As someone with 10 years experience in working at festivals from volunteering to working full time on one of the UK’s largest independent festivals, I know my way around the many different areas of work that make up a festival site. This ultimate guide to finding festival work is for you if you’re looking to break into the industry, diversify your CV or just get into festivals for free!
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 ticket prices anywhere from £30 to £300 – a summer packed with festivals is not exactly cheap!
And although sneaking into festivals does seem to be a rite of passage for some, I’m proud to say that I’ve never ever broken in (disclaimer: the same might not apply for sneaking backstage or into VIP areas though… Shh!) But don’t worry, there is another way.
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Paid Work vs Volunteering
01: Working in Event Services [Stewarding, Accreditation, Traffic Management, Litter Pickers etc.]
02: Working in Food & Drink [Traders, Crew Catering, Bar]
03: Working in Boutique Camping
04: Other Skilled Jobs [Artist Liaison, Stage Management, Medical, Welfare, Security]
06: Ticket Ambassador
Free Festivals… Without Jumping the Fence!
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 progressed to getting paid work and in the short six 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, festival blogging, juice blending, cocktail shaking, buggy driving, artist pampering, traffic directing, social media managing… and the list goes on!
For me, being part of the crew will always be 100x more exciting than just being an attendee. If this sounds like something you’d love 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 a 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.
Paid Festival Work (for cash £$) vs Volunteering at Festivals…
This guide is a big mishmash of different types of festival work 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 different pros and cons for both.
Benefits of volunteering at a festival:
- 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 an event… maybe even meet the artists!
Things to think about before signing up to be a festival 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 independent traders and bars will often employ volunteers for pretty ridiculously long shifts and no pay just in exchange for the ticket which can be pretty unfair.
- When volunteering weigh up all the deciding factors for yourself – for example, is the job going to give you valuable experience for the future? Will they feed you? Will it raise money for a good cause? Do you have the option of swapping your shifts?
- 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!
Different Types of Festival Work & How to Apply…
01: Working in Event Services
Eg. stewarding, ticket checking, traffic management, buggy driving, litter crew and other site and festival work…
With this type of festival work you work for the festival itself – whether this is directly, or through a contracted company. These roles are great experience, the best way to see the many moving cogs of how a festival works and a great way to meet people 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.
Most of these companies offer a combination of paid and voluntary positions so it is always worth getting in touch using the links provided to see if they are a good fit for you.
Remember if you have a particular festival in mind it’s also a good idea to look through their site directly as they will possibly manage their own groups of workers often alongside other staff providers.
Stewarding, ticket scanning & traffic management
• Oxfam Stewards
This was how I worked at 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 takes on volunteers to spread the 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 and apply to steward here
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!
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 employs 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.
CTM take paid staff to do a lot of traffic management and other stewarding work.
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.
• Lagom Group
All sorts of roles including litter pickers, mixologists, stewards, ticket scanners & catering staff.
How to apply? Check out their website for how to get involved.
• 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
Recycling, litter & waste
• Critical Waste
A sustainable waste management company who specialise in clearing up and recycling at events and festivals and who aim to divert as much waste as possible from landfill at every festival!
Where? Boomtown, Glastonbury, Cornbury,
• Litter Pickers
Says it all in the name really!
Where? Glastonbury, Wakestock, Sunrise Celebration, Somerley Tea Party, Noisily, Illusive & many more.
How to apply? They’re on the lookout for enthusiastic people to fill in an info form here.
• Natural Event
Eco-friendly compost loo superstars! I love their description of their perfect employee so much I had to include it:
“Who are you? Well firstly some one who like festivals. You have an interest in environmental living and practice, support the arts, might like painting, and enjoy physical work. You are practical, organised & capable of working in a team environment, leading at times and following instructions where necessary. You can handle the pressure of deadlines, and are willing to work to meet the need. You might play music yourself, but definitely enjoy traveling and camping with friends old and new. You need to be able to handle compliments given to you by random members of the public if they know you are on the Poo Crew. You like laughter.”
Where? Boomtown, Bestival, Kendal Calling… everywhere really!
