A great way to experience a festival is to volunteer to help run the festival. You get access to great facilities (showers, hot water and charging points), a secure campsite, access to staff-only areas and you get to meet like-minded people.
Easy access to hot water makes camping so much better! It can get really cold at night in your tent, even in summer, so I brought along my hot water bottle and slept better than I ever have while camping. It also meant I could have homemade porridge every morning for breakfast and hot coffee, without even leaving the campsite. At Download Festival I made all of my meals using the hot water provided in the kettle and as I brought my own alcohol I didn’t spend any money at all, apart from getting there and back.
The hot showers are another plus. Especially the ones that are open 24-7. It’s great to be able to jump in to shower after a long, cold night shift. At Glastonbury, the showers in the Oxfield (Oxfam staff camping field) were only open at certain hours, had queues up to half an hour long and were subject to closing with water restrictions, so they weren’t as convenient and meant that when working day shifts you probably wouldn’t get a shower. However, this system did help to reduce the water use, which I think was the entire point.
Having a staff marquee means you have a place to socialise and hang out when it’s raining, which meant at Drownload this year, the marquee was nearly always occupied. The one time the sun came out there was a mass exodus to sit outside in the sunshine. The marquee will have plenty of power boards where you can charge your phones and power banks and leaving them here (even overnight) didn’t seem to be an issue. I only heard of one power bank going missing and this was probably more of a mix up than anything else.
Oxfam provide you with 3 food tokens, so you get a hot meal for each shift you work. You can use these at any time and depending on the festival you either claim them at a particular chain of vendors in the arena, or at bigger festivals there might be a staff catering, meaning you can get a full English breakfast right in the campsite. The food at the 2019 Glastonbury Oxfield staff catering was great and they had a vegetarian option for every meal too.
With Oxfam, you receive your shifts when you arrive and can then swap them with others by putting a note with your mobile number on a board in the marquee. HotBox Events lets you select your preferred shift patterns in advance, which means you have a good chance of seeing your favourite bands. The earlier you pay your deposit the better your chances of securing your prefered shift pattern. It also means you can choose shifts that let you arrive and leave when you like. I like to get out early on the final day, before the transport and roads gets really crowded.
That brings me to deposits. You need to pay a deposit that covers the cost of a festival ticket, that will then get refunded to you when you complete all 3 of your shifts. This is to make sure you don’t turn up, get your wristbands and run off to the festival without completing your shifts.
With both organisations you can choose to buddy up, which means that you will get shifts with your friends.
So here are my thoughts on volunteering with Oxfam, compared to HotBox.
Oxfam Festival Volunteering
- you get 3 meal tokens, one for each shift.
- you start and finish your shifts at the location where you work, so you can head straight into the festival before and after your shift.
- your deposit is returned into your bank account about a month or six weeks after you complete your shifts.
- As you keep hold of your tabbard, you are more likely to lose it and have to pay for a new one out of your deposit (I dropped mine, but luckily got it back).
- At Glastonbury, the showers are only available at certain times and you only get 4 shower tokens for the week, so you might not get a shower every day. Although it’s worth asking around to see if anyone has spare tokens.
HotBox Events Volunteering
- you get to choose your shifts in advance.
- you get a tabbard at the start and end of your shift, so you are less likely to lose it and have to pay for a new one.
- you get to choose where you work at the start of each shift, so if you want to work in the arena and hear some of the music you just need to get to your shift early and speak to the supervisor for that area.
- you have to be at your shift an hour early when the shift locations are allocated and then have to travel (often walking) back to the staff field afterwards to return your tabbards, so if you want to see bands before or afterwards you need to take this extra time into account.
- Your deposit is returned by cheque about a month after you complete your shifts, although if you won’t be around to receive it you can call the office to arrange an alternative refund.
Overall, volunteering with both organisations was really rewarding. I met some amazing people and still got to enjoy the festival in my time off. Also, the shifts were fun for the most part. Just bring warm things (my ski gloves were the best during Drownload), waterproofs (I would have been miserable without my waterproof over trousers) and plenty of water and sunscreen for day shifts. If you can spare an extra day I would recommend signing up for pre-festival shifts, so you get more free time during the festival.
In summary, if there’s a band you really want to see I would recommend volunteering with HotBox (although they don’t currently work at Glastombury), but otherwise, Oxfam is more relaxed and the food vouchers helps seal the deal. Either way though you’re bound to enjoy the experience.
If you’ve missed out on a Glastonbury ticket, Oxfam volunteering is a little easier to get into (the places sell out in around half an hour, but the page should load and if you’re read to go you have a good chance of getting a place). Be ready when the application opens and make sure you can log in, have completed your application process (with references etc.) and have a credit card ready to pay your deposit (your card needs a UK address – it doesn’t seem to accept international addresses).
Maybe see you at a future festival.