Before memories of the Summer turn into those sweet dreams that get us through the cold truths of Winter I wanted to share this. Its about working at different festivals as part of the welfare staff. while everything in this article actually happened, I have changed some details and put them as part of one big festival to protect peoples identities. This article is dedicated to the mad bad welfare crew with hearts as big as buckets. If your reading this, here’s to next summer x

I’m in the back of an ancient high cab 4×4 that only an hour ago I was informed that it is running on an 80/20 mix of vegetable oil and diesel. Which explains the crates of the stuff underneath my seat. Behind me is the gear needed for the three of us, Me, Trev the driver, and Finn. I can only really see the back of their heads. The hairless skull of Trev as he mutters and swears to himself while driving, and the thick dreads of Finn, a gentle wookie of a man, as he shakes them loose and reties them, wrapping them up using a single, smaller dread.


Every so often I see Trev press a clearly home installed button on the dashboard and we go a little faster. I lean forward.

“What’s that button? Is it Nitrous?”

“Nah” says Trev in a slight west country accent, he gestures to the gearstick with his head “thats fucked”. And I realise he hasn’t touched it once since we got in. Looking around I feel the looming mountain of gear behind me and it occurs to me that if we crash, not only will I be crushed but there is also the strong chance I will drown in oil too. To my left Trev’s wash kit unrolls from where it’s hung and his dentures smile back at me.


“Oh shit” says Trev, he says as he leans forward uncomfortably. We’re on a motorway going less than thirty miles an hour. While steering he has one hand on the gear button.

“Do you want me to put tape over the it or hold it or something” says Finn

“Just hold it,” says Trev. Finn leans over and holds the button. “I’m going to have to pull over somewhere.”

“Is it bad?” asks Finn, now less than an arm length away from Trev’s face.

“Probably the gearbox overheating, we just need to let it cool down.”

A few minutes later we are off the motorway.

“There’s a park and ride,” says Finn. Trev pulls the wheel and we head towards a car park, the last second see’s the gate with a low roof

“I’m not fitting under that” he says and pulls off into a slip road. The slip road is a bus lane and Trev has turned down the wrong way. Sure enough a bus comes off the island directly towards us. The driver gets out. Stern behind mirror shades. Everyone in the van explains what happened at the same time in a wall of apologies. With more grace and kindness than you’d expect from someone who you’d nearly had a head on collision with he tells us to pull over then follow him down the bus lanes because there’s no cameras, and we can then get across a junction to a pub car park. So that’s what we do. Trev quietly swearing, Finn pushing a broken button, and me contributing by way of silent prayers we make it to a Harvester car park.




It is wrong to say behind the scenes at a festival is a lawless place, rather it is a complicated clashing of people’s interpretations of the rules and systems set up by one group of people but delivered by hundreds others. And then bent, folded or broken by thousands more. Practically it means there’s lots of grey areas, wiggle room, and the frustration and freedom of the rubber of people’s expectations meeting the road of reality. 


We slip through the gates and hoops of bureaucracy and set up our tents and the welfare tent where we’ll be working over the next four days. On the way back from a trip to the shop Finn delivers the bottles of nice beer he brought to the various people and gates of paperwork we largely skipped to get in.




No-one are what they seem at a festival, especially the staff; The bar staff are diligent and work harder than most, their camp tends to be quiet and the first too lights out, the security staff are a potluck of warm human beings and some of the dodgiest people on site, and most of the welfare staff, when not helping those that have overindulged or are struggling mentally, spend the rest of the time pushing the indulgence limits, and the organisers are about as far from the free love hippy stereotypes that unrelenting capitalist can be. 


Take Finn for example, leader of the welfare team, he may look like he might be found clumsily breaking car windows looking for honey and human food but he is in fact involved in a delicate dance balancing the needs of the public ‘our clients’, the rota of the staff – half of who are knee deep in festival euphoria at *any* hour of the day, and liaising with the machinery and resources of a small town that has moved into the middle of nowhere for a week. 


After setting up, and not actually having to work until tomorrow the welfare staff indulge. We end up in Finn’s bell tent replete with log burner, disco lights, and a beer cooler/speaker the size of two toddlers. The next morning the tents that had been pitched next to us are gone.




Thursday is a slow start – the main arenas aren’t open until the evening and the welfare is only really open to support the campsite that is slowly filling up. I’m supposed to be working the 8pm-8am shift but for the lack of anything else to do I’m hanging out at the welfare tent, watching the punter hump their gear from the car park two fields away.


