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My Memories of Volunteering on Bonfire Night

My Memories of Volunteering on Bonfire Night

Greg Devine


Child looking at a sparkler

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In truth, I’ve never really been a fan of Halloween. My family didn’t celebrate it much once I went to secondary school. I recall going to house parties for which we’d dress up and I’d drink whatever alcopop was popular. I much preferred Bonfire Night.

My village would hold a massive bonfire and they’d also put on a well-respected and renowned fireworks display. People from all over Rotherham would come to Brinsworth Bonfire Night at our local playing fields. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were times you couldn’t even get on the field for the sheer volume of people coming to see the display. Families would attend with their young children; couples would enjoy it as a date night; and groups of friends would enjoy the various fairground rides that accompanied the bonfire.

The event was set up by the Parish Council, something my nan has been a part of for as long as I can remember. I never watched the fireworks with my family, friends or love interests; instead, I volunteered. I say volunteered—it wasn’t exactly a choice. It was either volunteer or disappoint my nan, which wasn’t an option. 

The role of volunteers was to collect money for the event’s chosen charity. Often, this would be a local cause, such as restoration of the old church’s grounds or the war memorial. By the end of the night, the money raised would be quite substantial. We’re talking thousands of pounds…just from loose change thrown in our collection buckets.

It was a role I actually enjoyed. Stood at one of the field’s entrances holding my bucket, rattling around the loose change already inside, it felt quite honourable. Okay, I wasn’t with my mates, but I’d talk to almost everyone I knew from school as they convinced their parents to throw some money in my bucket.

One thing I remember quite vividly is never being allowed out on the field with an empty bucket. I had to rattle some loose change around to attract people’s attention. My nan would load the buckets with coppers to make sure the unthinkable didn’t happen. My cousins and I were even taught how to smile profusely and appropriately thank generous residents whenever they gave us a hallowed £20 note.

Whilst other people think of sparklers, fireworks and a large bonfire whenever they imagine Bonfire Night, I remember all those things but with an added sense of duty to my local community. I never found it embarrassing to volunteer to fundraise, like some children and teenagers may have done. Instead, I found it rewarding—both for the food my nan would cook afterwards, and also for the pride I felt my nan had in me and the rest of her grandchildren. It’s somewhat ironic when you consider the whole point of Bonfire Night is to remember Guy Fawkes’s failed attempt to blow up parliament—and yet I remember it for charity.

This year, because I’m at university, it may be the first time in more than a decade that I won’t be collecting money for a local charity on Bonfire Night. I’ll try to get back home for the event, but I don’t yet know what studying I’ll need to complete. There’s also the chance that the trains won’t be running and I could be stuck in Newcastle on November 5th.

Charity begins at home, so they say, and it feels great knowing that we achieved so much for people in need on Bonfire Nights throughout my childhood. Whilst everyone simply enjoyed the fireworks, the toffee apples and brandy snap, and the huge roaring fire at the heart of the festivities, I’d be shaking my bucket for all it was worth.

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