Glasto 09: the experiences of an Oxfam steward

Stewarding - the budget approach to Glastonbury enjoyment

30 June 2009

At a festival as large as Glastonbury, the few thousand stewards working for contractors and charities tend to blur into the background. However the orange tabard wearing minority play an important role in the smooth running of the festival. Working for Oxfam; the largest of the stewarding organisations are two primary types of people: firstly students, like myself, who are forced into working three eight hour shifts as our seven pounds of flesh for the pleasure of experiencing Glasto; secondly there are those stewards who have been working at the festival for countless years simply for the pleasure of the experience; these wise sage like beings pepper conversations with whimsical stories about the time they got hammered in Shangri-la with Bobbie Gillespie and Alex James.

Oxfam stewards have there own camping area segregated from punters not only physically, but also in terms of the ethos of the camp site.  One fellow steward wryly remarked when I asked where the bins in the covered cafeteria were that, “there were none and they recycle all the food and send it off to Africa.” As a steward the ideal of the charity you work for is inescapable; the Oxfam camp site was clean, green and packed with more left wing politics than a socialist workers party convention. One of the pleasures of being a steward was the provision of hot prison style communal showers, although it should be noted that the primary danger of dropping the soap was that someone might notice it wasn’t made of organic hemp and wheatgrass.  

The shifts themselves combined long periods of boredom with moments of exhausting activity. The mild excitement of seeing a minor celebrity like Alfie Allen trying to pull the painful “don’t you know who my sister is” approach to blag a friend in, was coupled with periods of up to an hour where 30+ stewards would be standing  around by a ticket gate doing literally nothing. Thankfully the experience of interacting with the public was on the whole pretty positive. For the most part even those who had been travelling for up to 32 hours (a couple of guys from the west coast of Ireland) were so relived when they got to the festival that they embraced the stewards, often literally with open arms.

When not on a shift my experience was pretty much as a normal punter. I enjoyed the bands, engaged in the expected fancy dress; blue nail varnish, flat cap, Michael Stipe face paint and a £5 fur coat that got me affectionately nicknamed Del Boy. However there was always the feeling that when we returned from the mass revelry to the camp site we were instantly put back on duty. There is a certain mutual respect that was established, where making excess noise after midnight was not really acceptable. Whether or not this slightly sterilised atmosphere combined with the exhaustion that accompanied doing shifts from 11 till 7am undermined stewards’ experience of Glastonbury is probably irrelevant. In the end stewards have a job to do and, honestly - is 24 hours of pretty simple work not worth the opportunity to go free to the greatest music festival in the world?

By Lewis Brimblecombe

Click here to watch BBC Glastonbury Festival highlights on Virtual Festivals.


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