Respect Your Festival Blog #1

by Jenni Wares | 27 October 2009

What a summer. I spent mine at 14 festivals this year and it’s safe to say I had the time of my life! I wasn’t on a jolly - well most of the time I wasn’t - I was there to work and learn.
At the end of Glastonbury this year I was inspired by Virtual Festivals’ Steve Jenner to work in my greatest love: festivals. I left my career in IT and spent an extra 6 days on the Glastonbury site after the festival as a bit of a secret stowaway. I didn’t intend on staying that long but a comedy of errors and my new found friends who were still on site encouraged me to stay!  

I first attended Glastonbury in 2008 and where we left at 3am on the Monday, I didn’t get to see the aftermath. Being on site on the Monday this year shocked me. The amount of tents, camping equipment and various other possessions abandoned on site was unbelievable. See for yourself here.  
What a kick in the teeth that must be to Michael and Emily Eavis each year, putting on the party of the year, just to see the farm trashed, disrespected and faced with a huge cleanup operation. An operation which eats up a considerable amount of their budget which could have gone to the charities it supports. This got me thinking about how if people respected their festivals more, clean up after themselves and took all of their belongings home how much could festivals save and how could they use that money? Could they spend this money on better acts, improving the festival or in some cases just making sure they can keep going for another year? Despite popular belief the majority of our festivals are not making huge sums of money, some are barely breaking even, some face going in to their next year with debts to clear. Trust me, I spoke to a festival organiser who had to re-mortgage his own house to ensure his festival could go ahead in 2009 following bad weather the previous year. Ticket prices are affected year on year, these are not only influenced by increases in production costs and artists rising fees, they’re also affected by the cleanup operations - which are rising - and the disposal of waste.  
So what other reasons are there to respect your festival? How about Reading Festival being at risk of having its license stripped because of the Sunday night troubles? Regardless of whether you think the problem at Reading is better or worse than previous years, there’s still a problem there and it’s now attracted the attention of MP Martin Salter and the local authorities. If the problem was to escalate further the festival could be faced with having its license revoked – that would be a huge blow to the festival-goers who love Reading Festival and also a huge blow to Reading itself with the festival bringing in millions of pounds to the area.

Reading Festival are not only faced with a massive cleanup operation and cost, but also a major shake ups in their rules. Are we to see fires banned at Reading in the future? That would be a shame as there aren’t many festivals that allow fires in campsites anymore and it’s one of the things that makes the camping experience more pleasurable. Rules will be pushed on the festival-goer which could affect how they enjoy their festival. If more of the festival-goers respected the festival maybe they can avoid these rules coming in to play but maybe it’s too late and Reading will lose one of its perks.
It’s not just Reading Festival bringing huge amounts of money to local areas, research from the Association of Independent Festivals shows that their 19 member festivals (including Bestival, Secret Garden Party, WOMAD and Creamfields) generate on average £1 million each for local towns and businesses. This must be a huge help to local businesses in these tough times. If a festival isn’t there the following year though this must be a massive blow not only to the festival organisers and suppliers but to the local economies. Let’s try to help ensure our festivals continue for many years and respect them.
So what about the growing throwaway culture at festivals, which is now even being seen at some of the boutique festivals? Festivals have their own initiatives but there isn’t a group who are working to tackle this issue festival wide and put it in the spotlight – until now.

Respect Your Festival is a new social enterprise put together to support each festival’s green initiatives/teams, highlight the problems festivals experience, increase awareness of our impact on the festival and the environment as a festival-goer, help release cash flow to be used for better acts or investment and just make festivals even better happier cleaner places to be. We’ll be at as many festivals as possible next year to meet the crowds and find out how you’re respecting your festival or not as the case will be. We will be reporting back on the differences of each festival, seeing what green initiatives they have in place, how the crowds respect their festival and each other, the different cultures and the problems we tackle. We have other exciting plans to get a TV programme or series commissioned to explore the country’s different festivals, see what goes on away from the musical entertainment, meet the crowds and highlight the problems blighting the festival world. I’ve got everything crossed for this becoming a reality, I would have loved to show people the different festivals I have been lucky to experience this year, the vast differences between each event and their highs and lows. Watch this space for future developments on this.
Festivals are all being pushed towards being greener and to limit their impact on the environment. Being green is no longer an issue we can ignore and expect someone else to deal with, we each have to accept our own responsibility for our actions and their consequences. Let’s make a difference ourselves before rules are put in place that could spoil the fun for us all.  

Festivals are being encouraged to sign up to the 10:10 project to achieve a 10% cut in the UK’s carbon emissions in 2010. They will have their own plans to achieve this goal, but we should be part of the solution, supporting our festival by finding a bin and taking our belongings home with us.  

It sounds quite simple when it’s put like that but it’s a very big and real problem festivals are struggling to manage. Each festival signing up to the campaign will have to demonstrate in actual figures that they’ve achieved 10%.
Respect Your Festival isn’t just me on my own trying to make a difference. We’re being joined and supported by festival-goers, festival organisers, festival suppliers and even some stars. We have partnered up with CPRE/Litter Action who will be bringing their Stop the Drop campaign to festivals (we’re also working on getting their president Bill Bryson to some festivals!) and we’ve gained massive support from the Virtual Festivals team and other festival groups. We have got a lot planned and still to plan with each festival, a website to complete, the Festival Awards to attend (which we hope to have an award of our own up for grabs in 2010), and building awareness and support from the festival-goers.  
Don’t take your festival for granted, respect the work that’s gone in to planning such a huge event and support your festival. 2010 is the year to Respect Your Festival, watch out for us, join us (we’ll need volunteers for a number of festivals to join green teams) we have some big plans and we’re looking for everyone to play a part in making the nations’ festivals even better. You can start by joining the site or our Facebook group to show your support and let us know what your favourite festival is and how you enjoy it!
Respect Your Festival is coming and you might be surprised to see who’s on board.

Jenni Wares

Respect Your Festival

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