Peter Jones Special Events has produced many high profile events ranging from charity events such as the Field of Women to the AFL Grand Final entertainment. Peter Jones’ daughter is now at primary school. So what happens when one of Australia’s highest profile event producers helps out with his daughter’s school fair.
Report by Peter Jones
The story all started back in April when no one at our 10 year old daughter’s primary school would take on the organisation of the bi-annual school fair.
Many people had been left emotionally and physically burnt out after the 2012 event and were very reluctant to take it on. “Happy to help”, but not be the main organiser was the message. So, needless to say, all eyes then turned to my wife Brenda and I.
We thought about it and after discussing it with the principal, we said we would but on certain conditions including –
- A smaller committee
- Getting rid of things that didn’t make money
- Trying a few different ideas
- Not relying on parents (aka volunteers) for everything
- Making it not about just making money but to engage more with the school community
She supported this, along with the school council. I think they realised this was their only viable option to have the event and at least they knew it was in good hands.
So off we went and six months later we delivered the bi-annual Christmas carnival between Melbourne’s recent thunderstorms.
It was a great event but I’ve got to say I’ve never worked so hard in my life and could hardly move after 16 hours on my feet – definitely getting too old! I can’t remember the last time I was at an event for a bump out!
So why am I talking about this? It’s because like so many other not-for-profit school and community events, it was an insight into how they are run and how close you can come to having an accident occur.
To be fair, none of the school parents were experienced event organisers and were there to help as volunteers where they could.
You should have seen their eyes at the first meeting when we started talking about –
- Risk assessments
- Safety officers
- Onsite medical assistance
- Production schedules
- Street closures
- Site plans
- Copies of suppliers insurance policies
All that before we could get onto cupcakes, flowers, show bags and the all-important rides.
I quickly learnt to stick to my area of expertise and leave them to do the things that they were both interested in and capable of doing.
We took this event on knowing that it had to be run like any other professional event we would do and safety was the most important issue, particularly in a school. I kept saying if someone gets hurt out of negligence at a school fair then everything else will be rendered useless.
As this was not any of their strong points, in the end I ended up providing and paying for –
- My staff
- Our preferred safety officers
- And key logistical suppliers to help out in the planning, set up, operations and bump out
It was the only way I could guarantee that it would be done properly. And can I say, it was well worth it rather than relying on the good intentions of volunteer parents.
That gets me to my next point in working with volunteers, only have people on a committee who will take on dedicated jobs and do it – just one job, not lots. They are all giving their time and we want to make it as enjoyable and easy as possible.
This process worked as it sorted out those that were there to genuinely help versus those who were in it to look good! Both Brenda and I soon found out who was worth having and who wasn’t.
Anyway, it all worked out in the end and everyone had a great time. We exceeded everyone’s expectations and made a nice profit for the school’s, all-important, fundraising coffers. The most frequently heard comments were – “it was all so streamlined” and “I actually got time to spend with my kids this year”. Yes – school fairs are about volunteering and they wouldn’t happen without the parents who do get involved, however they are also a major event and need to be given the same professional treatment to ensure safety and logistics are all handled properly.
It was a terrific experience as you get to make some good friends whilst doing your bit for the school community. What we will do now is leave a template and a “to do and not to do list” for whoever takes it on in 2016.
Hopefully another group will set up and see through all the talk that goes on behind the scenes and have the same rewarding experience we did.