This was my second time volunteering with Oxfam at Glastonbury, my first time was back in 2007, weeks after I’d graduated university. After years of travelling, I found myself with a summer at home and luckily got a prized volunteer place. Here is my lowdown on life as a volunteer steward at Glastonbury!
“There she is, the tor. You know you’ve arrived, back to the party when you see the tor”. Gordon’s eyes were scanning the landscape wistfully; a landscape which held memories both musical and personal.
A veteran of volunteering for Oxfam at Glastonbury, I met Gordon in the shuttle bus queue which would take us from Bristol to Glastonbury.
As the old double-decker school bus bounced along the country roads, he shared stories from his past 30 years of going to Glastonbury from Johnny Cash in 1994 to meeting Michael Eavis himself.
Gordon had spent 25 of the past festivals working as a steward for Oxfam and had limited use of one of his hands. Hailing from the West Coast of Scotland, I estimated him to be in his late 60’s. He still worked as a part-time DJ on a local radio station. Music was his life.
The shuttle bus took us directly to the crew camping area, which due to a week of torrential rain, was already a muddy swamp – complete with ducks cruising in the puddles!
I purposefully headed up the small incline to pitch my tiny one-man tent, chatting to my neighbours as I banged in tent pegs. The majority of them were part of the ‘early arrival crew’ who had been on site since Saturday and had a mixture of shifts which as helping coordinate the 2000 volunteers arriving at the Oxfam site. Tent pitched, I head to the Oxfam crew tent to register.
I pick up my welcome pack: my bright orange steward tabard, my shift timetable for the week, meal tokens (three), shower tokens (three) and a stewarding guide and then wade through an even deeper swamp of mud to with my ID to get my crew wristband. Sorted!
I make my tent ‘home’ which, in a one-man tent with a huge backpack is a difficult feat. I’ve treated myself and bought a duvet –my memories of 2007 were of chilly solo nights so I managed to squeeze one into my backpack this time.
The duvet was a great call – an undisturbed night of cosiness. Hopping straight down to the toilets, I forget to bring my Oxfam ID which lets us into our swampy field of porter loos and showers. Reasoning with new stewards is not an option and I’m sent back through the duck pond to fetch my pass.
A fairly long snake is forming for the hot water tap in the Oxfam crew tent, I chat to a newbie volunteer part of the campaigning team whilst we wait to dose up on caffeine and fill up our instant porridge pots. The Oxfam crew area is a large marque with 24hr access to hot water, electrical plugs and tables and chairs and the famous ‘Nuts’ catering van – a useful spot to meet people if you are stewarding solo.
I spend the day exploring the Glastonbury site which is a mix of last-minute preparations: scaffolding being broken up, artists putting the finishing touches to installations, food trucks being decorated. I hike up the hill behind the Park stage to the famous “Glastonbury” sign, reveling in the green grass which would soon be trampled into a swamp.
I seek out the Pedestrian Gate D where I will be stewarding all three of my shits, which also happens to be on the complete opposite side of the entire site to crew camping – a decent 40-minute walk! Oh well, at least it’ll be a good work out!
I head back to crew camping for the compulsory pre-festival volunteer briefing (which is staggered over 2 days as Oxfam take around 2,000 volunteers to Glastonbury) which includes site-specific instructions on fire, security and details of this years Oxfam campaign, Stand as One.
Come evening, I devour a delicious wholesome veggie lasagne from Nuts and spend the evening chatting with fellow volunteers in the crew tent with a few cheeky cans.
The peace and calm and any remaining green grass is quickly filled up by festival goers arriving in scores, dragging anything from wheelbarrows to wheelie bins of booze and tents from early morning.
I have the whole day free again and use to explore the many wonderful sides of Glastonbury you don’t see on the TV. First up, the Green Fields – this year split into three areas: Craft, Healing, and Futures. I admire the range of craft workshops on offer from making flower garlands, to spoon carving and soap making. I wander into the Healing Fields dotted with tents and yurts set up for anything from massage to raki and check out the potential speakers at Green Futures.
After stopping for an early evening bean burger, I continue on to Shangri-La , like a set of a mad Hollywood movie, this year with the theme of ‘Media Hell – Truth and Lies’.
I have a 4.30am alarm start for my first shift tomorrow, so head to bed early, poking my head out my tent to catch a glimpse of the traditional first night burning of the Phoenix at the Stone Circle.
Getting dressed in a one-man tent at 4.30am was a tricky affair. Layered up, I set out on my hike to Pedestrian Gate D on the opposite end of the site.
The supervisors split our group of 20 volunteers into 3 groups, and I’m allocated the first time ticket entrance gate. We are briefed by festival management team on the various checks we have to carry out to check for ticket authenticity and warned that we would also be getting mystery shoppers to check we are on the ball – no pressure!
