By Penny Wenham
It has been well documented that community organisations play a vital role in society. I’ve been involved with both True Food and the Progress Theatre for several years now. Although they seem very different, I see they have more in common than might be expected.
Both organisations have stood the test of time. True Food celebrated its 20-year anniversary in 2019, whereas Progress Theatre was first established in 1947, and is Reading’s oldest producing theatre. Whilst the core offerings of both organisations may seem very different – organic, local food versus theatre – the most vital cogs of both are actually very similar: a membership who make the organisation work, and the people within the community who benefit from it. Take either of these away and the organisation will cease to function. The longevity of True Food and Progress Theatre suggests that both are getting a lot right. Studies have shown that volunteering raises self-esteem, and the social connections made increase our sense of well-being. Community organisations seem to be good for the people within a community, and good for the individuals that participate in them.
A challenge I’ve seen in both organisations is maximising what the members bring, in terms of time and skills. Whilst Progress Theatre rarely struggles to find directors and actors for each production, filling the front of house rota for each show is a burdensome task. Sound familiar? Although a complex issue to solve, organisations that value every contribution a member can give, however small, and show their appreciation of their volunteers in meaningful ways, will undoubtedly increase the benefit that members feel within themselves and within their community. And this can only help to build a reliable and committed membership, ensuring that True Food and Progress Theatre continue to thrive for many more years to come.