For the love of the city
By Lisa Crawford
For over 50 years the City of York has benefited from the services of a team of dedicated guides who show visitors around the city. What's so special about that? These guides are volunteers and expect nothing in return.
In 1951, six years after the Second World War, York's Guildhall lay in ruins and parts of the city were still devastated after years of neglect; like many other cities across the UK.
The Festival of Britain launched in May 1951 and its aim was to celebrate and help regenerate the UK, whilst also giving Britons a feeling of progression and recovery.
Guided tour in Museum Gardens.
The British government of the time championed the festival, hoping it would restore pride in cities across the country. 23 towns and cities were chosen across the UK to hold exhibitions and arts festivals, of which York was one.
The Association of Voluntary Guides in York was founded in 1950, in preparation for the Festival of Britain, by the City of York Council (as it is known now) to show visitors around. Sixty three years later the association is an independent organisation and they're still going strong.
There are 110 active volunteer guides who work for the association, showing 12,000 visitors around the city every year.
There are many reasons why people decide to become voluntary guides. Many people like to pass on their knowledge of the city to visitors, whilst others find themselves on their own and guiding can be a great way of meeting new people and enjoying themselves.
Ivan Martin, became a guide 13 years ago and is now secretary for the association. As a young boy he delivered groceries around the city and is well-qualified to direct visitors around the city's attractions.
Ivan Martin and Ann Della.
"We have a standard tour, but the vast majority of guides go beyond that. A lot of the guides are guides in other places in York like the Minster, Mansion House and Fairfax House. It really compliments what we are doing. We also promote the rest of the city and places to go. It’s just nice to help out really."
"We often get people who make friends on the tour. They go off for a drink together or lunch together. When we ask people where they are from, sometimes they get a surprise that they've travelled halfway round the world only to meet someone who lives in the next street."
Anne Della has been involved with the association since 1970 and started guiding in 1972. "It’s the love of the city. A lot of people take this up on retirement. They generally do have a good knowledge of the city's history before they join the association. You have to enjoy it to be able to do it. Giving your time and not expecting anything back, it’s just the enjoyment that people get from looking at our beautiful city."
Although the Association always welcome those wishing to become guides, you do need to know a little bit about the city.
"What takes two hours for visitors takes two weeks to learn. You can never say everything you've been taught. But it’s always there if someone asks a question," explains Ivan.
The tour takes around two hours and takes in the city walls, Museum Gardens, the Minster, The Shambles and much more.
Patterson Family from Seattle.
Sarah Patterson and her family are from Seattle, USA: "We wanted to have an easy way to learn the history of York. It was in a guidebook. I think it’s wonderful. It’s great, it’s a real testament to the passion people have for the city."
Eileen McGrade from Christchurch, New Zealand and Gillian Ryan from Perth, Australia, met on one of the tours. "It’s a lovely city. I think it’s admirable that these people give up their free time and are so understanding and patient with visitors who are asking the same questions over and over again!", explained Eileen.
Eileen McGrade and Gillian Ryan
"It’s a great way to learn history and get your bearings. Everyone in Perth said we’d love it and we are", said Gillian.
The beauty of the tour is that there is no need to book. Tours leave from the front of the Art Gallery in Exhibition Square at 10.15am and 2.15pm everyday.
If you are interested in becoming a voluntary guide for the association, visit the website below:
last updated: 23/10/2008 at 10:37