The ins and outs of Oxfam festival volunteering

We’ve all seen the free festival tickets in exchange for work, but what is it really like?

Any festival-goer will understand the pain of forking out 200 odd quid for a ticket. Whilst it’s always worth it, wouldn’t it be even better if you got in for free?

The answer is obviously hell yes, and where can I sign up?

Oxfam operates at several of the main festivals all across the country, offering a unique chance to see the other side of festival life as either a steward or a campaigner.

Signing up is the easy part. With Oxfam, you apply through the ‘volunteer with us’ section of their website. For all roles, you need to describe why you deserve to work with Oxfam, upload an ID photograph, and give them a reference.

To be a campaigner, you also need to submit a short video to demonstrate that you can be enthusiastic about the campaign. Once March hits, you can apply for as many festivals as you want with a £200 deposit, which will be returned to you around a month after your last festival.

It starts with a bang. As a volunteer, your trek to the festival isn’t met with the usual painfully long queues. Instead, you are briskly ushered through the gate and handed passes used to flash at the security guards as you mouth to them ‘let me in I work here’. The large Oxfam campsite, home to 400 stewards,  50 campaigners, and clean showers and toilets, has plenty of spaces for volunteers to pitch their tents, without the usual festival nightmare of plonking yourself in the middle of someone else’s camp. What’s more, your usual festival neighbours, the ones who are ‘just there for the sesh’ and shouting ‘Alan’ and ‘Steve’ at every opportunity, are nowhere to be seen.


The Castle Stage, Bestival

All Oxfam staff are given 24 hours on shift over the festival weekend. For stewards, this is split up into either two 12 hour shifts or three eight hour shifts, and four six hour shifts for campaigners. All campaigner shifts are from 11am-5pm which adds structure to each day rather than the usual hungover lazing at the tent in anticipation for the evening’s acts. However, stewarding shifts, which could be at any time between 12am and 8am have to be the worst.

The role of a campaigner includes adventuring around the site and striking conversations with festival goers. The campaign that we were focussing on was about how we can enable young refugees to be with their families. We took photographs of members of the public in the Oxfam frame and sent it as a postcard form to their local MP as a way of generating awareness around the separation of refugee families.

Each shift ends with the volunteers meeting to discuss the hilarious highs and lows of the day over a packet of well-deserved crisps.

I overheard volunteers saying things like: “I’ve never faced so many rejections”, “well there goes my last pair of socks” and “he fell face first in the mud but still posed for a photo” whilst letting out an overtired giggle.

On the last day of Bestival, most festival goers had already signed up to the Oxfam refugee campaign so the day was mainly spent hopelessly traipsing through the mud in an sweaty four days old Oxfam t-shirt. Although shifts were exhausting and I returned to the campsite wet, tired, hungry and demotivated by rejection, the amazing people I met were always raring to go for a good night in the evening.

The perks of working as an Oxfam festival volunteer went beyond a free festival ticket. After every shift shift, a free hot meal provided by the lovely people at Oxfam. For every shift worked, volunteers get a meal voucher which is redeemed at the tent in the volunteer campsite. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are available, but dinner is by far the best meal as Oxfam serve everything from beef lasagne to vegan curry – a welcome variation from the usual chips and digestives festival diet.

As a campaigner, there are chances to gain extra food vouchers if you gain the highest number of sign ups within the group.

Just because you don’t pay for your ticket, doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the artists you want to see. At Bestival, I headed out to Annie Mac, the XX, Pet Shop Boys, Tribe Called Quest and Andy C with my fellow volunteers. We definitely played just as hard as we worked!

Working with Oxfam was a great way to enjoy an amazing weekend at Bestival. If you want to experience what I did, check out Oxfam’s page here to see what they can offer you.