How to apply? Get a load of their very informative website
02: Working on Food & Drink at a Festival
Working for festival food traders, crew catering, bar work & more…
• Get work for a festival 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!
In 2013 I worked for a wonderful Mexican food vendor called Pura Vida… It was my first paid festival work and 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. Working on a food stall is an excellent way to get yourself fed some good grub… I still sometimes get fed for free by stalls I made friends with back then!
Many jobs, like mine, will only be attainable through friends and family connections 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 Jumping Bean and Crooked Kitchens who both run several different food stalls every weekend across the summer – click the links and get in touch with them to find out about 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!
• Find work with festival crew catering companies:
Crew catering 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.
• Getting Festival 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 and management along with them.
Check out application pages for festival bar service providers in the UK here:
03: Working for Boutique Camping at Festivals
A great way to get paid work 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 caravans and airstream trailers.
If you’re outdoorsy and not fazed by hard work in the rain then a job with one of these boutique camp providers could be the perfect festival work 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 in the UK that you could contact about festival work include:
Other camping services:
04. Other Skilled Festival Work
Many of the variety of positions in this list are a bit more niche than the jobs above and might require some previous experience or a specific qualification, they’re good options for if you have transferrable skills or if you’ve worked at festivals already! If something catches your eye then check out the website, there may also be entry level volunteer roles too.
Artist Liaison & Stage Management
These are the perfect roles for music lovers and offer a glimpse into life backstage and probably a heap of funny anecdotes when your weekend is over! Artist Liaison can be anything from Artist Accreditation (sorting out acts and their entourages with various passes for the weekend) to running and sorting out artist riders to being at the beck and call of big artists! Stage Management is the more technical side where you will work with the sound and lighting teams, sorting out the artist’s technical riders and ensuring that changeovers run smooth. They both need people who work well with people, keep cool under pressure and are organised and on the ball!
I volunteered with Eye of the Storm as an artist liaison at Horizon in Bulgaria doing artist accreditation and had a wicked time as well as picking up heaps of great experience, my other artist liaison roles have been directly through festivals themselves or the teams managing specific areas so don’t be shy to apply directly there too.
• Artist Liaison & Stage Management companies:
Medical & Welfare
If you are a qualified first aider, paramedic, doctor or another type of medical professional then consider working for the vital services that the medical tents provide at festivals.
• Festival Medical Services
FMS first started at Glastonbury 40 years ago and is a ‘not for profit‘ registered charity staffed by volunteers, delivering professional medical services at events throughout the country.
How to apply? Check out their volunteers page for all the roles that they have on offer.
• TTK Welfare
TTK Welfare is looking for volunteers to help with our busy 2018 season. Welfare work is for those who care about people and want to help them through difficult times. Our job duties can include handing out water and sunblock during very hot days, shelter those whose tent has become soaked in the rain, listening to people who have experienced something and want someone to talk to, helping those who have “over done it” to rest and recover. The list of what we do is as long as your arm but to summarise – we help those people at a festival who need support and don’t know where else to turn. We solve problems and we do it with care and discretion.
TTK Welfare volunteers who put in the hours may have their travel costs compensated and get crew meal vouchers and those who stick with TTK may advance to a paid position.
Where? LOADS of the good ones! Several a weekend for the whole summer…
How to apply? For more information head to their volunteers’ page and follow the link to a Google form application. Or email: email@example.com.
05: 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 rewards… These days this is easy festival work as an automated online service does all the hard work for you.
It’s best to choose which festivals you would like to do this for and then research, whether they have a facility for doing it – for example festivals like Glastonbury that sell out instantly, have no need for ticket reps, other festivals might do it through platforms like Pollen, Get Street Team and others may do it in house.
Obviously there are a million more ways to work at a festival… performing, management, site crew, decor, production, logistics, driving, lighting, dancing, running workshops, welfare, pyrotechnics, medical and the list goes on and on and on and on. This list only features 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 more about other areas of festival work with you.
If you’d like to write a guest post about your experiences working at a festival I’d love to hear from you, read about Lizy’s season as a festival decor worker here, and please get in touch if you’d like your company to be included in this guide and in front of the eyes of your potential new staff! You can get me, Dulcie, on firstname.lastname@example.org.