Thoughts from a "newbie" on first meeting The Skip Felagr.
Asking the seasoned volunteers that run the group to write about the experience of being a "newbie" and what it feels like to apply to join us seemed a little counter productive. We therefore caught one of our most recent recruits, put them on the spot much like a startled rabbit in the headlights and asked them to offer a little insight into what folk might be letting themselves in for if accepted into the Skip Felagr. Here's what they had to say.
"Joining a reenactment group seemed like it could be a fun new hobby as I was interested in Vikings. The Skip Felagr were recommended to me but sounded a bit too serious for my liking, though because they were local I arranged to go to their next show anyway hoping to see some big battles. That particular museum event was indoors and was just half a dozen folk demonstrating period crafts and enthusiastically talking to crowds of public about their research. In the nicest possible way some of them seemed to be as mad as a bag of frogs (I can say that now they're friends and I know they'll take it as a compliment rather than an insult). At that event I quickly realised two things; 1) Whilst I believed I knew a lot about the Vikings it was nothing compared to what they knew, 2) I now wanted to join them as they seemed to make the bits I thought I wouldn't enjoy look as if it would be at least as much fun as the fighting.
When I asked about joining I was told to arrange a date and time for an interview. This sounded intimidating as I'd no relevant qualifications or experience but turned out to be nothing more than a friendly chat with the group leader over coffee and biscuits whilst filling in an application form. My fear of being turned down was unfounded as the group were primarily interested in my enthusiasm to learn more, not how much I already knew. My first experience as a newbie was just a few days later when turning up to a group "stitch'n'bitch" (Skip Felagr slang for social meetings, training sessions and craft workshops not open to the public) and having a stranger open the door to a house full of busy people. For a few seconds I stood there lost not knowing what to do or say but a cup of tea was then shoved into my right hand and I found myself chatting about the previous night's TV with a chap I'd never met whilst being asked to support in my left hand the end of large bit of wood that was being shaped into something I didn't recognise. Moments later I was being measured up for clothing by a couple of women and asked if I wore my hemline to the knee or mid thigh (how is a bloke supposed to answer a question like that?). I then found myself lost listening in to an academic debate between two individuals about something to do with units of weight in a Viking silver economy. After lunch we went outside and I went through some basic safety tests with a spear to be formally passed safe to fight the rest of the warriors without actually injuring them. Before the day was out I must have been introduced to a dozen more folk involved in different tasks who'd asked me all sorts of questions and told me lots of things they thought I should know. I went home feeling a little overwhelmed remembering none of what I'd been told but with a feeling I'd not so much enrolled at a club or society but been welcomed into a large eccentric family.
At my first public show I tried to make myself useful during set up as masses of stuff needed unloading out of cars and vans but I didn't really know what to do except carry it to where I'd been asked. As for the show itself I'd been told, as a newbie, to just settle in slowly, spend time alongside each of the experienced volunteers and get a feel for what goes on. As a member of the public chatting briefly to just a few of the Skip Felagr at the museum event I'd learnt a lot. Getting to spend a full weekend alongside all of them at an outdoor event, listening to and watching everything they all do I saw not just how much I had to learn in order to contribute to the public displays, but how much even the most knowledgeable group members seemed to enjoy learning from each other every time they meet. I think in that moment it became clear not just why people join the group but why they stay and why they seem to make such strong friendships, as to quote a cliché "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey".