Leavers Week festivities are an institution in WA, and each year amid the noise and the chaos of jubilant school leavers is HOPE Leavers Volunteer Coordinator Leeanne Bates.
For the past 10 years Leeanne has coordinated a team of dedicated HOPE volunteers to run health recovery and outreach services at the four-day Leavers Week event in Dunsborough, which draws in roughly 10,000 young people.
The health recovery services staffed by HOPE volunteers include a recovery tent (sobering up tent), retrieval buggies to transport young people affected by alcohol or drugs to the recovery tent as well as general outreach.
Up to 200 people can come through the tent in one night, with Leeanne Bates and her team dealing with drunkenness, drug overdose, drink spiking and a host of other incidents. It’s a safe, supportive and confidential space for young people to sober up when they are intoxicated or distressed.
“It’s all about harm minimisation,” she Leeanne explains. “There’s no pressure from us, no judgement. We want them to get themselves or their mates to us if they are in trouble. We want them to come to us.”
Coordinating HOPE’s services at Leavers Week is a massive undertaking – planning for the November event begins in February each year.
Alongside reviewing procedures, risk management and disaster planning with the other event partners, Leeanne is responsible for recruiting and managing up to 60 HOPE volunteers.
She ensures they have the necessary clearances and training, and takes care of all the logistics such as food, accommodation and transport.
During four day festivities, Leeanne’s days run from 11am until the last person leaves the recovery tent, which is often after 2am. Her days involve regular meetings with event partners, monitoring the status of those in the recovery tent, and checking in on volunteers.
Taking care of her team
“I look after my volunteers. If a person is finding something difficult, if they have been triggered, then I am sitting and listening to them,” she says.
“I’ve had many late nights or early mornings sitting on a beach in Dunsborough listening to a volunteer talk about what they’ve seen or experienced the night before.”
Her volunteers clearly feel valued – she has around 20 volunteers who have returned more than once. One woman even flies from Adelaide to be a Leavers Week volunteer.
“Leavers Week is hard work, but it is a lot of fun – I love it,” Leeanne says.
“I know that when we do this work, as a group, we are actually leaving these young people a little bit better off. We make a difference to them.”