Wide open fields, you and your mates, new bands and a few cheeky beverages – many of us have sweet memories of summer festivals gone by.
These days, the reality is a weekend in a muddy field which will set you back over £200+. But there are alternative options.
During a backpacking trip back in 2006, I met a girl in a hostel who recounted a story of her volunteering at a festival.
On returning home, I did a little research and applied to be a volunteer steward with Oxfam at the very first Latitude festival in Suffolk.
I was 21 and had done very little volunteering before, and would be going on my own as my friends were already booked up for the summer.
I turned up with my brand new tiny one man tent, incredibly nervous that I might be the only person solo and would I be out of my depth?
I needn’t have worried – I ended up having the best weekend with the 50 or so volunteers – checking wristbands and tickets from laid back festival goers, meeting people from all walks of life and ages in the Oxfam crew camping area and getting to see a decent amount of bands at the festival.
The next year I got priority application and stewarded at Glastonbury and WOMAD with my sister.
And in 2016, I returned to both Glastonbury and Latitude as a steward, 10 years later, which felt a little like a funny ‘full circle’ life moment.
What is the deal with volunteer stewarding for Oxfam?
Oxfam stewards provide the ‘eyes and ears’ of the festival.
The majority of the time you will be answering questions and giving directions, occasionally you may have to deal with bigger issues. But there will always be a supervisor either within your area or available on a two-way radio. Plus festival security is usually within easy reach.
Find out more about the different stewarding roles here.
In the five festivals I’ve done for Oxfam, I have done ticket and wristband checking manned a fire tower and (due to my work experience with kids, which Oxfam ask for proof of) worked as part of the lost children patrol.
Once you’ve been accepted and undertaken a one day training course prior to the festival, you are expected to do 3 x 8 ¼ hour shifts over the 5-7 days Oxfam is on the festival site.
This is usually split into one day shift, one evening shift and one overnight shift with a half an hour break whilst on duty.
The shifts are allocated when you arrive on site and there is usually an opportunity to swap shifts if they clash with your favourite band (you may struggle to swap those dreaded night shifts, though).
In exchange, you will be given a festival ticket and 3 meal tickets to be used once on duty. You may also get shower tickets, depending on the festival.
So it’s no holiday, that night shift can mess with your head a bit, but it’s super rewarding and a unique way to experience a festival.
Also, instead of paying the stewards directly, the festival organisers donate the money to Oxfam, and by the end of the summer around a £1 million has been raised to help with the charity’s overseas relief work.
So try something different and get involved this summer!
#1 Sign up for preregistration
Applications for Oxfam festival volunteering usually open in March – keep up to date by signing up for the pre-registration alerts
Tip In 2016 applications opened on March 17th at 11 am with Glastonbury volunteering places filling up within half an hour – so make sure you are ready and waiting on the day if you are keen for Glastonbury!
Tip Previous festival volunteers (in the last 5 years) gain priority application, usually around a week before general applications open.
#2 Decide what kind of festival you would like to steward at
What kind of festivals have you previously been to? Are you going solo or with groups of friends?
Saying that, if your feeling adventurous just jump right into a bigger festival.
Keep an eye on the Oxfam site to see where they will be this summer.
Each festival brings different experiences of stewarding, too. For example, the crew catering at Glastonbury is awesome homemade vegetarian food provided by Nuts, but due to water shortages, you are issued with three ‘shower tokens’ for the week. Showers were also only open between 6 am – 9 am and 4 pm – 7 pm. At Latitude, there was 24hr shower access but the crew catering was pretty basic chips and grease…You win some, lose some.
#3 Fill out your application and sign up to the festivals
Fill out the short application form, upload your photo and ask someone to be your referee.
When festival volunteering opens, sign up to your festival and pay your deposit (the amount depends on how many and which festivals you apply for – the maximum is around £220) which will be refunded when you have completed all your festivals. (You must sign in at each shift you work as proof of attendance to get your deposit back).
#4 Attend an Oxfam training session
Once you have been confirmed for the festival, you will be required to go to an Oxfam training session.
These are held in various cities across the UK and give an introduction to stewarding from using a two-way radio to dealing with lost children and emergency situations.
#5 Sort transport (if required)
If you aren’t driving to the festival, consider looking at a lift share site to see if anyone else is heading to the festival site. Also, join the Oxfam Steward Facebook group to get the lowdown from past volunteers.
Alternatively, try to book the transport in advance for cheap train/National Express/ Megabus deals. I scored a £3 Megabus deal from London to Bristol for Glastonbury in 2016.
As you will be arriving on site before festival goers, there is usually a shuttle provided from public transport hubs to the festival site. In 2016, Oxfam put on a school bus from Bristol Temple Meads Station (for around £20 return) and at Latitude a bus for all volunteers was around £3 each way.
#6 Gather your volunteer festival kit
The usual festival kit list applies – tent, fancy dress, wet wipes, glitter, wellies – but actually working at a festival requires a few extra items such as an alarm clock, a plastic mug for hot drinks whilst on shift and plenty of warm clothes for that night shift.
Don’t forget to pack your ID and festival volunteering or you won’t be let in!