Friday, 31 May 2013

Convestival 2013

"Convesti-what?" I hear you ask


Part conference. 

Part convention.

Part festival. 

Convestival - brainchild of the Volunteering and Community Involvement (VCI) team at The National Trust.

The quiet before everyone arrives (and the tour bus!)
Convestival started last year as a way to bring together people with responsibility for volunteers and volunteering from across the Trust to network, learn, share and innovate. The event received great feedback from those who attended and those Trust properties who sent a delegate saw a bigger increase in their volunteering KPI scores than those properties that didn't go to Convestival.

So Convestival came back for 2013 and was held again at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. 

As I have been working with the Trust over the last few months I was invited to attend Convestival to run a couple of masterclass sessions. What I found was quite unlike any event I've ever witnessed in the world of volunteer leadership and management.

For starters there was no breakout room B or conference room 6. Instead we had sessions taking place in marquees named things like "the inspiration zone" which were all located around a single tented meeting area. There was even a tour bus doubling as a chill out space and workshop space for session exploring social media.

Next, the sessions didn't have dull titles like 'engaging new audiences' or 'working with change'. Instead we got sessions named around a theme of journey related song titles: Moving On Up; Stairway To Heaven; Come Fly With Me; Ticket To Ride, Wherever You Will Go etc..

Third there was a palpable sense of fun to the whole event. I'm a big fan of the idea that we learn best when we're having a good time and the Convestival buzz really sought to create that feeling, kicking things off with a recreation of the Queen's starring role in the Olympic opening ceremony, this time featuring the Trust's Director General and the suave Mr Crosby (aka one of the VCI team).
Thrill Collins in full swing

This sense of fun extended into the evening festivities. Superb pop-skiffle band Thrill Collins provided the entertainment whilst convestivites ate great food, drank cider made by volunteers at Trust properties and consumed beer from Calke's own local brewery.

All of this is without mentioning the starring role of Cyril the Squirrel who went on a UK tour to promote Convestival; the use of Facebook to engage participants before, during and after the event; the fetching day-glo pink tabards of Convestival crew; the engagement of a team of external speakers and facilitators so the event didn't feel too in-house; and the logistical foresight to have convesitvites pre checked in to hotels so nobody had to queue for ages to check into rooms late a night. – we even had our room keys delivered to the convesitval site.

As I said, Convestival was quite unlike any other volunteer management event I've ever attended. It was certainly light years away from any in-house conference on volunteer management I've ever attended by any organisations I've ever worked for.

Reading this you may be thinking, "well good for the National Trust but we could never afford to do that". You'd be missing the point though. Sure, the Trust's VCI team had a budget for this that most likely exceeds some peoples' volunteer management budget, let along their events budget. But they practice what they preach and volunteer involvement was key to their success – I volunteered my time, volunteers made the welcome banners, the events company volunteered some of their time. They extended the budget through volunteer involvement.

What impressed me most though was the Trust's passion to invest time and effort in their volunteer managers. At its heart Convestival is an event that is about building the capability of the Trust’s volunteer managers. It has to deliver tangible performance improvements like the previous year’s KPI uplift. But I was struck by the creativity and inventiveness that went into doing that, into ensuring the event was rewarding, enjoyable and stimulating. I was struck by their willingness to make themselves open to external perspectives rather than keeping it all in-house. I loved the fun. I loved the vibe. I loved the food and the beer.
Helen Timbrell welcomes convestivites

My challenge to you reading this blog is, regardless of the financial means at your disposal, how can you foster a culture of creativity, enjoyment, challenge, passion and inspiration amongst your colleagues, your volunteers, your volunteer management peers.

Convestival 2013 has changed my way of looking at volunteering events. I hope we see more events like it in future.

If you are interested in Convestival then you can check out their website – - or their Facebook page (just search Convestival) or contact Director of Volunteering and Community Involvement, Helen Timbrell, via