How to get into festivals for FREE this summer (without jumping the fence!)

Too many festivals not enough cash?

So you like festivals. In fact you like ALL the festivals… big ones, small ones, dancey ones, family ones, foodie ones, arty ones, weekenders, one dayers… in fact your diary doesn’t seem to have a free weekend left this summer… but with more and more being added to the calendar every year and with ticket prices anywhere from £30 to £300, a summer packed with festivals is not exactly cheap! And although sneaking in to festivals does seem to be a rite of passage for some, I’m proud to say that I’ve never broken in, ever (disclaimer: the same might not apply for sneaking backstage or into VIP areas though… Shh!) but don’t worry, there is another way!

When I got the festival bug I wasn’t earning anywhere near enough to fund my habit so as soon as I was old enough I started volunteering at festivals to get in.  This then progressed to getting paid work and in the short five years I’ve been working at festivals I’ve covered a lot of roles…. gate stewarding, decor creating, headdress selling, quesadilla flipping, ticket scanning, leaflet flyering, face painting, pint pulling, wristband checking, ticket selling, charity waste food collecting, sign distributing, juice blending, cocktail shaking, buggy driving, artist pampering, social media managing, traffic directing and generally all out hi-vis wearing radio babbling production working!

For me, being part of the crew will now always be 100x more exciting than just being an attendee. If this sounds like something you’d be keen for I’m going to give you the lowdown on a load of ways you can have a wonderful festival filled summer with your mates without needing any previous experience.

Whether you want to work a full season and earn some cash, feel good by volunteering for charity, get your foot on the events career ladder, gain some invaluable experience and contacts for the future, or even if you’ve just missed out on tickets for one festival, this guide lists vital contacts for many different types of entry level festival work.

How to get into Festivals for free this summer, work & volunteer

MyCause volunteers at Love Saves the Day

 Volunteering vs Working (for money £$)

This guide is a big mishmash of different types of work you can do at festivals and different companies that provide staff to do these jobs so some of these positions will be paid but many will be volunteer positions (ie. you are working for your ticket) and there are lots of different pros and cons for both.

Benefits of volunteering…

  • You get to go to the festival without having to buy a ticket! This has probably saved you in excess of £100 already!
  • If you’re volunteering rather than working for money, chances are that you’ll have plenty of time off to go and see your favourite acts.
  • It’s a great way to gain experience if you’re thinking about working in events in the future and the best way to network and work your way up into a paid position. In fact I would go as far to say that in the festival world you can’t get yourself into a paid position without some voluntary experience.
  • There’s often loads of perks for volunteers like your own private campsite with better facilities like showers and staff catering.
  • You get to see the inner workings of the event… maybe even meet famous people!

Things to think about before signing up to volunteer…

  • You might have to pay a deposit. This is usually the cost of the festival ticket which will be returned to you upon finishing your shifts. These only exist because unfortunately people just sign up as a volunteer if they can’t get a ticket and forfeit their deposits so they can party. Events are required to have a certain number of stewards as a condition of their licensing… so turn up! Festivals are a collaborative experience, the more you put in the more you’ll get out!
  • Make sure you find out how much work you’ll be expected to do and what you’ll get out of it,  most deals are fair (as with the companies I’ve listed) but for some of the more popular festivals sometimes independent traders and bars will often employ volunteers for pretty ridiculously long shifts for no pay which I think is unfair! When volunteering weigh up all the factors for yourself – for example is the job going to give you good experience? Will they feed you? Is it for a good cause?
  • Going solo? Go for it! There are plenty of forums online where you can meet people before you go, and you’ll definitely meet people when you’re there!

Festival Sherpa sums up nicely the ’10 reasons why you should work at a music festival’.

Event Services

Stewarding, ticket checking, traffic management, buggy driving, litter crew and other event and site work…

With these jobs you work for the festival themselves and the roles are great experience and a way to meet people if you want to see behind the scenes of how a festival works and network yourself into those paid positions. I’ve compiled a handy list of companies and charities that you can apply to do a whole host of different jobs for, even if you’ve never worked at a festival before. 

