Summer is my favourite season for many reasons. It’s warm and sunny (of course if the British weather has a sun in plans) but even with the rain the days are longer and what’s far more important filled with the magic of music festivals. There is only one problem: Which one to choose if you are on a limited budget.
What if you forget about the budget? How many festivals would you like to attend if your only worry would be getting time off? Sounds too good to be true? Well, this is easier than you might think. There is just one catch. You will have to work while you’re at the festivals, and the easiest way to do that is getting into volunteering.
Shelter, Water Aid, Greenpeace and Oxfam are the ones to look for if you are trying for a free Glastonbury ticket. But if you plan to do more than just one festival, the one to choose is Oxfam. In 2019 Oxfam list of festivals included: 2000 Trees, Bearded Theory, Beautiful Days, Boardmasters, Boomtown Fair, Download, Glastonbury, Kendal Calling, Isle Of Wight, Latitude, Leeds, The Long Road, NASS, Reading, River Cottage, Shambala, Trailwalker, Wilderness and WOMAD.
Oxfam offers various roles so everyone can find something to fit them. You can choose to be a steward, campaigner or work in a shop. Every position has its perks, and a different set of skills are required. Because of that, the recruitment process is also slightly different. To apply as a steward you don’t need a specific set of skills, just a positive attitude and fast internet, as the positions for popular festivals tend to fill up fast. Glastonbury requires 2000 stewards and all places are gone within minutes of opening applications to the public.
This year the date to remember is 4th February, when the system goes live and allows you to choose your festivals. But if you haven’t managed to secure your place fear not. The circumstances change, and people drop out from festivals, and stewards positions will become available later, closer to the festival day. That’s how I got my place at Glastonbury last year. Another stress-free option is getting priority booking. This year the priority window will open on 29th January allowing everyone who has worked two or more festivals for Oxfam in last year to book a place for the new season ahead of the public.
Another way to get into a festival is becoming a campaigner. Festival Campaigners will be expected to complete four shifts, each shift lasting six hours, and you’ll get a break for lunch. The latest you will be required to work is 6 pm. The recruitment process requires you to record a short video where you are expected to say why you want to volunteer for Oxfam and how you can see yourself being a part of the campaign.
It is not a first come first served process, so give yourself a bit of time and prepare before sending your application. To secure your place at Glastonbury as a campaigner you would be expected to also complete another festival in any available role (campaigner, steward or in the shop).
Oxfam Festival Shop Volunteers work every day of the festival completing shifts of 6 hours. They also are expected to be onsite before the festival opens to set up shop and stay longer to pack it down. To volunteer with The Oxfam Festival Shop, you must be a current Oxfam Shop volunteer/Intern/Member of Staff with at least three months experience or have volunteered at two or more festivals or events with Oxfam’s Festival Shop in the last three years. Your reference must be from a current Oxfam Member of Staff. If you are unable to meet these criteria, your application will not be successful.
Last summer marked my fourth Glastonbury in the row and the first one I’ve done with Oxfam. I would not be there if not for my good friend who is an Oxfam advocate, working with them for years. He was the one who told me about the perks and the role; trying to convince me this is the best and only way to do the festivals. As the Glastonbury Gods were not on my side, and I didn’t secure a golden ticket, my eyes turned to Oxfam. I couldn’t be online when the applications for public opened, and once I got to the computer, all places for Glastonbury were gone.
As advised, I followed Oxfam social accounts and waited for the second chance. In March, when the system once again opened I logged into the system, chose Glastonbury Steward, paid the deposit, completed my profile, booked a training to attend and I become one of the stewards proudly wearing Oxfam orange tabard. This experience changed the way I see the festivals, and I have to admit, my friend was right.
Working for Oxfam has its perks and downsides. Some people will love it, and some will hate it. Let me tell you a story about festivals the Oxfam way.
It all starts with completing your application, choosing the festival and paying the deposit. At this point, you might be asking why you should be paying a deposit if you will be working? Think about the deposit like about a security blanket. For most festivals, there are more people willing to volunteer then available places.
The deposit secures your place and gives you a guarantee you are in. On the Oxfam side, they have a warranty that you are going to turn up. The deposit is equal to a single festival ticket (£250 for Glastonbury) and is fully refundable once you complete all your shifts. On one deposit you can do an unlimited amount of events in one season. Once you finish your last shift at the last festival, you get your money back, this usually takes around four weeks past your last shift.
With deposit paid and training booked, it is time to complete the rest of your profile, providing the references and uploading a recent document-style photo of yourself. It will be used to create your Oxfam ID so make sure it looks like you, as it will be your official ID when working on site.
