Oxfam trains 1,200 festival stewards for Glastonbury 2010

How do you organise training for 1,200 volunteers in readiness for their work at the UK's largest music festival?

That was the challenge faced by Oxfam who provided the organisers of Glastonbury Festival 2010 with nearly 2000 volunteer stewards, a record number for the festival.

Before they can work at Glastonbury, Oxfam's volunteers have to attend a stewards' training programme. The training is valid for four years after which the training course has to be retaken. In 2010, of the 2000 people accepted as volunteers, around 800 had previously attended training within the four year timeframe, leaving 1,200 new volunteers to be trained between March and June.

Oxfam has a long-standing partnership with Glastonbury and is one of the festival's official good causes, alongside Water Aid and Greenpeace.

Since 1993, when Oxfam first provided Glastonbury with volunteer stewards, the charity has received £3.1m in donations from the festival's organisers.

An Oxfam steward checks wristbands at one of the gates
An Oxfam steward checks wristbands at one of the festival gates.
Credit: Amy Christian/Oxfam

At the 2010 festival, Oxfam's stewards worked three 8¼-hour shifts and were mainly responsible for the entrance and exit gates; checking tickets, and giving information and advice to festival-goers. Oxfam also recruited 80 volunteers to work as campaigners at the festival and a further 40 to work in Oxfam's on-site shop.

'A stewarding community'

In return for their time, volunteers get hot food, their own exclusive camping area and access to the festival in between shifts. There are other benefits too, as Judy Bec, Oxfam's festival team manager, explains: "We like to promote the fact that we have a stewarding community. If people are going to the festival for the first time, or if they're going on their own, they will make friends very quickly. Volunteers also get active support from Oxfam managers on site if they have any problems, so it's a very supportive way to do a festival."

Oxfam recruits its volunteers for Glastonbury in March. People who have volunteered for Oxfam at the festival before are given a two-week period to re-apply before the application process is opened up to everybody else.

The initial pre-festival stewards' training course lasts for three hours and is supported by briefings at the festival itself. Oxfam organised twenty-five training sessions around the country in the run up to Glastonbury 2010. A course was also held at the festival itself for people who were unable able to attend an earlier session, usually because they had been out of the country.

Roles and responsibilities

During the three-hour training session, Oxfam's trainers start by explaining the roles and responsibilities of a steward, what's expected of them and what they're not authorised to do such as acting as security or being a first aider.

The course helps volunteers understand how to interact and engage with the other teams they're likely to be working with, such as security staff, and where they fit within the general hierarchy of the festival. A section of the training programme covers communication within and between teams using both radios and hand signals.

Volunteers receive detailed information about their main role working at the entrance and exit gates to ensure they understand the systems in place. They are also given a general orientation of the festival site to ensure they can give information and directions to newly arrived festival-goers.

The training programme highlights what is expected of stewards in a first aid situation. While stewards are not expected to administer first aid - Glastonbury has a large team of medical staff on site to fulfil that function - the training explains their role in assessing the casualty, making sure the casualty is comfortable and informing the emergency services.

Volunteers are also taught about crowd dynamics: monitoring crowd situations and how to recognise, and deal with, overcrowding. Another section of the training session deals with the typical situations a steward will encounter and covers conflict management techniques and general interpersonal and communication skills.

Other topics on the course include lost and found children polices, incident and accident reporting, hazard awareness and what to do in the event of a fire.

Festival briefings

The off-site training is supported by briefings at the festival itself. These are designed to ensure that everyone has the latest information. With 2000 volunteers on site at 2010 festival, Oxfam ran 10 separate steward briefings, with additional sessions for supervisors, gate organisers and shift leaders. Volunteers also receive a stewarding guide to reinforce what they've been taught in the training.

Oxfam's steward training programme provides its volunteers with the opportunity to develop a range of new skills, one of the many reasons why people volunteer.

According to a study from volunteer organisations YouthNet and v, released last year to coincide with National Volunteers' Week, the most popular reasons for volunteering amongst respondents were "to do something positive with spare time" (71%) and "to help other people" (71%). Two fifths of volunteers said it was the opportunity to improve and learn new skills that had prompted them to volunteer. Spoken communication skills (44%), team working (42%) and problem solving (39%) were the most sought-after outcomes.

Judy Bec, Oxfam's festival team manager believes the festival volunteering experience provides a variety of ongoing benefits: "People get to be resourceful and use skills that they didn't know they had. They learn how to deal with issues and to respond quickly to situations. It helps people understand what they can do and gives them the confidence to change things in their normal life."

Oxfam Stewards at Glastonbury 2010
Oxfam stewards at Glastonbury 2010
Credit: Amy Christian/Oxfam

Summing up the experience for many, Colin Daffern, one of Oxfam's volunteers at Glastonbury Fesitval 2010, said: "Stewarding is a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience. It's a fantastic way to gain a new set of skills, as well as raising money for a great cause, meeting a new and diverse bunch of people and catching some amazing live music."