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From course work to field work

There’s more to festivals than mud, sweat and beers. Jessica Moore advises cash-strapped students to dust off their wellies and spruce up their CV

Jessica Moore
In association with University of the West of England
Tuesday 10 May 2016 10:48 BST
Oxfam stewards at Boomtown Festival, Winchester 2014
Oxfam stewards at Boomtown Festival, Winchester 2014 (Paul Maple/Oxfam)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Live music, fresh air, leaky tents and portable toilets – there’s nothing quite like a festival is there? Unless, of course, you weren’t quick enough to nab a ticket. Or you can’t afford the £200-odd entry fee.

There are other ways in, though. With thousands of revellers descending en masse, festivals need an army of ticket-checkers, information-givers, food-servers and more. Working your way through could be the perfect way to improve your CV while having the time of your life.

“This is my fourth year volunteering as a festival steward with Oxfam,” says Alex McKie, a 23-year-old student at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), who first donned her wellies at Latitude aged 19. “It’s addictive, and it’s a great way to fundraise because you’re giving your time instead of money. You feel good because you’re helping people, and you have a great time, plus you gain new skills.”

Applying online, stewarding volunteers attend a three-hour training session and pay a refundable deposit that is usually equivalent to the ticket price of the festival. “That’s our guarantee that people don’t use us as a route in and let us down on-site,” explains Clare Williamson, marketing executive for the Oxfam Festivals Team. As for the work, “It may be welcoming people at the gates, assessing crowd density in the music tents, giving directions, doing campsite patrols.” Expect to do three eight-hour shifts – which, as Williamson notes, is “roughly 24 hours’ work over five to seven days. Around that, volunteers are entirely free to enjoy themselves.”

Oxfam stewards at Boomtown Festival, Winchester 2014 (Credit Paul Maple/Oxfam )
Oxfam stewards at Boomtown Festival, Winchester 2014 (Credit Paul Maple/Oxfam ) (Credit Paul Maple/Oxfam)

This is echoed by Giles Smith, who has been feeding hungry festival-goers for the past eight years. Helpers in his Green Bean Mobile also work eight-hour shifts. In return, “They get festival entry, eat as much as they like from the van, and get some spending money too.” It’s friendly and flexible. “People can swap shifts if there’s a band they want to see – and if we’re not too busy, everyone can go, as long as the team that’s on duty gets back quick enough. It’s a different way of seeing a festival,” Smith adds, “and it’s great experience. I need people that are easy to get on with, happy to muck in – and able to get up in the morning even if they’ve been out the night before!”

For McKie, as well as enjoying the music, comedy and everything else British festivals have to offer, “I’ve gained people skills and confidence.” This summer, she’s going to Glastonbury, Boardmasters and Shambala. “That’s my holiday. I choose to spend it stewarding.”

Both Oxfam and The Green Bean Mobile are still accepting applications for this summer

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