Festivals and friendships: How Festival City Volunteers is tackling loneliness and isolation in the capital

A few of the volunteers from Edinburgh City Volunteers

When people think of Edinburgh a few things come to mind: the city’s rich heritage, Harry Potter and perhaps most of all – it’s ability to host incredible festivals. Festivals Edinburgh Limited were awarded £140,000 of National Lottery funding for their two-year Festival City Volunteers project. Now that the Edinburgh festivals season is over, we caught up with the project to find out more about the work they do and how their project is tackling loneliness and isolation. 

Festival City Volunteers (FCV) use the unique cultural occasion of Edinburgh’s festivals to provide volunteering opportunities for a diverse range of people who truly represent the city’s population; with many coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

With support and training from Volunteer Edinburgh, FCV builds on the skills and confidence of their talented volunteers and organises them into teams that work in the city providing directions, advice and guidance throughout the month of August. 

Volunteers with raincoats on
Volunteers with raincoats on

The project creatively tackles loneliness and isolation through volunteering, whilst enhancing the visitor experience of the city and its festivals. FCV recruit volunteers who may have experienced loneliness and isolation due to the barriers associated with disabilities and long-term health conditions, caring responsibilities, substance issues, mental health problems, old age and ethnicity. In the last two years, the project has engaged volunteers aged 18-81, from over 25 nationalities and from every ward in Edinburgh.  

Volunteers together with orange tshirts
Some volunteers from FCV with Sylvia on the right

Sylvia, who recently had her first volunteer experience with FCV, added that the diversity the project brings is something that has a lasting impact for her. 

“Working with the other volunteers was brilliant fun and the diversity within our teams mirrored the cultural diversity of Edinburgh. I got to see so many exciting new shows in the company of volunteers, family and friends, it really made me feel enormously proud to be part of the festivals and connect with visitors on a positive and inclusive basis.  

“The whole experience has inspired me to think about how we involve local communities to have a stake in the Festivals, and a voice in ensuring sustainable and responsible tourism for the future” 

a group shot of the volunteers
A group shot of some of the FCV volunteers

Emma Black, Volunteer Development Manager at FCV told us 

“We aim to tackle loneliness and isolation by encouraging our volunteers to feel connected, increasing their sense of belonging within the festivals and empowerment to engage in arts and culture.  

“Both during the August festivals and around the year we work with all the major festivals to access vocational advice, VIP experiences, performances and social gatherings for volunteers. This means we can continue to remove barriers to activities and places that can be viewed as exclusive, uninteresting or intimidating, and support the social connections of volunteers.” 

Edinburgh City Volunteers is a wonderful example of how to bring people together through volunteering. Our paper Bringing people together: how community action can tackle loneliness and social isolationoffers insights and learning from the community and voluntary sector about how you can tackle social isolation or support someone who is feeling lonely. 

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