Two security guards mooch up. The welfare tent offers warmth, hot drinks, snacks, and water as standard to the people that access us. It is based on the understanding that it’s difficult to address any other problems they may have without the basics taken care of. It is not the job of the welfare staff to be the tea room and break area for the security staff. Unfortunately the people running the security staff don’t really take care of them. That means savvy security staff will ‘check in’ on the welfare staff with fake bonhomie and manufactured concern whenever they want a hot drink. Or, like the two at the tent now, laying the groundwork for later.


Mick, a smaller man in at least his fifties looks like one of those hairless cats with a pink coloration around his eyes that makes him look like he’s crying iodine. ‘Predator’ is a tell square man with a bad case of ‘policemans foot’ which means he rocks backwards and forwards uncomfortably on his feet. Predator claims to have bee in “Mossad for twenty years” in exactly the same way that people that have been in israelie intelligence wouldn’t. He also drops in later that they are currently finding “over 70 bodies in Epping forest” and he’s hoping his “DNA doesn’t turn up” with a flat laugh. Mick manages to roll his eyes with just a cockney shrug.




Later me and Finn are sitting on chairs outside the entrance of the welfare tent, offering to help passers-by, or just chatting. A man with a bowler hat, waistcoat, and waxed facial hair walks past carrying a strange shaped box

“What’s in the box” shouts Finn

“Deities and a musical instrument” says the than

“What’s the instrument?” ask Finn, himself a musician

“A harmonium”

“Foot pump or hand pump?”

“Hand pump” says the man as he walks away. 

“Finn” I say “that man said he had a box with Gods and a musical instrument, and you asked about the instrument?” Finn looks at me.

“I don’t believe in any gods”

“He does”

“Nah. he’s not interesting, he’s just got a moustache.”









The toilets at this festival, like a lot of others now, are gravity toilets, basically bins full of compost underneath high seat cubicles you climb stairs to get too. The toilets  near the path just up from us are based on a hill. And over the course of the day the damp ground and the top heavy nature of the structure have caused them to pitch forward. We periodically radio the production office to warn them, but still by the end of the day the effect is like trying to take a piss in a fun house and sitting down feels like taking a dump on a roller coaster the moment you crest the first drop.


My shift starts and in the early hours I’m bought by a woman by security who seems both drunk and for whatever reason clinging to consciousness. It’s never clear if she knows where she is. We don’t know a lot about her, she claims to not have friends on site and came here to work. But she doesn’t say where. It’s a tough position to be in, normally our job is to get them checked by the medics and let them sleep it off somewhere safe and warm and checked on every fifteen minutes. But awake but not strictly coherent you can make sure they’re safe as long as they want to be there. And that involves lots of tea and trying to engage with them, even if that conversation is like trying to talk to a broken doll that forgets the phrases when you pull their string.

“It makes me said” shed say

“What makes you sad Jenny?”

“Kids today don’t know..”

“Don’t know what?”

“…I *love* music”

“What music do you like?”

“It makes me…?”


“Yeah it does”


An hour or so later she’s a little better, she can hold her tea without spilling it and the gaps in the conversation are slowly filling. None of us have a light, so she decides to go. I tell her that I’m still concerned and recommend she stays here with us. But she insists and I can’t keep her against her will. The best I can do is radio through to security and tell them to keep an eye out and if she doesn’t make it back to her tent to bring her back to us.


“Nah apart from that one its been pretty quiet” the girls face drops, shes young for a security guard and a lot more cheerful at half two in the morning than a lot of the other security staff

“We don’t say that word” she serious

“What word?” I say

“The ‘Q’ word”

“What ‘quiet’?”

“Yes” she winces when I say it again

“But it has been quiet, very quiet” I say “I would go as far to say nothing will happen tonight. Definitely” I declare, she punches in the arm with shock and panic. The older security guard with her comes over

“Terry hes saying the ‘Q’ word” she says, Terry looks at me seriously 

“We don’t say the ‘Q’ word” he says sincerely

“You too? All I’m saying is that it’s been quiet”


Before we can see what caused it Terry turns to me and says solemnly

“You did this”

It was someone who slid off the toilet and came crashing out of the tilting toilets, she’s fine. But we radio control to get the toilets roped off.




The rest of the night is slow, a couple of requests about lost property, a couple of people attracted to the only tent with lights on thinking it’s an after hours party. About half four the birds start to chirp and the sky in the east slowly reveals that the night sky was never black and just a shade of the darkest blue. At eight I do my paperwork handover to Finn and go back to my tent. By then it’s light enough to see at least eight or nine spiders have joined me, I fall asleep anyway.


By nine it’s so hot I’m naked outside my sleeping back. By ten it’s too hot to sleep deep enough to ignore the spiders crawling on me. By half ten it’s too hot to breathe in the tent. I get up and use the surprisingly good staff showers to wash the sweat and spider trails off me. 


