Updated on February 21st, 2020
“When none of my friends were available to join me for festival season, I discovered Oxfam Stewarding – giving my time to help end world poverty while enjoying a music festival for free!”
Camp Bestival & Bestival, both Lulworth Castle, Dorset (although when I went Bestival was held on the Isle of Wight) – Summer 2016
I was keen to make the most of all the amazing festivals over the summer in the UK but when none of my friends was available (or wanting) to come, I discovered Oxfam Festival Stewarding – giving my time to help end world poverty while enjoying a music festival for free!
What do you need to know?
For all the information you need please go to Oxfam Stewarding
Basically, the festival organisers pay Oxfam for stewards – a fixed amount per person. Through the stewarding it provides, Oxfam raises £1m each summer for its vital work in the fight against world poverty covering Emergency Response, Development Work & Campaigning.
What is Stewarding?
Stewarding at a festival is a way of getting the experience without spending the money. You stay in a dedicated campsite occupied by other members of the Oxfam stewarding team, meaning separate toilets, (warm) showers etc, one meal ticket per shift & 24-hour tea & coffee.
During the festival, you tend to work 3 shifts, 8 hours each & at varying times of the day. For example, when I attended it was 8am – 4pm, 4pm – midnight or midnight – 8am. The rest of your time is your own to make the most of being at the festival. If you go alone you easily make friends along the way to enjoy your free time with.
You will need to attend a training session (3 hours) ahead of the festival (a range of venues) to give you an understanding of what is involved & training for what you may encounter. This is compulsory for your first time & you’ll need to refresh it every 4 years. Here they tell you that the role of the stewards is to be the “eyes & ears” of the festival. You need to be alert to issues but never put yourself in danger. For all shifts I worked I always had security representation with me & it is their job to deal with any challenges.
As a steward we help create the atmosphere of a festival by being friendly & helpful. I can honestly say that the more you get involved & chat to people the more enjoyable the time is (& the quicker the time goes).
Take advantage of opportunities ahead of the festival opening to have a look around the site & familiarise yourself as much as possible with where things are. There are so many more chances of positive interactions the more knowledgeable you are & nobody really tells you stuff (& the maps you are issued with are rubbish!).
What is the Application Process?
For Oxfam this involves 2 stages.
- Complete your details & launch your application
- Select the festivals you would like to steward. Those with previous experience get priority but for the more popular festivals, I advise that you complete your requests ASAP after the system is open.
Although to steward at the festivals is free, there is a deposit required to secure your place. This is not a fixed sum & will depend on which festivals you apply for (mine was £200). Each festival has its own associated deposit amount which is matched to the price of the ticket at that festival. The amounts for each festival will be displayed on the website & the maximum amount you will pay in one stewarding season is that of your most expensive festival. The total deposit paid will be held until your last festival and a cancellation admin fee of £20 will be deducted if you do cancel & give Oxfam enough notice.
Both Bestival & Camp Bestival are organised by the same couple – Josie & Rob Da Banks. The reason I did both wasn’t due to a strange obsession or love of the name but purely because I fancied doing a couple of festivals & these were the only weekends I had free. If you do 2 festivals you get a priority for the next year (which for most people means you can choose Glastonbury & the more in demand tickets).
Camp Bestival is a very child-friendly festival so 99% of the people who attend are there with kids. Due to the family-friendly nature of the festival, there is a fun atmosphere & a theme to the whole thing (in 2016 it was Space).
Bestival is one of the last festivals of the season & predominantly dance music based but with plenty of stages & alternative acts.
What can you expect to be doing?
Overall you will get out of the experience what you put in:
- Before Camp Bestival properly opened I was the self-titled ‘fun police’, telling all the children that they couldn’t go into the kids’ field until tomorrow. I did still take the opportunity to talk about what was there so they could get even more excited (giant helter-skelter, world’s biggest bouncy castle etc.). I also had a great job of informing people that they couldn’t use the toilets 10 metres away & instead had to walk 15 minutes into the main arena because they were still setting up (as you can imagine I was particularly popular that day!).
- At the main gate at Camp Bestival, I had the chance to welcome everyone, admire the costumes & wish them a good night when they were leaving.