As a future steward, you are expected to attend a training session, that will be around 3 hours long. Fear not, it’s not 3 hours of listening and sleeping in some boring conference-style meeting. The training is a fun, interactive session with lots of laughs and free tea, coffee and biscuits. It’s a great way to start your journey as a steward, gives you an inside look at a role and responsibilities, gives you a chance to meet fellow newbies and experienced Oxfam volunteers, and allows you to feel for the first time a part of Oxfamily. There are various locations and dates available, and if you can’t make any of them, there is also online training, but I strongly recommend to try and get to one of those sessions. The training covers you for the next four years and then you need to renew it at one of the future courses.
As a festival volunteer, you are expected to come 1-2 days earlier than regular punters. It is time for setting up your tent, completing an on-site briefing and getting to know the area. Some festivals like Glastonbury or Boomtown, have crew bars, and your volunteer wristband will open the doors to them. Seeing the festival still in the build-up phase is an entirely different experience and gives you a chance to witness the magic in the making.
Coming earlier to the festival has its perks, but it might be difficult if you are travelling by public transport. Most festivals offer shuttle buses from the nearest train station, but they don’t run before the official opening day. Worry not, Oxfam has shuttle buses too and a lift-share scheme for its volunteers. It’s a great way of going green, saving money on travel and getting to know your future neighbours.
The first official day of the festival, when the gates open to the public is usually one of the busiest days on the gateline and there is a high probability your first shift will fall on this day. At most festivals, one of the roles stewards fill is working on pedestrian and vehicle gates. At Glastonbury, around 90% of positions are on the gates. You will be checking tickets, directing the crowd to the right entrance, handling programmes, scanning wristbands, counting youngsters entering the site, stopping the crowd for the oncoming vehicles to pass.
Most importantly, you will be the eyes and ears of the festival with a friendly, smiley face, ready to help. Other festivals require Oxfam stewards to work on the stages, disabled platforms and as EHO (Environmental Health Officer) where you will be patrolling the site and reporting on the radio all spotted issues. Oxfam stewards always work in pairs and are often equipped with a radio or are near a supervisor who can communicate with Oxbox (Oxfam’s first point of call) or festival management.
As a steward, you have to complete three shifts. Each is 8 hours and 15 minutes long and has a 30-minute break. At Glastonbury, it is always a set of three: morning shift 06.00 – 14.15, afternoon/evening shift 14.00 – 22.15 and a night shift 22.00 – 06.15. Other festivals might have only day shifts, and the rare night shift would be at the gate to our campsite – Oxfield. The downside of working for Oxfam is that you don’t know your shift pattern before you arrive on-site, but even in the worst-case scenario, there are solutions.
Oxfam marquee at Oxfield (a huge tent with free tea and coffee, open 24 hours) is not only a place for a chat and a quick cuppa, but there is also a whiteboard, where you can write shifts you want to swap with your phone number. The system works very well, and I had an opportunity to test it myself. At Reading Festival, my original shift pattern included working on the night when Foo Fighters played the main stage. With a bit of luck and few cans of Somerset finest cider, I managed to change the shift and fulfilled my dream of seeing American rockers at the legendary stage.
Except for the shifts, the time at the festival is yours to enjoy. Volunteering for Oxfam open doors to crew bars, but there are just a few perks of working at the festival. The safe, clean and guarded campsite is an add-on to the festival experience. If you ever attended a festival as a punter, you know the biggest turn off is the state the of public showers or lack of it (Glastonbury). At most of the festivals, Oxfam uses the same showers as the rest of the workers with unlimited use.
They are nice, clean and less busy then the public ones. At Glastonbury, we also have private showers and 3 coupons for using them (one per each worked shift). So forget about wet wipes washing. You can have a festival in style and with clean hair! Another bonus at Glastonbury is our own set of toilets at Oxfield, and you’ve guessed right – they are much nicer than public ones and equipped with toilet paper.
The Oxfam marquee is open 24 hours and provides free tea, coffee, sugar, milk and hot water at all times. It is a place to sit, chill, relax and charge your mobile phone for free while chatting to a fellow volunteer. Oxfam also provides free food. In exchange for your three shifts, you will receive three meal vouchers. You can use them in the staff canteen or on the festival site.
It’s not always all roses. Waking up in the middle of the night to get to your shift for 6 am isn’t fun. Staying up at night when you cold and sleepy isn’t the greatest adventure too, but it’s all worth it. In the end, who can say that saw a sunrise above Thames River from the boat while at Reading? A boat for staff is another Oxfam perks! Ultimately, the biggest perk is meeting likeminded people and enjoying multiple festivals without spending a penny.
If you want to join Oxfamily, this year public applications for Oxfam stewards opens on 4th February 2020. See you at the fields!
Words and photography Edyta Krzesak.
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