News and Features

Community volunteering

Senior Press Manager, Kate Harvey, talked to some of the Glyndebourne staff volunteering within their local communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

When the UK lockdown was announced in March, Glyndebourne was about to start rehearsals for the 2020 Festival. Instead, it was forced to close and, later, to cancel the season.

That left many staff unable to do their jobs but, creative to the last, they were quick to find ways to use their time and expertise to help the local community. Senior Press Manager, Kate Harvey, talked to some of the Glyndebourne staff volunteering within their local communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Faced with surplus supplies due to the sudden site closure, the Glyndebourne catering team put in a call to an organisation called OLIO who redistribute surplus food to food banks or people in need. Just 24 hours later OLIO collected around £500 worth of food from Glyndebourne. This donation saved 156kg of food from being binned and helped to feed 22 local families.

As the challenges being faced by the NHS became clear, the props department swung into action, rounding up unused personal protective equipment from across the site and donating it to three local organisations in desperate need: St Peter & St James Hospice in Wivelsfield, Martlets Hospice in Hove, and the Bevern Trust Care Home for severely disabled young adults in Barcombe. At the same time, staff from the Glyndebourne costume department set to work sewing scrubs and other items for the NHS, working out of sewing rooms, kitchens, lounges or wherever they could set up a sewing machine.

Photos: Personal protective equipment (PPE) has been made by members of our costume department

Kathy Turner, a Senior Cutter in Ladies Costume, is one of those involved. ‘It all came about through one of our local freelance costume supervisors, Dee Minikan. Dee often works with Glyndebourne but also works on film and for theatre. With nothing going on in those industries, supervisors like her were out of work, so one of them contacted the NHS to enquire about providing them with scrubs. It started off relatively small-scale and a crowd fund was set up to raise money to purchase fabric. Dee was asked if she could farm out work to other costume makers in this area so she contacted me and I got most of the costume team from Glyndebourne on board making scrubs from home. It evolved into a huge nationwide voluntary effort called Helping Dress Medics. To date about 8,000 scrubs have been produced, with more still being made. I think an opera needs to be written about the whole coronavirus pandemic – we will be very adept at making the scrubs costumes!’

Sussex scrub hats and headbands

During the lockdown Lucy Harris, Running Wardrobe Manager, has been keeping busy using her costume construction skills to make scrub hats and headbands for the NHS. As a previous cancer patient it has been important to Lucy to be able to provide PPE to some of the people who helped her. ‘I made hundreds of items which were donated to the Sussex Cancer Centre (including my oncologist), the cardiac unit at The Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, midwives at the PRH, the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead and my local GP surgery in Burgess Hill. Headbands were also donated to the chemo nurses at the Montifiore Hospital in Hove – they have been so kind to me over the years and are huge opera fans!’

Not all of the volunteers could produce scrubs but found other ways to help. Senior Wig Technician, Marian De Graef, explains: ‘I don’t have an overlocker machine, so I cannot make hospital-grade items, but I wanted to get a little involved whilst being furloughed, so I am making facemasks for the community. I’ve actually donated some to my local Boots, as a lot of people are asking for them there.’

Sam Stonard, an administrative assistant in the costume department, is volunteering for an initiative called Box Full of Rainbows that creates care packages for key workers. ‘The boxes include social distancing essentials but also some little treats – a few things to make a tough day a little better,’ Sam explains. As well as donating items for the boxes and volunteering her administrative skills, Sam has completed a sponsored 10km walk in support of the project. Over 2,000 boxes have been donated to date, with a further 1,250 on request. To raise money to help them meet the demand, the group has employed a variety of fundraising methods, from online karaoke to virtual dog shows.

Also volunteering are Sophie Leach and Ben Sedgwick from the stage management team who have been making deliveries for FareShare, a UK-wide network of independent organisations that take good quality surplus food from the food industry and redistribute it to frontline charities and community groups. Ben says: ‘We have been volunteering for FareShare since being on furlough. The charity lost a lot of its volunteers due to many having to isolate for various reasons and so we answered their appeal. Every day FareShare sends out four vans distributing food to various charities and food banks across Sussex, ensuring those in need and the vulnerable have access to it, something that has been even more necessary during the recent crisis. Our busiest day so far was VE day bank holiday Friday,’ Ben continues. ‘Charities were so in need of food that we did two additional deliveries across Sussex and delivered just under two tonnes of food in one day.’

Photo: Supplies collected for Box Full of Rainbows

Glyndebourne Chorus member Jacquelyn Parker is also involved in keeping those in need well fed. ‘It’s no secret I like to bake the odd cake and I am involved with my local Landport Community Cafe in Lewes,’ Jackie explains. ‘I volunteered to deliver on Friday nights and offered to bake for them as well. They do up to 170 meals a weekend including a delivery of meals to the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath on a Sunday so it’s bulk-baking but, let’s face it, I have the time! I’ve also done collection duty for the Lewes food banks.’

Shannon Hay, Development Officer, was one of 750,000 people across the country to sign up to volunteer for the NHS, and has been taking calls from people who are vulnerable or isolated, offering a friendly listening ear. She is also hoping to pursue more volunteering opportunities in the coming weeks. ‘My Mum and I are looking into volunteering to become fruit and veg pickers. We have some farms around us so we are looking to see if they need any support as we are both furloughed.’

Despite the devastating impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on theatres, many industry professionals have been using their skills and ingenuity to help others through the crisis. The stories outlined here offer just a snapshot of the nationwide contribution from our fantastic colleagues and peers.


This article was first published in our Members’ Newsletter, one of the benefits of Glyndebourne Membership.

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