Remember if you have a particular festival in mind its also a good idea to look through their site directly as they will probably manage their own groups of volunteers often alongside other volunteer providers.

Volunteering at UK festivals, stewarding for Oxfam at Beautiful Days

Stewarding the Big Top at Beautiful Days in 2011, yep that’s me in the front row looking about 12 years old.

Oxfam Stewards

This was how I worked my first festival. I donned the orange tabard to work at Glastonbury back in 2011 when I heartbreakingly didn’t manage to get tickets and then again at Beautiful Days later that summer. They said it would be tricky to get into Glastonbury without having volunteered for before as the first offer of places goes to previous stewards, but I was lucky enough to bag a spot!

Oxfam’s charity get paid for the hours you work so you’re doing some good as well as getting into the festival! As well as stewarding staff Oxfam also take on volunteers to spread word of their charitable work as campaigners and to work in their festival shops.

Which festivals? Glastonbury, Beautiful Days, Shambala, Nozstock, Nass and heaps more.
How to apply? It’s quite a lengthy process and you have to attend a training day beforehand but it’s worth it, read more here.

MyCauseUK

A great organisation to volunteer for because the hours you work help raise money for charity AND, as the name suggests, you can choose the cause! (Their pink tabards are super cute too)
Where? Love Saves the Day, Noisily, Port Eliot, Boomtown, Tokyo World and more
How to apply? They are open for applications now!

Feststaff

Voluntary positions in many different roles including wrist-banding, stewarding and bar work.
Where? Kendall Calling, Camp Bestival, BST, Bluedot, Isle of Wight, Common People and more. 
How to apply? Read their volunteer information here.

DC site services

DC Site Services employ both volunteers and paid staff in a variety of roles from litter and recycling management, traffic management, stewards.
Where? Glastonbury, Greenman, 2000 trees, Beatherder, Latitude, Boomtown and many many more as well as events all year round.
How to apply? Have a look at their calendar of events & job roles to apply.

Smiley security staff at Lovebox by Zoe Savitz

CTM

CTM take paid staff to do a lot of traffic management and other stewarding work.
Where?
How to apply? 
Visit the staff area on their site.

Seed Staff

Seed staff offer a variety  of paid and voluntary roles from stewarding and accreditation to bar and hospitality work.
Where? Festival No. 6, Horizon, Snowbombing, Creamfields and more. 
How to apply? Have a gander at their site to see which opportunities would suit you.

Hotbox events

Stewarding in campsites, on fire towers, gates, wristband exchanges and in the arenas.
Where? Latitude, Reading, Leeds, Download, V Festival
How to apply? Check out their site for details

Food & drink

Working for a food trader:

No longer the territory of greasy burger vans and hot dog stands, one of the BEST things about festivals is the array of incredible world food and interesting beverages that are on offer. It’s one of my favourite elements of a festival and something I’ll be talking about more on here in the future!

Not Dogs at Lovebox by Zoe Savitz

In 2013 I worked for a wonderful Mexican food vendor called Pura Vida… I attended 7 festivals with them and with the money I earned I paid for 4 more in my weekends off! I also worked on S’juice Me’s amazing juice stall at Festival Number 6 a few years ago which was a delicious experience. One of my favourite things about festivals is all the wonderful food and drink and working on a food stall is an excellent way to get yourself fed some good grub… I still get fed for free by stalls I made friends with back then!

Many jobs, like mine, will be through friends and family but larger companies will advertise work… You can often find these jobs on Gumtree or sometimes larger companies who run several different stalls have start of season recruitment days. I can recommend Feed the Fields and Jumping Bean, click the links to find out details of their recruitment days. If you know a stall has a real bricks and mortar version it might be worth popping in there and seeing how they get their festival staff!

