Festivals are expensive. A ticket to a major festival will set you back over £200. That’s a fair chunk of your student loan that could go on over 60 bottles of Tesco Spanish wine (grape variety to be determined), instead to be spent on 5 days in the mud. Fortunately, there is another way…
Stewarding festivals is a great way to get a free* ticket. Well, as free as 24 hours of your labour feels. Over the past three years I’ve stewarded at Reading, Leeds, and Glastonbury Festival for Oxfam, and I’d probably never do most festivals as a punter again. Perks outweigh the work and make it worthwhile.
Some of you may think working at a festival will spoil it. You’re wrong. I still managed to stumble through Shangri-la at a time I can barely remember in a horrific state. Over the years, I’ve managed to see headliners from the Arctic Monkeys to Kanye West and the Who, as well as countless other bands. You don’t feel you’re missing out enough to justify paying for a ticket.
Aside from the free ticket, this year at Glastonbury the Oxfam stewards had their own campsite with hot – yes, you read that right – showers, and toilets cleaned twice a day – which is a big deal at a festival. A marquee was laid on with a (cheap) staff bar and free phone charging, and we were even given three free meals at the staff catering van, who wiped the floor with standard festival food.
But ok, I’ll be honest. It’s not all great. The shifts can be a bit shit, especially if you draw an overnight shift. They’re very fucking dull and bloody freezing, and it is demoralising to hear a headliner as you head in for work. Not all the shifts mean you miss music; stewards work in the days before the festival, and you do get to see a hell of a lot. I didn’t miss a single headliner at Glastonbury, so I was unlucky enough to see Kanye West’s catastrophe in full. Lucky me…
The shifts aren’t taxing work. Checking wristbands or tickets or just directing pissed people to the toilet is as tough as it gets. If you get lucky, like I did at Reading in 2014, you get put on a stage (at the festivals Oxfam cover stages). There my job was to ‘watch the crowd’. In reality, that is proper security’s job, so I spent 4 hours watching Bill Bailey and Milton Jones deliver hilarious comedy sets. Work was really pushing it that day.
Oxfam obviously does pretty well out of this too: they raise up £200 per volunteer, depending on the festival – and with over 10,000 volunteers a year at festivals, this is a lot of money for the charity. You put this money down as a deposit, so if you don’t turn up to work (and Oxfam don’t get paid), you make the donation instead.
The extra home comforts or the warm glow of helping those in need might persuade you to start stewarding. But they’re not the best thing about it (taking the festival ticket for granted). The best thing is the people. It seems to be a certain type of people who work with Oxfam at festivals, and even an occasional misanthrope like me can’t help but love them. Now I’ve done a few, I would have no qualms about turning up solo, because the people you’re camped near or who you’ll be on shift with will be lovely.
I met some fantastic people this year at Glastonbury, and guarantee you will do the same if you steward a festival. With nothing to lose and so many people to help (not least yourself), I can’t recommend it enough.