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I worked at three festivals around Bristol this summer- this is what it’s really like

Spoiler: I saw Elton John for free but worked 60 hours in 5 days


Have you been wondering how so many “broke” Bristol students ended up at one of the most expensive festivals in the UK? Well, those insta pics of Glastonbury sunrises and Fred Again… sets might have more graft behind them than meets the eye.

Festival work is becoming a popular way for young people to rack in the Ps whilst also being able to see their favourite DJs. I’m going to explain what it’s really like behind the scenes and how you can get involved.

What on earth will I be doing?

First things first, you’d be surprised to find out how many different roles there are at festivals. From stewarding to toilet cleaning, all the way to liaising with the artists themselves – there are tonnes of jobs to choose from.

I’ve been working as a food trader at festivals for over a year now. There are countless food stalls and they all need five to 10 members of staff. The hours can be long and you’re on your feet all day, but you get free food plus make good mates with your co-workers.

If power tends to go straight to your head then stewarding might be the job for you. Pop on that hi-vis and suddenly you’re scanning tickets guarding the gates of heaven. The most stretched you’ll be is checking bags, tickets or giving directions which isn’t too demanding- perfect for those that failed their exams.

Bar work is another popular choice. It’s been made even easier with the introduction of can-only bars, meaning your terrible pint pulling skills can slip under the radar rather than ending up on Upsetting Pints.

One of the more unusual jobs is gatekeeping. And I don’t mean gatekeeping that secret set Four Tet did (definitely not salty), but actual gatekeeping for the closed-off camping areas such as crew camping or VIP. This role is a bit monotonous and there’s a few night shifts, but you’ll still have time to enjoy the festival.

Payment really varies from role to role. Sometimes you’ll get an hourly wage, but with others you’ll be working in return for a free ticket. When choosing a role you need to decide whether your priority is enjoying the festival or earning money.

Working as a food trader usually means you’ll get paid but you won’t have much time to enjoy what’s going on. At Glastonbury I was working 12 hours a day for five days straight. This meant I didn’t get to experience much of the festival, but I came away with a healthy paycheck. You can expect to earn around £500-700, and I still managed to catch Elton John’s set on the final night!

Bar work and stewarding tends to be on a volunteer basis at bigger festivals like Glasto. But at smaller ones – such as Bristol’s own Love Saves the Day – you’ll probably be paid.

The general rule of thumb for volunteering at camping festivals is that you’ll work roughly three, unpaid, eight-hour shifts across the weekend, but your festival ticket is free in return. You usually have to pay a £200-300 deposit upfront to ensure you turn up to shifts, but you’ll get this back afterwards.

Will I still have a good time?

Undoubtedly, but you have to accept it won’t be the same experience as attending one. Yes, you might have to miss seeing Shy FX (because you definitely didn’t see him at Halloween), and the shifts can drag on. Plus, getting a decent sleep is about as likely as finding a seat in ASS after 12pm.

But, what it might lack in drunk chaos it makes up for with other perks. Working at a festival usually gives you access to a separate (and nicer) camping area, free showers, food tokens, and best of all…cleaner toilets. Ultimately, everyone is there to have a good time so if you turn up with a good attitude then you can probably wiggle your shifts around to suit you.

Besides, you’re literally there for free and maybe even getting paid – what’s not to celebrate?

 

This sounds unreal – where can I sign up?

The easiest way to get involved in paid festival work near Bristol is through agencies such as Refresh West, The Waiting Game and Limber.

Festival websites also often advertise for voluntary positions in exchange for a ticket. These positions are sometimes supported by charities so you can also go through them. I’d recommend looking at WaterAid, Oxfam, My Cause and Shelter.

Here’s some of the festivals that are still taking volunteers this summer:

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