- At Bestival, I spent my time at the entrance to the Artist’s Campsite. The downside of this was it was a long way from the action & the music. The upside was that I got to find out more about how their sets went when else they were playing, how their night had gone etc.
Most exciting (for a nosey person), I was witness to our security team doing drug raids on tents, chasing down the culprits & taking surreptitious photos of the perpetrators for them – all of which kept my night very interesting!”
My fellow stewards, on the other hand, sat talking to each other, away from the action all the time & found the whole experience totally boring. As I said, you get out of it what you put in…choose your attitude.
What’s good about Stewarding?
- Good shifts can mean everything. For me I could see all the acts I wanted to & where I was located at Camp Bestival (at the main entrance), I also got a side on view of the stage while I was working.
- Glastonbury is very popular but after stewarding at 2 festivals you get priority booking. If it’s your first time we were told that to get Glastonbury was very unlikely. That said, several people I met had done just that in their first year, so you could strike it lucky. I have tried & failed for several years to get tickets for Glastonbury (although I did attend once & loved it. Jay-Z was headlining & everyone made a fuss that nobody wanted tickets…they did…it sold out but took a little longer than 30 minutes!).
Due to the family friendly aspects, there were no overnight shifts at Camp Bestival which meant all shifts finished at midnight &, trust me, this is definitely a bonus!
- If you love kids then you’ll love Camp Bestival – if not, its best avoided!
- If you get the midnight shift, it gives you the opportunity to enjoy a night out at the festival, even though it feels like you’re being cut off in your prime (although they do say if you turn up for a shift under the influence of drugs or alcohol they will not accept you & not refund your deposit…so don’t enjoy it too much!).
- At both festivals, there was a big firework display to mark the end of the entertainment. As an Oxfam Steward, we were advised to keep hold of our tabards (high visibility vests) & this allowed us access into the steward’s area for prime viewing at the end.
- For both festivals, being in the staff campsite meant warm showers & well-maintained toilets for the duration. However, don’t think that just because people are working they all have manners. I won’t scare you with what I found in the shower one morning (but it should have been done in the toilet block 5 metres away!).
- If you are not going alone & have a friend or friends who would also like the stewarding experience, Oxfam allows you to add their names to your application so they can arrange your shifts to coincide.
What’s not so good?
- The timing for Bestival means that for the most part it is attended & stewarded by students, which if you are one, will be a huge Pro.
“As an older member of the stewarding community, I found that this also meant people being late to relieve you at the end of your shift, taking 1 ½ hour breaks when we were allocated 30 minutes & basically looking bored the whole time….but maybe that’s just me being old & grumpy!?”
- Be aware that no matter whether it is the middle of summer, this is also the UK. Night shifts are cold & you should make sure you have plenty of layers to add/remove as the temperature dictates. Generally, you are told to be standing all the time, which I preferred to both stay warm & awake.
- If/when you are on the midnight shift be aware that trying to sleep during the day is hard. In a tent, it’s hot when the sun comes out, so I found sleeping in the day almost impossible (not to mention the noise of fellow campers regaling each other with tales from the night before). Some (more prepared) stewards brought reflective sheets to put over their tents to avoid the issues caused by the heat of the day.
- In the 8 hour shift, you only get a 30-minute break (unless you take advantage of your colleagues & use 1 ½ hours … not that I’m bitter?!). The good news is that you can negotiate when this is with your fellow workers/supervisor to coincide with an act you want to see. I went for the latest break possible in the shifts so I would return with very little time left still to go. Bear in mind that 30 minutes isn’t that long by the time you’ve used the toilet, queued for/eaten food & had a bit of a walk to get the blood back in your legs.
Where next time?
I enjoyed my stewarding experience but would still like to try to attend first & foremost as a ‘punter’. I would also consider stewarding again at some of the smaller festivals as I enjoyed my time more at the lesser stages & entertainment areas. Recommended from my fellow stewards are Boomtown Fair, Womad, Bearded Theory….
What do you think?
Where have you gained experience stewarding & which festivals would you recommend?
What advice would you give to first-time stewards?
What would you add to the Pros & Cons of stewarding?