The use of volunteers to help steward Front of House areas at The Lowry was always a critical element in its business plan, explains Victoria Talbot.
The reasons for this were two-fold: to help keep costs down, but also to increase the involvement of the local community. This has led to the development of an extensive volunteer usher scheme known as the Volunteer Involvement Programme (VIP). The scheme is aimed at local people who are encouraged to devote as little or as much time as they are able to give. Their stewarding role includes ticket checking, meeting and greeting patrons and showing them to their theatre seats. The Lowry houses two auditoria: the 1,730-seat Lyric and the 479-seat Quays present about 250 different productions and 650 actual performances each year. As the Lyric theatre alone has fourteen doors, this requires a lot of staff cover. In an average week there are around 127 shifts to cover, and the volunteers account for approximately 504 hours a week compared to a weekly average for other arts venues of around 55 hours.

The Lowry?s VIP programme is one of the largest theatre volunteer schemes in the country and now boasts approximately 250 members. They are an integral part of The Lowry team, and a considerable amount of the Front of House management time is spent on their induction, training and development, much of which equips them with transferable skills for a range of occupations. Indeed, a number of VIPs have moved from the voluntary scheme into paid employment in The Lowry itself. Each volunteer must be motivated to remain within the organisation, and having a volunteer policy, job descriptions for volunteers and a handbook relating to their roles is a key part of this. Volunteers are also given a voice, and their comments and suggestions are welcomed. In return for their help, members receive a package of benefits including free and discounted tickets, use of the Village Café, and use of the backstage Green Room area for staff and performers, where they might share a table with a TV star! It?s an ideal opportunity for them to get involved in The Lowry?s work, to see some great shows and to make new friends.

VIPs provide a professional service to the public whose experience is enhanced by their enthusiastic and welcoming approach. Many are themselves customers of The Lowry, which gives them an improved understanding of other customers? needs. Their customer care training, together with support from the Front of House team, means that they are well placed to deal with customer enquiries and to provide feedback as part of the process of striving for continual service improvements.

We?ve found that volunteers can bring so much to an organisation and the scheme can be a very rewarding experience for everybody involved. We must be doing something right as an employee survey found our volunteers to be highly motivated and committed. It also noted that volunteers were very proud of The Lowry and felt that the work they did was important.

Victoria Talbot is Assistant House Manager at The Lowry t: 0161 876 2120