A £200,000 initiative due to run over the next two years will see teams of helpers posted at some of the busiest spots around the city centre.
Volunteers must commit to at least six four-hour shifts, but are promised 14 hours of specialist training as well as tickets for at least six shows across the festivals and exclusive behind-the-scenes access to events.
The programme was launched by umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh as a pilot involving just 40 volunteers last year thanks to a £30,000 city council grant. It was instigated to mark the 70th birthday of Edinburgh’s festivals and was inspired by the success of the London Olympics and Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The Edinburgh project is now being backed by the Big Lottery Fund, Spirit of 2012 – a trust set up to ensure a lasting Olympic legacy – Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Airport.
The funding will pay for a six-fold increase in the number of “Festival City Volunteers” on the streets. They are tasked with giving out advice on everything from the location of box offices and venues to public transport facilities, key tourist attractions and even how to escape the crowds.
Festivals Edinburgh director Julia Amour said the scheme would be run according to new rules for the deployment of volunteers at major events, which are expected to be endorsed by councillors within months.
She added: “We’re currently developing a best practice guide, in consultation with volunteering experts. The council is very keen to see what we come up with.
“We’re looking at guidance that already exists for the volunteering sector, including from the STUC, and will boil that down into a code of practice that our festivals will agree.”
Academic researcher Mohamed Arab, one of the first Festival City Volunteers last year, said: “I got involved after deciding I wanted to do something completely different to studying and working all the time.
“I thought it would be really interesting to meet people from all sort of backgrounds – some who live in the city and also want to volunteer, some who are in the city to see the festivals or to perform, and others who just happen to be here and wonder what on earth is going on.”
Donald Wilson, the council’s culture convener, said: “This initiative provides local people with the chance to be part of the beating heart of Edinburgh in August, and last year’s volunteers have played a role in shaping the scheme.”
Applications to the Festival City Volunteers scheme must be 18 or over by this July, however there is no upper age limit - last year’s pilot programme included an 81-year-old.
Free bus transport within Edinburgh is provided as part of the project and it is hoped that volunteers will be drawn from every part of the city.
Maureen McGill, chair of Big Lottery Fund Scotland, said: “This project will provide rich volunteering experiences to a diverse range of people living in Edinburgh. With additional support and training available from Volunteer Edinburgh, they will be able build resilience through arts and culture, and also increase their skills and confidence.”
Debbie Lyle, chief executive of Spirit of 2012, added: “As a funder of other major events volunteering programmes including the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and Hull City of Culture 2017, we know the multiple benefits of such schemes.
“Volunteers develop new skills and confidence, which boosts their physical and mental wellbeing, while their impact is also felt more widely in better-connected communities and a renewed sense of civic pride.”