S'Juice me girls getting fruity at Festival no. 6

Me and the S’Juice me girls getting fruity at Festival no. 6

Crew catering:

This is great for if you want long hours (£$) as crew caterers are on site for as long as the crew are and providing food from the early morning… You’ve gotta be a tough cookie with the ability to smile in all situations as as well as the long hours you’ll be at the receiving end of hangry crew.

Here are a few crew catering providers you can check out:
Red Radish, Popcorn, Eatopia, The Pantry Maid.

The Cocktail Caravan at Love Saves the Day by Jake Davis

Bar work:

Pulling pints, garnishing GnTs and shakin cocktails, bars are obviously a very important part of every festival and employ many staff. As I mentioned previously, a lot of festivals run their own bars so have a look at contacting the festival directly if you have one in mind that you would like to work for. There are also bar companies that tour festivals and take both paid and voluntary staff along with them.

Check out application pages for bar service providers in the UK here:

Refresh WestPeppermint bars, Seed Staff, HAP recruitment, Flair.

Boutique camping

A great way to get paid for a whole season is to tour with a boutique camping company. This can be some of the best work because often there is scope for many days work before and after festivals and you might even get the festival itself off!

The boutique options these days are endless from tents of every shape and flavour from the new pre-erected basic campsites to bell tents, yurts, tipis and huge raj tents with luxury furniture and decoration. Many non-tent boutique camping options are also popping up from wooden huts to bow top gypsy caravans and airstream trailers.

Work in boutique camping

Bell tents at Farr festival by Jake Davis

If you’re outdoorsy and not fazed by hard work in the rain working for one of these boutique camp providers could be a great option for you. Even if you don’t think your boy scout skills are up to scratch there are many other positions such as reception or tent dressing and even various hospitality jobs for the fanciest of boutique set-ups who may offer everything from champagne to chauffeuring (check out the services offered by the incredibly boutiquey Camp Kerala at Glastonbury!!)

A friend who has worked putting up bell tents for several seasons now gave me some advice for applying to work:

“Make it clear that you are happy in the cold and wet, that you are prepared to work hard physically and you’re good with people. They may ask you to come in for a training day where they watch you put up tents and judge you on your attitude. Just be friendly and focus on the demo of putting up the tent so you do your one well! Maybe watch a YouTube demo of someone putting up a bell tent before you go.”

Some boutique camping companies and other pre-pitched tent services that you could contact in the UK include:

Hotel Bell Tent, Pod PadsBlue Bell tents,  Kamataka tip tents,  Fred’s Yurts, Camplight, Woodville Project, Songbird Glamping, Red Sky, Portobello tents.

Other camping services:

Festtaxi, Mr Trolley,

Selling tickets as a festival ambassador

The premise is that you sell a number of tickets to your mates to earn yourself a free one and perhaps commission on each each ticket. I used to do this a few years ago for Love Saves the Day, back when they had physical tickets and just a very complicated spreadsheet to log all our sales and figure out our rewards! These days there are automated online service to do all the hard work for you.

Stewards at Secret Solstice by Zoe Savitz

It’s best to choose which festivals you would like to do this for and then research whether they have a way of doing it – for example festivals like Glastonbury that sell out instantly have no need for ticket reps, other festivals might do it though Get Street Team and others may do it in house.

Find the ambassador programs for these events by following the links:

LeedsReadingBestival, Festival No. 6, Dimensions

Obviously there are a million more ways to work at a festival… performing, management, site crew, decor, artist liaison, production, logistics, driving, lighting, dancing, running workshops, welfare, pyrotechnics, medical and the list goes on and on and on and on.  This list is just the ones with easy entry requirements to give you a taste of what working at a festival might be like. In the future I’ll share an insight into other aspects of festivals with you. Is there anything you would add to this list?

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Volunteer and work at UK festivals

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1 Comment

  1. Christine
    July 13, 2017 / 8:12 pm

    This is so helpful – thanks!

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