The 500 volunteers who keep the Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival flying

As thousands of people look to the sky during the Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival, there will be an army of volunteers keeping things moving on the ground. LAUREN ROGERS finds out how unpaid helpers run one of the biggest events on the east coast.

Long before politicians urged us to become part of the Big Society, unpaid volunteers were doing their bit to keep the world turning.

Behind almost every major festival, fete, show and fun day taking place in Norfolk and Suffolk this year is an army of dedicated helpers – members of the public who find the time, energy and enthusiasm to support community events.

The Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival, which gets under way tomorrow, is a fine example. The annual air show has become one of the biggest events in East Anglia. It is also run entirely by volunteers.

Now in its 15th year, the festival is organised by a not-for-profit company and supported by 35 charities and community groups who provide stewards, donation collectors, park- and-ride marshals and merchandise sellers.

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Over the next two days, approximately 500 volunteers will be on the streets of Lowestoft to ensure the town's biggest event runs smoothly.

'We have around 300 collectors and 200 stewards,' said Brian Hunter, an unpaid director of Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival.

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'They all belong to local clubs and associations from the Rotary clubs to environmental groups.

'It's evolved into quite a team over the years and there is a wonderful atmosphere amongst the volunteers. The collectors all meet at 7.30am on the Thursday morning, then work in shifts until 6.30pm.

'They work tirelessly.'

Alongside the civilian helpers will be 126 St John Ambulance volunteers. These nurses, doctors, paramedics and first-aiders will be on hand to provide medical support free of charge.

At the air show, there is a financial incentive for local clubs to help out. Each group or charity that puts forward volunteers will be in line for a boost when the Air Festival donates profits to good causes. Last year about �27,000 was shared between the local bodies.

Over the last six years, more than �145,000 has been handed out to the clubs and charities.

Mr Hunter said: 'It's quite true to say in Lowestoft we have a very strong volunteer community. People give up hours and hours of their own time because they know it is a good community cause and their efforts will eventually help their club.

'A big part of our success is dependant on that group conscience – that group decision to work together for something bigger than themselves.'

Yesterday, that group conscience was on full show when hundreds of people connected through social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook and gave up their time to clean the streets of London, Birmingham and Liverpool following the riots and mass looting.

Droves of people, who had never met before, gathered in London's damaged boroughs with dustpans and brushes in hand – a reminder that while volunteering might not be the world's most glamorous job, it can be inspirational.

Kevin Bowes is president of the Wayland Agricultural Society – the volunteer-run community interest company behind the annual Wayland Show.

Last Sunday's show, near Watton, was the most successful yet with 15,000 coming through the gates – about 50pc more than last year. Mr Bowes puts that success, in part, down to the sheer dedication and hard work of the 40-strong (unpaid) organising committee.

He said: 'It's not just those 40 people because their partners and children also help out. We have people who don't wish to be on the committee, but they come along at 6am and help out all day. It is a local event, but some of our committee members come from 40 miles away. We do it because it is a team effort and there is a feel-good atmosphere.

'We hold a meeting every month of the year and after each meeting we go to the pub. There's an important social aspect to it as well.'

Holding a bucket and asking people to donate money is not everybody's cup of tea,' added the Air Festival's Mr Hunter.

'But every time I ask a volunteer they tell me how much they love it. You cannot put a price on that enthusiasm. That 'esprit de corps' is what will ensure we can put on another show next year.'

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