Hello, I’m Donna Bompas
The Big Draw, The Open Air Cinema and one-off celebrations such as the Jubilee Picnic in 2012 have led Chislehurst to become synonymous with large-scale, outdoor events put on for the community, by the community.
Though Chislehurst has a long history of communal gatherings on the Commons, it is only in more recent years that this tradition has been revived, largely thanks to a team of volunteers spearheaded by local resident Donna Bompas.
Originally from California, Donna has lived in Chislehurst since 1987 and has brought up her three children here with husband Anthony. As a qualified teacher, she combines her passion for art and for learning by running an art school from her home studio, teaching the full spectrum of art mediums to 120+ students, from pre-school age to pensioner.
Alongside the day job, Donna is driven by a strong sense of community and the desire to bring large numbers together to celebrate and to enjoy the green spaces we are fortunate enough to have on our doorstep.
Inspired by photographs of picnics on Chislehurst Common in Victorian times, she has also been influenced by her parents who were themselves heavily involved in charitable work. “Volunteering is what makes communities work. I see it as the infrastructure,” explains Donna, who believes it is what makes Chislehurst such a thriving and desirable place to live.
Not only is Donna always looking ahead to the next big event, she also volunteers her time on a weekly basis for the benefit of local children. She has been a Sunday School teacher and a Beaver Scout leader for over 20 years and is a school governor. For 12 years she ran the Chislehurst Society’s Alun & Joy awards programme which encourages primary and secondary age children to take an interest in their local environment, encouraging them to become better citizens. The annual programme culminates in an exhibition and awards ceremony involving 250 entries from 1,000 school children.
Donna is perhaps best known for the Big Draw which she initiated in Chislehurst 12 years ago; it has since become a multi-award winning event. The Big Draw is an international movement based on the notion that there are little, if any, opportunities to be hands on with art. The 18,000 different venues are primarily UK museums and schools which makes Chislehurst’s offering unique in terms of its outdoor setting, its scale and the fact that it raises money for a good cause (the upkeep of the Commons). It has gathered momentum year on year and this year involved 170 volunteers and brought together over 1,600 people on the Commons to think and act creatively.
“We have between 25-30 different art activities on offer, not to mention the food, music and entertainment. It really is a wonderful spectacle. People enjoy being involved and everyone goes home smiling,” says Donna.
The outdoor picnic to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee was a personal highlight for Donna, purely because it was so much fun on the day. It attracted over 1,300 guests and was the largest street party of its kind in the South East. The Open Air Cinema, now in its fourth year, derives from Donna’s love of outdoor movies growing up in the States: “The atmosphere is fantastic and there is nothing quite like watching a movie under the stars. I love the fact that people make the extra effort to come dressed up.”
Her ultimate motivation is to have fun collectively, yet these community endeavours raise much needed funds for the Trustees of Chislehurst Commons. “These are the people who make Chislehurst what it is. They work incredibly hard all year round to enable us all to enjoy the Commons.”
Donna’s enthusiasm and her vision are the foundation for each event she works on, but she is clear that they are extremely labour intensive and would not be possible without volunteer input. She estimates that the Big Draw requires over 800 man hours on the day, not including the preparation beforehand or the clean-up operation afterwards.
For all those who willingly put in the time to help, there are always those for whom it is alien. It’s just life that there are some that volunteer and some that don’t. Nevertheless, it is hard not to buy in to Donna’s ideal of a network of local people working for the common good of Chislehurst. What she brings to the mix is her big ideas and a talent for recruiting and motivating large teams of volunteers to create something special for this community.
Written by Gwen Lardner