In the welfare tent Finn tells me the woman from last night has been reported missing by her friends, I go through the paperwork with Finn again and he agrees there was nothing else I could have done. But I’m still worried. The sleeping bays for the welfare are in high roofed yurts and are deliciously cool. I go for a nap


A couple of hours later I emerge from the recovery bays.

“What’s that smell?” I ask Finn

“Oh you’re awake” he observes “they moved the tilting toilets directly opposite us”

I look outside the tents and sure enough across the path are the toilets at a more manageable angle. I check my phone and the group chat tells me the lady had been found. Apparently her friends found her a short time after they reported her missing and just had not got back to us about it. I’m relieved and try to finally banish the phrase ‘last person to see her alive’ from my head forever.

“HERE IS IS” the fire staff say jovially I stick my head outside, they’re based next door, camping next to their vehicles, and currently in conversation through the fence with the rest of the welfare staff. Bernie is doing the most talking. They do a lot of festivals but tend to do more consultancy for tv and film, they’ve worked on London’s Burning, The Bill and various other tv shows including Little Britain.

“We were filming a scene with Andy and Lou on the day two firefighters lost their lives in a fire in London. It was very surreal”

No one knows what to say about that, Bernie says he was also there at the Shoreham Air Show Disaster.

“I was based a field away, watching the planes, but there something wasn’t right, I just knew something would go wrong. I was in my vehicle and driving over there as it happened.” 

Again no one knows what to say, Bernie points to Ben

“He was there too, but he doesn’t like to talk about it” Ben points to Bernie

He bloody does though”.




Every so often a man has been sticking his head into the tent, He wears the lanyards of Site Management, and every perfunctory conversation has very much had a ‘meeting the troops’ feel. After a little walk I come back and he’s sitting down with the rest of the staff. He’s wearing a straw fedora, maroon Marks and Spencers trousers, and a cream jacket with a small badge that just says “music”. He exudes privilege in the same way snails produce mucus to ease their way through the world. Someone asks him what he does.

“I’m a bardic druid” he says earnestly, this clearly doesn’t have the effect he wants, frankly the people he’s talking to on the whole work in mental health and are excessively hard to phase when it comes to saying weird shit.

“I was initiated as a druid by accident at Stonehenge in ‘97” he says as he rolls a cigarette very badly.

“Is the festival part of your druidic practice?” I ask

“It all is,” he says earnestly. We’re all still wondering why one of the organisers is sitting here with us when one of the production team cycles over

“Jon, your son son is upset and looking for you” he say

“Fuck him” says Jon casually, we all wait for Jon to reveal he’s joking and call or radio his son. But Jon continues to struggle with the roll up. The production assistant waits for a little bit then rides off. No one says anything for a while. Jon stretches, briefly as he stands he tugs up his slacks revealing socks with pints of beer on them.

“Well must be off” and leaves. Finn has been watching this happen from the awning of the tent.

“Did you get his name?” asks Finn, I tell Finn the name on his pass. Finn disappears into the tent with the radio.

“So who was he?” I ask when Finn comes out again

“He’s the Traders manager”

“What does that mean?”

“Very little” says Finn

“So why has he been checking on us?” I ask

“There is no reason, but he won’t be doing it again” Finn says.




That night we are bought a middle aged man wearing a bright yellow rain slicker and psychedelic bucket hat. He looks like a grammar school maths teacher. He announces that he is on a “shitload of mushrooms” and says little else. The medics have managed to get his name from him. Kevin tells us he needs to go to the toilet. Barely able to walk, me and another welfare staff, Sam, support him to a portaloo. We get him in and close the door. After a while there’s no noise, or no answer from the portaloo. We bang on the door some more, still no answer. We open the door and Kevin is standing in exactly the same position we left him.

“Don’t you need the toilet Kevin?” I ask in the loud and clear voice I reserve for the under tens, drunks, and people like Kevin who are exploring the outer dimensions.

“No,” Kevin answers. We support Kevin to a recovery bay where we can check on him every fifteen minutes. We place him comfortably in the recovery position and step out the yurt.

“Danny, I think Kevin has shit himself” says Sam once we’re out of the yurt.

“Yeah almost definitely” I say

“Don’t we have to do something?”

“Well to be fair we don’t know it for definite, and obviously for safeguarding reasons we can’t actually check. At the moment he has both simultaneously shit and not shit his pants” I say. “Like Schrodinger’s Cat”








The rest of the night creeps along in the weird jolting way that night shifts do. For a few hours the only people we get are security staff mooching hot drinks while pretending to ‘check on us’.