There is a steady flow of people arriving all morning, from unbelievably excited teenagers, to grumpy middle-aged men, sweating from the muddy car park trek. We get a few suspect looking tickets which we refer to straight to our supervisor or festival management. Bizarrely, I check the tickets of 2 people I worked with over 10 years ago at two different jobs!
Midway through the shift, the Oxfam Landrover arrives, full of flasks of tea and coffee and sometimes the occasional biscuit and we all queue up with our mugs for a caffeine hit.
At 2pm, we are free to escape, and I head off to explore the north area of the site, having a wander around The Woods, this year decorated with huge willow sculptures.
In the evening, I head back to Shangri-La to see spoken word badass Kate Tempest.
“CAMERON’S RESSSSIGNED” a loud Yorkshire woman screams at 8 am. I don’t need to check my phone to check the result of the UK referendum.
Conversation is awash with heated debate all over the festival site, and there is a strangely somber atmosphere of sadness and disbelief. Jeremy Corbyn cancels his appearance at the LeftField tent.
Despite this, the Pyramid Stage opens with a fantastic performance from The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians and Damon Albarn, a uniquely Glastonbury opener.
My shift doesn’t begin until 10 pm, so I spend the day having a good old Glastonbury wander drifting from 90’s band James to an Irish folk band (Gois), to hip-hop beats in the Blues.
As I shelter from the rain, I treat myself to a massive bowl of the infamous Annie Mae’s Mac and Cheese before heading back to crew camping for a quick snooze before the night shift. On the way, I head to my fave Glastonbury food stand for 50p crumpets.
Back at Pedestrian Gate D, I volunteer to check first-time ticket holders again. This time, we see about 10 new festival goers in the first 2 hours and by midnight, the gate is a ghost town apart from the 20 Oxfam volunteers, Hotbox wristbanding staff, and security.
The lack of crowd enabled us to have a good chat with the diverse range of volunteers Oxfam attracts. From a junior doctor to an immigration officer, A-level students to Ph.D. students the conversations were varied and kept us going into the dead of night and through into the dawn as the cloudy skies lightened at 5 am.
Seeing the next batch of volunteers arrive at 6 am, we rejoiced and set off on the long walk back to our tents, a strangely eerie affair with birds pecking at the piles of rubbish and the occasional trashed festival goer searching for their tent after a heavy night.
On the walk home, it began to rain, and as I wearily arrived back at the crew camping, I decided to take advantage of the minimal shower queue (it gets huge around 8am as they are set shower times at Glastonbury) and treat myself to my last hot shower of the week (using my last token!) before crawling into my sleeping bag.
I wake up around 11 am, just as the Pyramid Stage starts and decide I’m just going to have to woman up and power on through on 3 hours sleep. How many times do you wake up at Glastonbury, and anyway, I have the full day with no shifts today!
I head back towards the Healing Fields, taking in raw food demonstrations and finding the gorgeous Glastonbury permaculture garden complete with open fire cafe – another welcome Glasto surprise. I wandered from chilled out DJ sets in Pussy Parlure to world music on the West Holts, finishing up watching Adele at sunset on the Pyramid Stage.
During Adele’s set, tiny little squares of ticker paper showed the crowd towards the end of her set with handwritten Adele lyrics.
I picked one off my shoulder “Throw your self through every open door”. The words rung true, and if tucked it into one of my diaries back home.
After a cheeky deserved lie in, I head to the areas I’ve missed during the week – watching acrobats at the circus tent and stand up comedy at the cabaret area before heading back up to the The Park.
My last shift starts at 2 pm back on Pedestrian Gate D and we move round roles every couple of hours this time: handing out ‘pass out’ tickets to access the car parks and giving countless directions back to the various car parks.
At 10 pm, I head straight for the Pyramid Stage to catch the end of Coldplay. The crowd had been given light-up wristbands which were a stunning site as a jogged from the gate. Coldplay did an encore set with Micheal Eavis performing ‘I Did it My Way’ as the finale, and fireworks lit up the Somerset sky.
Despite being a bit knackered, I head to Shangri La and wander between DJ sets until the wee small hours.
Volunteers start rising from 5am, eager to miss the rush. I manage to pack everything down to a carryable size, and amazingly the shuttle bus picks us up again from crew camping – no trekking the public bus area! Sadly though, it takes us about 2 hours just to crawl through the traffic leaving the Glastonbury site!
As I jump off the bus in Bristol, I’m aware of how hard and odd it feels to be standing on solid concrete for the first time in a week. It feels bizarre to be back in the ‘real world’ where people are clean and life seems ordered and slightly less colorful.
Until next year, Glastonbury. Thanks for the memories.
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Have you volunteered a music festival before? What was your experience life?