“Are you free, mate?”
“Yeah! Let’s meet up.”
“What shall we do?”
“Yeah, might as well.”
We’ve all had this conversation. It’s terrible. Nothing against the pub, of course – the pub is great and saying otherwise is sacrilege. It’s just good to do something different sometimes.
Finding that ‘something different’ can, depending on where you live, be quite difficult over the three-month summer a lot of students are currently experiencing. (It’s a difficult life, we know).
We’d all love to go to Glastonbury, to Wireless, to Creamfields, but they cost over £200 each for the ticket price alone. Count-in the cost of travel, food, drink, and spending money and you’re looking at a £300+ bill. Festivals are expensive – so much so that you could argue they’re pricing some young people out.
So why not volunteer at the festival of your choice instead? Could going for free be worth it, despite working whilst you’re there? Let’s consider it.
How long are you needed on site for? You’ll be asked to arrive earlier than the paying festival punters, possibly on the Tuesday, working through to the Monday. This was certainly the case at Leeds Festival, where I’ve volunteered before.
What are the hours? Several of my shifts involved getting up at 5am – which is a little difficult when you went to sleep four hours ago after drinking a fair amount of cider – and working until 11.
You’ll do a six-hour shift every day, and when you’re not working, you are free to do as you please – which, of course, means you should go to a load of gigs, speak to some strange people, and dance your nut off.
What was a working day like? When working at a catering company, you spend a lot of time serving people eggs. My claim to fame? I made The Horrors a cup of coffee.
Here’s a warning: if you work in food and drink, some customers like to haggle with you. A senior staff member from the company I worked for (who looked a lot like Billy Ray Cyrus) would always be there to make sure I didn’t give in. He knew that I would cave-in every time to these tired, wet, and muddy people if I could. They just looked so damn hungry.
You’d be surprised how chirpy those people can be at 5am though. A festival will do that to you which is actually my favourite thing about going to music festivals: everyone is happy. It’s refreshing.
Other jobs include being stationed on a fire tower, tying on peoples’ wristbands as they enter the site, helping out in the Oxfam shop, and various other essential positions. There’s always something to do.
The shifts are done alongside the same batch of people all week – which is a great way to get to know them better. Of course, everybody loves music, so conversation couldn’t be easier to strike-up.
You should make some good friends over the week. At Leeds, there was a group of 20-30 of us. We’d all hang-out at the camp together, and then we’d all go to gigs together too. It was a lot of fun.
A huge variety of people volunteer at festivals – and talking to them is half the fun. Some of them were massive stoners. Some didn’t even like music – they were just there to have fun with new people. One guy (who told us he lived in a tree) shaved his beard in our grotty crew Portaloo – which we thought was a little weird. But, more than anything, everyone was friendly and up for a good time.
How much music do you get to see if you’re working? Reading and Leeds, for example, has 12 hours of live music a day. So it really depends on what shifts you’re allocated. In my own experience, I was quite lucky to have only one shift when music was on (I worked several night and early morning shifts), so I only missed six hours of the total 36. That’s a lot of music for the price of £0 (sort of – we’ll get on to money soon).
What do other former volunteers think? Josh, a student from Newcastle University who has volunteered at Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, and Y Not Festival, said: “The best thing [about volunteering at a festival] is that you get to see the site before it opens, which means that you can set-up your tent before the chaos ensues a few days later when the general public arrive. And, of course, you get decent showers too. The toilets still stink, though.”
My favourite part of volunteering at a festival is how it forces you to speak to new people – the vast majority of whom are always lovely. Plus, and this will be a big bonus point for any cash-strapped students reading this: volunteering at a festival is very affordable.
A festival ticket-sized deposit aside (usually £200, you get this back after you complete all of your shifts); you only need to pay for travel, alcohol and food, which cost me around £50.
If you work for a catering company – like I did – you’ll even get those meals for free. Three free hot meals a day is (obviously) fantastic, and definitely better than eating supermarket own-brand crackers exclusively for a week.
The only real issue I had with volunteering was how exhausting it was. I had little sleep over the week, and you never crave for some kip more than when you’re up at 5am on the Sunday morning, feeling like a burst couch.
Nevertheless, getting to see some of your favourite artists and making some great friends over a week – all for £50ish – is an amazing deal. It might even – whisper it – be better than the pub.
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