This is Us Dance Company at the Big Thank You Volunteers Picnic. Photo Credit - Stephen Ambrose

Hearts for the Arts 2022 Shortlist – The Big Thank You Volunteers Picnic

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's The Big Thank You Volunteer Picnic has been shortlisted for Best Arts Project in the 2022 Hearts for the Arts Awards

The Big Thank You Volunteers Picnic was held on 18th September 2021 in Calverley Grounds, bringing together organisations and their volunteers who have worked tirelessly to support the local community during the pandemic.

Residents were invited to attend, specifically targeting the clinically extremely vulnerable list (CEV); the Picnic aimed to enable vulnerable people to re-enter safely in community activities with a focus on activities that take place in green and outdoor spaces, such as parks. The event was organised by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, with representatives from the Assembly Hall Theatre, Culture, Gateway, and Health teams. Performances included songs by Paddock Wood Community Voices; Vocal soloists from Trinity Youth Theatre; Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra wind quintet; and a solo dance by This is Us inclusive dance company. All performances were presented by local community arts groups, celebrating local talent.

The Tunbridge Wells Borough is comprised of a combination of semi-urban and rural areas. Some of the rural communities, like Cranbrook, Sissinghurt and Benenden, can be very isolated with poor transport links, lack of local amenities and an ageing population.  Throughout lockdown local communities jumped into action forming covid response groups as well as joining forces with local charities and became the front line non-medical support services for the vulnerable and those in need within their community.  These groups functioned amazingly in uncertain times, with limited resources, with great kindness and compassion.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council wanted to the opportunity to thank the volunteers and voluntary organisations who worked tirelessly throughout the Pandemic and lockdowns to ensure no one went without food, medication, or assistance throughout the borough. We wanted to celebrate the people who make our community such a great place to live and promoting all the great work they have done; whilst offering the public an opportunity to discover the great organisations and courses they might volunteer their time with.

A charity and community group specific celebration arts event such as the Big Thank You Picnic has never been done to this scale in our town before. 34 charities from across the whole borough covering 205 square miles were all brought together at one special event. The event was designed and delivered in just six short weeks through collaborative working across the Health Team, Culture Team, Gateway team as well as senior council management. The council has not attempted a non-profit community event of this scale previously, and it successfully forged new working relationships and collaborations both internally and externally.

What the judges said:

“The Big Thank You Volunteers Picnic was a lovely example of a community joining together to show mutual appreciation for those who stepped into the breach during the pandemic and provided transformative assistance to those in need.”

“A lovely celebratory event with an impressive range of partners enabling both a showcasing of local talent and the opportunity to reconnect with people and thank key workers. I’m sure this was quite an organisational feat, so congratulations.”