At Reading 2011 Oxfam stewards were the friendly faces in orange tabards who welcomed you on site, checked your tickets, ushered you to the wristbanding tent, and spent hours looking out for your safety in the arena all weekend.
We arrived two days before the music started to be briefed on systems, wristbands & passes, positions and requirements for the 3x 8 ¼ hour shifts each steward worked across the festival. Also, for the old-timers, it was a chance to see what had changed since last year. This year "my" stage, the Radio 1 / NME tent, had grown into The Biggest Tent in Europe with an 18,000 capacity.
For those stewards who were lucky enough to be rostered in the arena we had to be in place long before the gates opened, which gave us a ringside view of people sprinting for prime positions at the barrier.
Opening up on Friday meant briefing and placing the stewards, sheltering from the rain, then enjoying Pulled Apart By Horses (yeah!), Frankie & The Heartstrings and The Naked And Famous before shift changeover. The crowd became larger but behaved well (clearly thanks to my supervision!), and I even managed a short break to chat up one of The Vaccines stage right between Miles Kane and Mona.
Evening shifts are always busier as the crowds have had time to indulge and start to feel the after-effects, thereby needing more assistance. Saturday’s work was soundtracked by the ‘de rigeur’ Everything Everything, the fanatically-loved Glassjaw, the hugely popular Bombay Bicycle Club (whom I didn’t really see as, despite doubling the steward crew to 60 to manage the massive crowd, I was scampering around checking my stewards were OK and the crowd were behaving, also ensuring the injured received medical assistance) and the rave kids of Crystal Castles. The evening ended with a twist when headliners Jane’s Addiction cancelled at the last minute, leaving a disappointed crowd to disperse. Still, half of my team were re-deployed to follow the crowds to the main stage, and unexpectedly caught the second half of The Strokes.
The tiring late/early shift combo left our team with five hours’ sleep book-ended by two mile walks before the Sunday morning shift started. Coffee, breakfast and the arena opening under a rainbow boosted us, then Dananananaykroyd blasted all remaining sleepiness out of the NME/Radio 1 tent and into Oxfordshire. F*cked Up won the earliest-shirt-off-of-the-day award, Beth from Best Coast won over the boys with her looks and the girls with her melodies, and Cage The Elephant attracted both the largest crowd and the least amount of stage divers (two, one of whom was the singer non-stop for the last ten minutes of the set!).
Big thanks to the team who worked hard, braved the elements and faced every challenge thrown at them, enjoying themselves and the music in the process. This meant looooong days (17 hours for those determined to watch bands AND work their shifts), enduring a few aches and pains, plus the mud and sick (not ours!) on our wellies. But it was well worth it.
Importantly it was £70,000 raised for Oxfam, a huge amount of loud, muddy fun had by all, and 610 weary but smiling stewards promising to return next year. THAT is how to do a bank holiday weekend!
For more information on volunteering for Oxfam at festivals next year, or to chat to people on the forums to find out if stewarding is for you, visit: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/Stewarding.