Fairer Festivals?

In the 90s, I didn’t know anyone who paid to go to the Glastonbury Festival. At that time, amongst my peer group, it wasn’t just attending the festival itself that was a rite of passage, but negotiating your entry, via use of a ladder or access to a roughly-dug shallow hole. Paying full whack for a ticket was out of the question.

But the last year before the “Super-Fence” finally went up, I could see this simply couldn’t continue. The health and safety implications of having literally countless people on-site (it was estimated that as many people had snuck in as had paid) had become far too problematic (not to mention illegal, breaching the event’s licence conditions). The toilets were unspeakable, the crowds heaving from one area to another were dangerous and I couldn’t get near enough to a stage to hear a band without noise pollution from another. Enough was enough. So Glastonbury is now off-limits for those who aren’t working there or willing/able to pay over £265.

Organisers of festivals – particularly smaller, independent festivals – value having a good mix of people on-site, and the events are often borne out of a really inclusive, welcoming, community-led ethos. The inherent exclusivity of an experience requiring costly equipment to survive, in remote sites, with an entry fee carrying a hefty price tag is therefore problematic for some in the industry.

I am really enjoying supporting a research project by Cardiff Metropolitan University, asking festival organisers for their views on this situation, and how it could be addressed. The discussions we’ve had so far have been so interesting. A festival can be a very good-value holiday for a family, providing: an escape from usual, everyday life; an intensely connected sense of community; opportunities to experience culture and creativity that could be life-changing. Some families will prioritise this as their summer getaway, while for others the total cost is unthinkable. The research participants are keen to explore how to make their offers more available to those on low incomes, as well as to examine how their internal practices (e.g. in employment and contracting) continue inequalities.

The research team hopes that the project will result in a toolkit that festival organisers can use to increase accessibility to their events, as well as stimulate more discussion about the importance of this aspect of social and cultural participation to people on low incomes. Get in touch if you’d like to hear more!