Feature: The wonderful world of festival volunteering

In these times of financial uncertainty, it is becoming more and more difficult for avid music fans to experience live performances; entrance fees for gigs are increasing at an exorbitant rate, whilst a weekend ticket for a music festival often cost hundreds of pounds. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many festival visitors are opting to take up voluntary roles at festivals, for which they receive free entry, access to cleaner toilets, and much more, all in exchange for a couple of days work. In our festival-oriented feature, We Are Unseen contributor, Molly Kerkham, offers an insight in to  the world of festival volunteering through sharing her own experiences as a volunteer with Oxfam.

Summer was just around the corner, and my friends and I were itching for that festival fix. One catch: we were broke. Instead of plunging deeper into our overdrafts, we decided to volunteer with Oxfam. Of course, there’s plenty of other ways to volunteer at festivals , such as working for companies like Festaff or Hotbox Events, or applying directly to festivals themselves.

Oxfam provides staff for festivals across the UK – from big hitters, like Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds, to smaller affairs, like Shambala and Boomtown. In return for three eight-hour shifts, Oxfam will give you a free ticket. We speedily sent off our online applications for Bestival, and soon discovered that were lucky enough to win a prize draw for much sought after Glastonbury volunteering spaces.

The shifts involve a wide variety of roles. At Glastonbury, we checked tickets and welcomed festival-goers, but other roles include stewarding campsites and – if you’re lucky – inside the music venues themselves. You don’t need any particular skills – but if you’ve got experience with managing people or first aid you can take on extra responsibilities, like supervisor to a stewarding team.

Of course, there’ll be food and travel expenses. That said, Oxfam helps volunteers organise lift-shares and provides one meal token per shift – both of which helps to keep down the cost of your festival. There’s also a deposit of around £200 (which you’ll get back at the end of the festival season) – to prevent you from running off into the whirl of glitter and fancy-dress five minutes into your shift.

There’s so many bonuses other than the cost – that’s why so many volunteers return to Oxfam year on year. Not only are you getting all the fun of a festival for free, but you’ll also be helping people around the world by volunteering for Oxfam. Yep, you can party with a warm, fuzzy feeling that’s not just due to all that cider you drank earlier. For every hour volunteered, the festival will donate money to Oxfam. You can also get involved in campaigning as part of your volunteering, raising awareness for the charity’s causes.

Oxfam provides plugs for phone chargers, volunteer-only showers and as much tea and coffee as you can drink – all of which help to make the experience a little more homely. From students to pensioners, Oxfam attracts volunteers from all walks of life. It’s being part of a diverse and friendly people that makes volunteering with stand out from attending festivals with a standard ticket. By chatting on shift, in Oxfam’s communal food tent and even on the bus there, we found friends to see bands with, share a BBQ and – most importantly – to show us how to put down our own tent. While most people volunteer with friends, the welcoming atmosphere means that coming solo won’t be lonely; you’re sure to bump into someone with like-minded music taste to head out into the festival with.

You’ll get glimpse into the other side of festivals. When you’re swaying in a field, it can feel like the whole festival came together spontaneously, as if by magic. Volunteering provides a peek into just some of the hard work and organisation that goes into making muddy fields come alive – you’ll never see festivals in the same way again.

There are some downsides too. Of course, you’ll miss some of the acts – but shift times are flexible, so you’ll still get to catch the dream band you came for. Preparation for any weather is vital, even more so than attending festivals as a regular visitor; I learnt the hard way, after forgetting a jumper for my first shift on a chilly, wet morning. Make sure you pack your bags with layers and good waterproofs, or you’ll risk trudging back to your tent soggy and cold (and, in my case, knee deep in Glastonbury mud). Thankfully, Oxfam provides hot drinks and biscuits to stave off the chills.

Volunteering with Oxfam was above all a fantastically fun way to fill your summer, that I’m eager to do all over again. Check out Oxfam’s website for more details, find out which festivals are still available for this year, or get ahead start planning next year’s festival applications – see you next summer!

Molly Kerkham

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