have been sewing and making things since I was a child. To be part of creating the costumes and props used in the live performance feels really exciting – every project is different.