Volunteer turns Festival junk to gold

Some years Lin Jenkins is up to her welly tops in mud as she picks through the spoils left by revellers at the famous Reading summer music festival,  but this year was drier and a little kinder, yielding loads of good quality gear for her many car boot sales and fete stalls.

Reading & West Berkshire Branch Fundraiser, Lin, brings in as much as £7,000 a year from her activities, with a lot of that coming from the tents, sleeping bags and other camping gear she rescues after the metal and hip-hop music lovers have melted away from the sprawling Berkshire site.

Organisers at the festival invite registered charities to sign up and help clear the venue of useful items left behind so Lin, a veteran of five festivals so far, often finds herself lining up with volunteers from a range of other charities.

"You register several months before hand. Homeless charities, asylum seekers' organisations, Scout groups go along. It can be any charity as long as you've got a registered charity number. You become the salvage team. They're getting equipment to be used for their people, whereas I and others are getting stuff to sell on," says Lin.

And selling stuff is former school administrator Lin's superpower and a passion that sees her out of the house most weekends during the summer months.

"From about April to the beginning of October every Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday Monday I'm out. If there's a fete or something of that nature, that takes precedence, but if not, then I'm carbooting," said Lin.

Years of experience fundraising means Lin is now a magnet for donations, the money for which all goes to the MND Association.

"I started off doing it small time with friends and family and workmates and then their friends and family got into it, and because I have a garden sale once a year all the neighbours got into it. So I constantly get things on the doorstep, two or three times a week. Nearly every week of the year there are things donated on the doorstep. Prizes for my stalls tend to 'materialise'," she said.

The most common item left behind at the Reading Festival is the humble folding chair, but tents, sleeping bags and pillows are next along with cooking gear and numerous cans of drinks and, perhaps unsurprisingly, lots of toilet paper.

"There are not many items I cannot sell or use as prizes," says Lin. "This year some of my 'yield' was 12 tents, 62 folding chairs, 53 sleeping bags, 24 blankets/throws – most of these will go to a local church group, who work with the homeless over winter.  Of the 48 towels collected, many will go to my godson’s dog grooming parlour. I collect unopened tins/cans/packets of food, packs of tissues, wet wipes, bum bags, ponchos, wellies and shoes, pots and pans, torches."

Lin says she gets funny looks when picking up silly hats and wigs, but these can be used in a “photo booth” stall at fetes where people use her props and large picture frame, but take their own photos.

The super fundraiser is often amazed that festival goers will just wander away from hundreds of pounds worth of gear.

"People literally go away from their whole camp and leave it as they've lived in it for the weekend. You cannot imagine it. If there's been a group you may find a central gazebo then a circle of tents around the outside, inside are the airbeds, sleeping bags, pillows, left over food etc. Outside, it's unused barbecues, pots and pans, shoes, wellies. It's as they walk away from it," Lin says.

The most unusual items abandoned include fancy dress outfits and toys, which Lin says make great tombola prizes.

Lin says festival salvage is clearly an opportunity for charities to raise money and suggested other MND Association branches near famous events might consider getting involved.

"Presumably all the other festivals around the country will do the same thing. I've got a feeling that the people that organise this (salvage) aren't just Reading people. Any branch that is near one of these (big festivals) might want to get in contact with them," says Lin.

The Reading & West Berkshire Branch Fundraiser prefers to work on her own and has access to lots of storage but acknowledges that getting a team together and storing and subsequently selling large volumes of gear can be a challenge.

"It's not everybody's cup of tea. Not everybody wants to rummage about in a field but there are going to be other people like me out there interested in doing it." And the conditions can be daunting, with mud and dust equally difficult to deal with.

"This year the heat ranged between 30 – 32 degrees, and the dust had to be seen to be believed.  Despite all that .... yes I will do it again next year.  I can’t begin to tell you how rewarding it all is."

Lin says she devotes so much time and energy to her fundraising efforts because it gives her a sense of purpose which helps her manage her depression.

"I'm not embarassed about it but I suffer from depression and nervous problems and this has given a focus to my life. I must touch wood when I say this but I've kept much better mental health since I've been doing this.

"Of course it's more than that. I do it for the people living with motor neurone disease," says Lin. She pauses, briefly, before adding: "And it's a way of getting out of the housework."

Words by Keiron Henderson - Volunteer writer

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