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Volunteer session

A short account of the first Coal Line volunteer sessions - 26th April 2016

A train strike, a police incident and April Showers weren’t going to stop a volery of volunteers flocking together for our inaugural 2016 Peckham Coal Line event, held last Tuesday evening at The Ivy House.

As Adams & Sutherland begin to beaver away behind the scenes undertaking the Feasibility Study made possible by last year’s successful crowdfunding, the focus now switches to front of house, where the show is all about connecting those wanting to get involved with the Peckham Coal Line.

As the Ivy House’s resident glitter ball sparkled overhead, we kicked off proceedings with a whistle stop tour of the Coal Line’s most recent history – from a ponder, to a provocation to a participatory project. The room was reminded us all of the variety of great events held across the community in 2015, and started hinting at some possible events for 2016.

Then it was time to turn the tables, as Jo took to the famed Ivy House stage and asked everyone to stand up, push their chairs to the side of the room, form two circles of equal number and await further instructions…. Cue some worried faces and a heightened atmosphere of anticipation!

At the heart of the Coal Line is the belief that it is first and foremost a participatory project for all.  It is fact that when good people get together to work on something they believe in, developing new skills and friends along the way, the projects they produce really are quite special. 

And so came the participatory bit, the group were going to engage in some speed dating!  Cue more worried faces...  Our aim was not help you to find ‘The One’ (although if beautiful things happen, Love on the Line does has a certain ring to it), but rather to help everyone connect, share their motivations and their interests. 

To avoid any tumbleweed moments, some questions guided the conversations:

  • Why are you here tonight?
  • What is your connection to the Coal Line?  Past, present or future?
  • What would you like to learn and what would you like to teach, through volunteering with the Coal Line?

Slowly but surely the audio in the room went from a low murmur to a buzzing cacophony and soon everyone was relaxed and chatting as if with old friends, so much so that the whistle we were using to signal that your 3 minutes was up and it was time to change partners had to be blown several times at each changeover.

Five conversations and five new friends later, everyone was congratulated on their excellent work and despatched to the bar for much deserved re-hydration, pending the second half of the evening.  Watching from the side lines it was great to see how these conversations continued and how people who had come to the event together weren’t sticking to whom they already knew, but were engaging with their neighbours and how people who had come alone were now deep in conversation with two or three new friends. 

Everyone back in a seat, we kicked off the second half of the evening which began with Jackie sharing the Coal Line’s belief that good volunteering should be rewarding for everyone involved.  She explained that whilst all parties are able to share in a collective sense of pride and achievement, both the individual volunteers and the community should also benefit from their involvement, alongside the project itself, which is most often through learning new skills or sharing knowledge with others.

We were reminded that each and every person in the room brings to the Coal Line a distinct personality a range of skills and experience that have been developed from their personal, professional and social lives.  This variety is to be embraced as we know that through working together we can achieve more, but that sometimes different approaches can derail (no pun intended!) a project.  It was then that the Coal Line Code was introduced -which contains a few things for all volunteers to consider as we embark on this exciting journey together, the overriding message being that the Peckham Coal Line is not a hierarchy, but is a collective where mutual respect and trust breeds an environment of learning, teaching and connection. If you’d like to listen to the presentation of the code, you just need to follow this link.

Then at last it was time for the finale!  The big unveil of possible ideas for Peckham Coal Line events and projects throughout the rest of the year. We heard from Paul, Lesley, Kirsty and Louise about projects as diverse as history, singing, foraging and beer drinking.  The idea for a mobile Kiln also got everyone fired up (a stage career beckons!). 

It was far from an exhaustive list – but some guide rails or suggestions for how people might like to get stuck in. It was also an invitation for any ideas that other people had to share them. 

As the formal part of the evening ended, these great conversations continued and enthused suggestions that we could Dance the Line, Film the Line and even Eat the Line were overheard.  All these great ideas are ready and waiting to be explored together, which is very exciting.  Remember, it’s not about ‘us’ telling ‘you’ what there is to do, but rather about what you want to do and how we can make it happen together.

So, a big thank you again for making the evening a great volunteer event. 

The next volunteer session will happen on the 24th May at 7.30pm (venue TBA), and if you would like to get stuck in and volunteer for the Peckham Coal Line – you can fill out the volunteer survey and indicate which activities you’d like to be involved with and to learn from.