Back in February, I had a good job for a good company but I was unfulfilled. I’ll save the full version for another time but I basically decided on three things:
- Do more of what I enjoy (so far, so good)
- Somehow make a living from it (watch this space)
- Help the community / volunteer
So, as soon as I learnt about it, I made my mind up to volunteer for Oxfam as a festival steward.
In 2015, Oxfam will supply stewards to 20 of the biggest summer festivals, raising over £1m in the process through being paid for the time that the volunteers provide. By volunteering, I’d get to experience my first festival in many years, save myself the entry price plus I’d be helping the public and raising money for a good cause in the process.
The only real decision was where to do it. There are now so many festivals that there was quite a daunting list of options but timing and location helped narrow things down. Having only been to Glastonbury, Reading and V, I wanted to try something smaller and “Somersault” (http://somersaultfestival.com/) was the one that caught my eye with a combination of a more laid-back line-up, a focus on wellbeing and outward bounds and being set in a gorgeous part of North Devon. Created by the same people who do Wilderness, the festival was only in its second year and it would be the first time Oxfam had been involved. Perfect, I thought – we’d all be learning together.
I was soon registered and, on a warm Saturday in mid-May, set off to North London for my training session. I’m fairly confident but have to admit to that “first day of school” feeling as I walked in to the training room, suddenly feeling alone and every one of my 36 years old but I shouldn’t have worried. Yes, there were plenty of groups of friends there and many of them not far off half my age but there were also lots of people like me and everyone was a friendly bunch.
The training soon started, taking us through a whirlwind 3 or so hours and covering everything from how to give directions and handle a radio to more serious stuff like dealing with lost/found children and medical emergencies. We’d all be doing different roles (and at different festivals) but all had the same purpose – to keep the public safe, informed and happy. It had been a long time since my last proper festival but I remembered the smiling, friendly faces I had met as a punter and I felt really proud to be part of it. I left the day a little nervous but hugely excited, now I just needed to remember it all.
Ready? Steady. Go!
It was only really with a week to go that things started to get real. I finally dug out my old tent and “ready bed” (this great sleeping bag/mattress combination) – neither of which had seen daylight for quite some time but thankfully both seemed in pretty good nick. Setting up my tent in the front room confirmed everything was working and was a pretty good size but meant I was unable to test if it was waterproof. Our cat, Millie, seemed excited and gave it her seal of approval. I made my packing list and hit the shops for anything I was missing – a few spare pegs, hand sanitiser and (my own camping pro-tip) a head torch. Feeling confident, I promised myself I’d pack nice and far in advance.
Of course, fast forward to the morning before setting off and I’m frantically packing and cursing my lack of discipline. I hit the road late and with a feeling I’ve forgotten something important but blue skies, clear roads and some great tunes on the radio leave me feeling on top of the world. Well after my final planned stop I realise that I have no cash on me (yes, that was the thing I’d forgotten) but I’m lucky to find a small local garage the offers cashback. I park up on site in glorious sunshine, collect my band and shift information and set off on a long hot walk to the Oxfam campsite.
As the site is still being finished, I find myself at a literal crossroads with no signage and only a rough idea of where I’m going. I’m saved by a guy in a golf buggy who kindly offers to take me part of the way but it’s a mixed blessing as it turns out he is an aspiring rally driver (or just a psychopath). I swear we manage some air over one of the many bridges on route but, despite his best efforts, I arrive in one piece. I pitch my tent, introduce myself to my new neighbours before heading to the on-site briefing.
Stage 1: Orientation
The briefing is a combination of new site-specific stuff and some helpful reminders from the training. Somersault is a relatively small festival and this is Oxfam’s first year involved so the team explains that we’ll need to be flexible and will be learning together as we go. This is made clear when we are introduced to the “Oxbox”, the nerve centre of operations, which here is a small and pretty basic caravan. But what is also clear straight away is that Oxfam take stewarding really seriously and that we are expected to do the same. With that understood, we’re encouraged to have fun and “be the heart of the festival” at which point the briefing ends, drinks start appearing and the volume immediately builds as everyone gets to know each other.
Unfortunately, another thing I’d totally forgotten to pick up on the way was any drinks and it turns out to be an expensive mistake to make. I settle for tea before realising that I also forgot to bring a mug (Oxfam, quite understandably, don’t provide cups). Reluctant to freeload for too long, I set off for a walk around the site to orientate myself and see if any bars are open. Sadly they are not and the on-site shop is not licenced but they do sell me a mug and I meet and chat to a few people in the same boat or trying to catch a snippet of mobile signal. As night falls and the temperature drops I head back to our camp for a chat before bed.
I’d forgotten how cold and uncomfortable a tent can get but manage a decent, if restless, six hours or so. I wake up feeling grateful for the ready-bed and glad to have the tent all to myself – god knows how two men actually get by in a two man tent. When nature finally dictated that I get up I took my wash stuff and was delighted to find that both loos and showers were quiet and in an incredibly good state. It felt great to be clean, and once I’d tidied up I set off to find some breakfast and take one final look around the site before the doors opened to the public. It was nearly showtime.
(Part 2 coming soon!)