Mar
25

Festival Stewarding

With some festival tickets costing at least £175, stewarding is one way to get yourself in without having to spend your hard earned pennies, and instead donating your time to help with the running of the event. Personally I have always been weary that the last thing I’d want to do is spend my few days of partying doing anything resembling work, but with places for stewarding opportunities selling out as quickly as the festivals themselves, I had a feeling I didn’t know enough about it. I managed to have a chat with Tom, who is a stewarding veteran, in order to find out more about the pros and cons:


How long have you been stewarding at festivals and which company have you worked for?

I think this is probably my 7th year. All 7 years I’ve worked for Oxfam and  also worked for one other company before.

And which festivals have you worked at?

I’ve done Glastonbury, Reading, Latitude and Bestival.

Which ones have you got planned for this year?

For the first time in about five years I’m only doing one, and that’s just Glastonbury this year.

Over the 7 years, which have been the best and the worst to do?

No festival has been terrible. Glastonbury in the rain has been really tough. When it’s really wet and you’re working as well as going to the festival it can be difficult. But then at the same time, when the weather’s good, Glastonbury is by far the best festival. All of them have their ups and down cos you do different jobs at each one. So for example at Glastonbury you only ever work on the gates really, that’s all Oxfam’s responsibility is. If you go to Reading with Oxfam you get to work on one of the stages, so you basically just get to watch music all day. And that’s the same for Bestival actually.

What does ‘working on one of the stages’ actually involve?

If you’re with Oxfam you’re there for health and safety so you’re really the eyes and ears. You might be manning gates, say if it’s a stage that only let’s a certain number of people in then you might be helping with that. Or you might be on a disabled platform or near some toilets, basically anywhere where people might go the wrong way!

So no picking up rubbish or cleaning up everyone’s mess?

That’s different, and isn’t really stewarding. Typically people who pick up rubbish get paid. Maybe some don’t but they would be with different companies. At each festival, every company has a different responsibility and they allocate the bonuses of working for that company. So for example if you work for one specific company you might get paid but you might not get your food, every one is different.

So with Oxfam do you get your festival ticket free?

Yeah, you get your ticket free, and then it depends on the festival. You might get meal vouchers, generally you get a dedicated camping area and free coffee as well as showers, which is nice.

And how long do you actually have to spend working?

You do three 8 hour shifts, so 24 hours in total.

Ok, and do you know when those shifts are going to be?

No, you can get called up at any time over the festival including the day before and the Monday after the festival, and they can also be over night which can be tiring. They do allow you to say you’re going with a large group of people so say for example last year we went with more than 12 people to Glastonbury, they put us all on the same shift pattern. We weren’t all in the same place, but we were working at the same time, so they accommodate for groups of friends which is great. Also the reason we keep working for Glastonbury is because as they know as now and we’ve done loads of festivals for them, we always get shifts that are before the festival. So this year I’ll be at Glastonbury for ten days and I won’t work whilst the music is on, which is great.

I’m guessing sometimes there are people who get way too drunk or are fast asleep, what happens if you agree to work and miss your shift?

With Oxfam you pay a deposit at the start of the summer. I just paid mine last week, it was £200. The deposit buys you as many festivals as you want for Oxfam. You have to sign on each shift and then sign out. If you don’t sign on and also make it clear you’ve done the work then they will see you as missing, dock your deposit, and also kick you out the festival.

Oh really?

Yeah, they are quite strict. If you genuinely miss a shift and are apologetic and have a real reason, they will probably be understanding, but if you just mess them around they’ll just chuck you out, it’s more hassle than it’s worth for them. Same applies if you’re too drunk or fucked or whatever. They won’t have it cos there are insurance issues.

Have you ever stewarded at a festival and it’s been so bad you thought that’s it for me, this is the last time?

No, we really like it. I wouldn’t do Glastonbury any other way. Oxfam have always been really good to us, it’s a great time, you get to see the same people each year so there are a lot of people who repeat it. The perks are like having the showers and stuff is really really nice. We’ve done some horrible shifts but you’ve just got to man up really.

Any advice for first timers? It sounds like you’d be recommending Oxfam?

Yeah I’d always go for Oxfam, they’ve been really good to us. You do have to decide what you want to do and do it quickly, so when the applications open they actually sell out as fast as the festival tickets. So know what festivals you want to do and go for them straight away. That’s about it really. Once you’ve done it once they are really good at keeping you updated with emails and everything like that.

Will you ever stop going to festivals?

I can’t imagine why I would. I’ve been going since I was 14 so this will be my tenth year. I’ve loved it ever since the first one.

Best act you’ve ever seen?

Arcade Fire at Latitude about 4 years ago were pretty special. Hot Chip at Glastonbury were amazing. LCD Soundsystem at Reading I was actually working that shift and where they put me, I couldn’t have been any closer to the stage basically, it was an amazing view. It was nice to be at work and see such an amazing band. Um, chemical Borthers at Glastonbury a few years ago were really good too.

Anything particularly funny or bad you’ve seen over your years of stewarding? Maybe something behind the scenes we wouldn’t have seen?

We’ve met a fair few people. Some days it might be absolutely amazing. You might stand in the same spot for 8 hours and you see so much passing trade, you know so much foot traffic and it’s just a fantastic chance to people watch. People in absolutely messy messy situations and then you meet some people who are just genuinely really really polite and in it for the festival. Basically it’s a really good way to see a bit of everything that’s going on. Bestival actually, a couple of years ago in the rain, we worked on a tent where some people had had their stuff washed away, and that was pretty bad. We met some people who had literally no belongings left. Yeah that was quite bad, they’ve rocked up to their tent and it was so wet, they said they’d found some of their stuff but the rest of it is in a torrent of mud. A lot of people went home after that.

Finally, do you see a lot of the same people stewarding every year?

Yeah, there are loads of people that I see every year now that I have no contact with for the rest of the year. It’s fantastic, they’re all really good people. You know it’s going to be a good crowd because people want to be at the festival enough to give up some of their free time.

If you are interested in finding out more about stewarding with Oxfam, visit http://www.oxfam.org.uk/Stewarding

Thanks again to Tom for taking the time to speak to me.

See you on the dancefloor.

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