About five in the morning A man comes in wearing a t-shirt and shorts. He is bitterly cold and was drunk once, but frustration and the cold has sobered him up a lot. Ben made two mistakes tonight, he rushed in late and threw his tent up without paying much attention to where it is, and he gave his phone to his friend because of his shallow pockets. Since then he’s become separated from his friend and realised he cant find his tent. It actually happens a lot. Tents essentially look all the same, and a campsite looks very different in the dark with no landmarks to orientate yourself. There’s not much we can do other than offer him somewhere warm to sleep until the sun comes up. I take Ben to one of the recovery bays. He sniffs and points to Kevin.

“Has he shit himself?”

“Yes and no” I tell Ben, moving the bedding to the main room so he can sleep until morning without the smell of potentially shit trousers.


Just before I clock off a security guard sticks his head in the tent.

“Lost property” he says as he tosses a wallet over and leaves. Looking through the wallet I see the ID says ‘Luke Emmers’ . It’s a personal licence so maybe it’s one of the bar staff? Looking into the billfold there’s a few notes in there, shit, there’s a lot of notes in there. I call Sam over to witness me count it, which I do at finger tips like a croupier. 

“I make that £510” I say to Sam, Sam counts it to the same.

“Do we keep hold of this?” asks Sam.

“Nope” I say, I mean we normally do keep lost property, but there’s no way am I being responsible for that amount of money. I take it to the production tent for a member of management to look after.


Finn arrives blessedly half an hour early and sends me to bed after a handover and quick introduction to Ben and the prone form of Kevin.

“Has he…?” says Finn

“We don’t know,” I shrug.


Walking back through staff camping, some of the bar staff are stirring, some packing up entirely. A couple are shaking a tent.

“Luke, Luke, LUKE” they say

“Luke’s not in here” a woman’s voice says. The lads look at each other confused. 

I stop and ask the pair.

“Wait, what’s Luke’s surname?” I don’t want to give away the surname myself

“Who are you?”

“I’m from Welfare” they look even more confused

“Believe me, Luke would want you to tell me”

“Emmers, I think”

“You sure?”

“I mean yeah”

“You need to find Luke so I can talk to him”. They knock a couple of tents up and in the end Luke appears, pillow creases across his face and obviously slept in the clothes he wore last night.

“Alright Luke?” I say, Luke makes a sound that could be anything.

“Did you lose anything last night?” I ask and Luke perks up

“Yes” again I don’t want to give too much away

“Well, its at the production office” I say

“No way” says Luke

“Yep and its intact with everything there”

“No way” says Luke “I got paid last night and spent ages looking for it”.

“Wait” one of Luke’s friends says “have you been looking for Luke in this field for long?”

“Honestly, no. I’m off to bed. I just heard you saying his name and heard his name and decided to chance it”. Everybody pauses for a second. 





The final day of the festival and I’m having a walk around. There’s a booth with massive vinyl signs “PHONE CHARGING”. I think about my first festivals, without phones, a disposable camera tucked into my belt. Very little thought about infrastructure. Things change. Festivals are safer now, bigger family events. a guy stops to say he likes my leggings, he’s wearing a vastly oversized loose knit jumper, tight shorts and looks like he woke up in a glitter puddle. His name is Brennan Smiley. He’s a bit of a festival veteran, but likes this one.

“I like Drum & Bass but when you go to a festival with just one generation you get dickheads, when it’s a mix you get nice people” he says. 


On cue an older couple come over to ask directions; they look like they’re dressed for hill walking, it’s their first festival and only come because locals get discounted tickets, they were massively apprehensive about having a festival so close to them.

“But everyone has behaved themselves” says the woman directly to Brennan who graciously accepts on behalf of what I assume is the whole festival and young people in general.

“Are you going to wear fairy wings and glitter next year then?” I ask

“Of course” she says “we’ve never been to a festival before and we didn’t know what to wear”.


It’s getting overcast as I find the staff bar, which is a surprise as I wasn’t even aware that such a thing existed. A tent shelter is fitted out with carpets and old comfy sofas, the pints are cheap and the smell of weed hangs in the air with the comfortable familiarity of the ticking of a grandfather clock as old as the house it’s in. The atmosphere is relaxed, non performative. I sit down on one of the sofas. A group nearby is chatting, one of them has lost her voice. She mimes writing and no one has a pen. I offer my notebook and pen. She scribbles something, shows her friend, and signs ‘thanks you’ as she hands it back, I sign ‘you’re welcome’ back and she smiles in warm surprise.


Later I check my notebook to see what she wrote. On an empty page is a flowing cursive is written


“It’s your destiny”

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