The £100-plus price tag of a festival ticket can seem like a stretch to even the most avid of festival-goers, but for those who don't mind exchanging a few hours' voluntary work for a chance to watch the bands, there are many ways to get in for free. There is work to suit every ability, from litter picking to bar work and even teaching your skills to gain free access.
Many UK festivals rely on the work of their volunteers. At Cornbury, the entire 200-strong team of stewards, technical, bar and production staff are volunteers. Of all the schemes available to music lovers, Oxfam's provides customer support across the largest network. It works alongside 14 festivals, including Glastonbury, WOMAD and Bestival. The number of Oxfam volunteers has grown from 550 in its 1993 launch year to 4,500 in 2010, raising the total annual revenue generated by the scheme from £150,000 to £1m. With festivals paying the charity an hourly rate for each volunteer, workers are effectively donating money while gaining free entrance. Oxfam's festivals team manager Judy Bec says: "From a festival's point of view, they get a very keen group of workers from all walks of life. From our point of view, the money is brilliant in supporting people in poverty around the world. And people can come and enjoy themselves and join us in helping at the festival."
As well as the free ticket, volunteers become part of a community of like-minded volunteers and get a space in a dedicated camping area. In exchange for three eight-hour shifts, Oxfam volunteers get private camping, a marquee and free meals. "It's a safer and more comfortable way for people doing festivals for the first time or on their own," says Bec. "We had a return rate of 58 per cent last year. There's a hardcore team of people who come every year – some that come to their favourite festival year after year, and others who go from festival to festival throughout the season."
Oxfam is only one of many such schemes. Network Recycling this year will be operating at six festivals. Typically, volunteers help festival-goers to recycle, and work with stall-workers to help them separate their rubbish, reducing the overall waste at festivals. At the premiere world music festival WOMAD, where volunteers are currently still needed, they even provide a composting system, enabling everything on site to be recycled. Working hours vary from festival to festival, but volunteers can usually benefit from a day off to enjoy the bands, and many can end up being paid for their efforts. At WOMAD, a team of 120 volunteers is whittled down to around 30 who stay on afterwards to help clear the site for some cash.
For some people, volunteering leads to a paid job and career progression. Alex Perry, 24, first volunteered in 2005 to fund his way into Cornbury, near his home in Oxfordshire, as he prepared for his first year at university. He was called back after his third year for paid summer work. "It seemed a different and exciting thing to do – not the daily grind of working in an office. And festivals are expensive. You're given access to the festival and you get to see your favourite bands in your breaks. My first time at Cornbury I worked for an entire month doing the day to day running around. I was tasked with the delivering tickets to 180 pubs across three counties. A lot were in the middle of nowhere, on the top of a hill behind a tree."
Volunteers must display a willingness to learn, and be sociable, and happy working in a large team. "You're the face of the festival, and you're making festival-goers' experience better," he says.
For Perry, it has been invaluable in helping launch his career in PR. "You don't realise until you start putting it on your CV that you've learnt all these useful organisational skills. It's something I did when I was 19 and is now helping drive my career and paying dividends."
There are many individual festivals running unique schemes. The family-friendly Leicester-based Summer Sundae Weekender offers tickets to volunteers from Complete Wasters, a community recycling group, in return for four hours' help per day encouraging recycling and litter picking. In its 10 years at Summer Sundae, an estimated 250,000 bottles and cans have been collected. Complete Wasters will try to build your shifts around acts volunteers are desperate to see – and being part of the clean-up crew on the Monday and Tuesday after the festival gives you the opportunity to catch more bands over the weekend.
Reading and Leeds festivals offer places in campsite assistant teams (they are currently still recruiting volunteers for Leeds), recycling, stewarding and environmental health. All volunteers, in exchange for three eight-hour shifts, are given a free ticket, crew pass, pack and uniform, camping in a secure crew area, access to the crew café, bar, toilets, showers and a souvenir T-shirt.
Bar work is another popular choice. Bestival offers work at their Peppermint Bars. At Green Man, as well as a free £120 ticket, stewards are awarded a free meal for each six-hour shift worked, while litter pickers must work five shifts totalling 20 hours and have the opportunity to earn money collecting litter after the event.
The most original of all the schemes is the new Summer of Give from V, the National Young Volunteers service, which launched in May. The charity encourages 18 to 25-year-olds to volunteer and has been giving out free festival tickets to volunteers for just four hours of their time per day. It's a chance to be creative and teach a unique skill or talent to people at the festivals. Their campaign has already secured volunteers at V Festival ranging from cheerleaders, to beat boxers and freestyle footballers, but are still on the look out for volunteers for T4 on the Beach, Relentless Boardmasters and Creamfields.
But it's not just for the youngsters – festival-lovers of all ages can apply to be volunteer and gain a free ticket. Oxfam's oldest volunteer is 74.