Value your volunteers: in praise of Pat Wainwright

Here’s a piece I’ve done for the Liberal Democrats’ official AdLib blog:

Probably only older activists now remember Pat Wainwright, the doyenne of the front of house at Parliamentary by-elections for years. She was brilliant at meeting you like a long lost friend (even if you’d only met once before, half-hidden behind a pile of leaflets) and shepherding you out of the door with something useful to do as quickly as possible.

Charm, fast turnaround and yet also making sure people knew what to do: it was a winning trio and I was lucky to have the chance to learn so much from Pat.

I’ve been reminded of her – and just how hard that job is to do – when travelling around during this election campaign.

Everyone has been welcoming and kind. Yet also there have been a few too many cases for comfort of it not being clear where to turn up, there not being something to get me active winning votes promptly or it being assumed that I’d know how or why to do something – and I know from talking to others that I’ve not been uniquely cursed.

I know it’s tough to remember to get all that right – and I’m sure people who have come in to campaign HQs where I’ve been behind the desk have some memories of me not always getting it right.

But it’s absolutely vital we always try to, because otherwise all of our precious time is not put to the best use.

It’s why my top tips for any campaign from my recent experiences are:

  1. Go hit Google right now. How easy is it for someone to find out where and when to turn up on Sunday morning if they’ve got a few hours to spare?
  2. Always have both some indoor and some outdoor campaign ready for people to do, so no unexpected helper ends up not being put to good use promptly.
  3. Don’t assume that even the most familiar face knows everything – a quick run through of what’s needed, why it’s needed and what you’re handing over to them is always useful. All the more so when it’s a canvass pack with a myriad of different forms and sheets.
  4. Always, always take the time to thank people afterwards.

And next time you see me: kick me out of the door as quick as you can, would you?

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