Reading Festival 2010: An Oxfam steward's perspective

Lewis Brimblecombe lends a helping hand to the rock weekender

Lewis Brimblecombe - 31 August 2010

However on Wednesday evening, standing in an onslaught of rain of biblical proportions at Reading West station with my tent, customary festival sheepskin jacket and jauntily angled flat cap waiting for a now 20 minute late taxi, I have to be honest I was cursing the Oxfam stewards pass dangling around my neck. Where had my care free festival spirit gone you may ask? The answer is of course; the 9-5, the grind; work. Having started a full time job in July I found myself being stunned by the realisation I would have to use up two days of my precious annual leave to provide my pro-stewarding services for this year’s Reading.     

Giving up unproductive student dossing time is one thing but for the majority working population the price of their hard earned breaks from routine may seem far greater than some hypothetical fuzzy feeling of contributing to Oxfam’s noble cause. Yet the reality is not as simple as stewarding being some altruistic act of charity.  In my experience being a steward can be as much fun, if not more fun, than being a normal punter. Once you get past the initial feeling of encroaching damp and have shrugged off your annoyance at having to prevent the same drunk delight from trying to play with the stage camera for the 5th time there is a realisation that the whole festival experience is intensified. With three, eight-hour shifts over the course of four days you have less free time to see bands, to consume beverages on a massive scale and generally engage in all the fun and frolics that make festivals what they are. Yet as the self branded “glue” of the festival a stewards free time feels not only deserved but delightfully purposeful in the hunt for structured hedonism.

This year I found myself in the delightful position of being posted to the BBC Introducing stage providing assistance to those brave punters who were willing to sacrifice time seeing the big names to come try out some new and unsigned artists. The beauty of a stage like the BBC Introducing is multi-levelled: firstly it’s intimate, the small covered area provides only enough space for a hundred odd people and beyond a certain distance the acts are drowned out entirely by the booming sound coming from main stage. Secondly the sheer variety of bands on offer from the slick new Rock/Rap crossover act G.A.N.G, to more standard Dundee indie fare The Law, through to the truly bizarre in the form of retro video game soundtrack remixing synthsters The MidiMidis. Throughout it all my fellow stewards and I stood vigilantly waiting to assist in our outlandishly stylish florescent orange sets.

The organisation on site whilst frantic is, undoubtedly professional, my experience of the support staff and of supervisors was of people passionate about their cause, passionate about the safety of the crowd and significantly their volunteers and perhaps most importantly they were passionate about making sure everyone’s festival experience was the best it could be, staff and public alike. Volunteering may not be for everyone, but I know that my colours are firmly nailed to the mast and those colours are definitely shades of fluorescent orange.

By Lewis Brimblecombe.


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