Festivals: Get your wellies on

Summer festivals are proving a hit with charities trying to reach new audiences in fresh ways. Nick Cater assesses the potential and the pitfalls.

Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading ... to some, these place names are reminders of a misspent youth. But although the music festivals for which these towns are famed still have sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll at their core, they are increasingly adopting a new dimension - connections with charities and campaigning groups.

This is not altogether surprising. In the past, music has often raised money for and drawn attention to vital causes - from the concerts for Bangladesh and Kampuchea in the 1970s and Bruce Springsteen's Amnesty tours of the 1980s to Live Aid and, most recently, Live 8.

Even when the event does not involve an urgent appeal such as ending famine or pressuring G8 to relieve Africa's debt, summer festivals offer opportunities for charities great and small to raise funds, recruit volunteers and get their messages across. But in the middle of knee-deep mud and the legendary festival toilets, there is plenty that can go wrong - charities need to put in careful planning to make their own performance a success.

One of the most experienced festival campaigners is John Sauvin of Greenpeace, which has been involved with Glastonbury since 1991. "Glastonbury is unique, but festivals in general are a fantastic opportunity to get out and talk to people, and perhaps have a far longer conversation," he says. "It involves long hours and lots of work, but the results are very rewarding - far better than trying to engage people in the street, for example. Every year, we attract 500 to 1,000 new supporters at Glastonbury. Festivals are great for building support."

ActionAid, meanwhile, took a strategic decision to use festivals to develop what it calls "creative activism". The charity's head of schools and youth, Taahra Ghazi, says this year will be its fourth at the Reading Festival and that it will also have a presence at the Respect and Virgin festivals.

ActionAid was also represented at Glastonbury last month.

"We meet people unconnected with development issues who perhaps don't know we exist, yet want to do something and still have that sense of outrage," says Ghazi. "We use volunteers aged between 18 and 24 to do peer-to-peer campaigning. We offer a range of possible activities, from music to film and writing - all the creative arts. For example, this year we had a team design our campaign bus.

"Young people define their relationships with us, not the other way round," she adds. "We now have a network of 10,000 young campaigners."

However, ActionAid has been careful. "We have an advisory board for our youth network, and for Reading and other festivals we have an adviser with long experience in the music business," says Ghazi. "You cannot do it on your own."

Although Glastonbury and Reading grab most of the headlines, there are many festivals to choose from across the UK. Whether it be dance, trance, folk, jazz or urban rap, music festivals give charities the opportunity to target specific demographic groups and a whole host of ways to engage with events, from pitching for a percentage of ticket sales, collecting cash and recruiting new supporters, to signing up star names, getting media exposure and providing goods and services for a fee or free.

Even charities that don't have the resources to run a stall can benefit through initiatives such as the Workers Beer Company. The company runs bars at festivals, including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, to benefit charity - staff get free entry and accommodation in exchange for donating their wages to charity.

At the Glastonbury press office, Jason Holmes is keen to emphasise that festivals offer charities the chance to raise their profiles as well as money. The best example is Make Poverty History's Glastonbury 2005 campaign, which culminated in getting the entire crowd to hold hands in support of the campaign - something that attracted plenty of media coverage. "Festival goers have time to spare, money in their pockets and are often fanatical about changing the world," says Holmes. "There are plenty of opportunities for charities."

As in previous years, Glastonbury's main charities this year were Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid. The three provided volunteer stewards, dug latrines, gave out water and created a green area with organic cafes and solar-assisted showers.

Last year, WaterAid received a donation of £120,000 from Glastonbury organiser Michael Eavis and another £20,000 from festival goers; Greenpeace expects to receive about £250,000 this year. Oxfam's main stall was at one point taking £5,000 a hour selling wellingtons, coats and blankets brought in from its shop network - despite having been a foot under water during a storm.

With young people showing a more negative attitude towards asylum seekers than other groups in society, the Refugee Council used Glastonbury to launch its Don't Believe the Type campaign to tackle misconceptions about asylum seekers. And the RNID's Don't Lose the Music campaign, which warns young people about hearing loss, gave out free disposable earplugs and demonstrated British Sign Language phrases such as "do you want a drink?" to "see you back at the tent". This year, the charity is also visiting Leeds, Reading and the T in the Park event.

Glastonbury also shows the way for smaller causes - not least when the festival needs positive relations with its neighbours. Festival organisers have contributed toward the renovation of a nearby working men's club, tithe barn and parish hall, and plan to build up to a dozen low-cost homes for local people unable to afford the area's house prices.

Having raised about £1m for charity in 2004, and probably more this year - including profits from the thousands of Sunday tickets sold to local residents that will go to the Asian tsunami recovery appeal - Glastonbury is taking one of its regular breaks next year before coming back in 2007.

However, charities interested in Glastonbury should get in touch with the festival office in 2006, because stall space usually sells out by October, warns Holmes. He feels the results of engaging with festivals are well worth the effort: "Loads of grass-roots campaigns and charities have benefited from Glastonbury over the years - it's a great party and it does a lot of good."

CASE STUDY - Keep on trucking

African Charity Drive is a small-scale appeal that has just become a UK charity, focused on directly delivering aid to meet medical needs in Africa. It is using summer festivals to reach new audiences and engage their interest.

With support from individual donors and commercial sponsors including SatWeb and Aquarius Railroad Technologies, ACD plans to drive several trucks to Africa to donate medical supplies, equipment and vehicles to a hospital.

One of its trustees, Duncan Sweet, says this year's Glastonbury was the charity's first festival experience - its bright yellow Bedford lorry could be found at the entrance to the Lost Vagueness area of the site.

"We attended the Glastonbury festival in an effort to raise awareness of our work with a hospital in Banjul, in The Gambia," says Sweet. "It wasn't as successful as we had hoped because of a lack of funding and proper preparation, and too few volunteers.

"We feel the relaxed atmosphere of a festival or gathering will give people a chance to stop and ask themselves some important questions concerning the world outside their own reality. We would also like to give people the chance to get involved with African Charity Drive beyond the scope of a donation."

Sweet says the organisation still plans to attend other festivals: "I hope we will be able to take the truck to some specialist military and vehicle events, such as the War & Peace Show in July and the Bedford Gathering at the end of August." So how does the ACD plan to overcome the problems it encountered at Glastonbury?

"My guess is that forethought, planning and preparation are key issues," says Sweet, "as well as the ever-present need for motivated and reliable volunteers working in a co-ordinated and focused manner. It's all a bit idealistic, I know - but holding this sort of goal as the prime objective seems paramount."

www.africancharitydrive.org

GETTING THE BEST FROM SUMMER FESTIVALS

1. Start with in-house research - Festivals offer the opportunity to reach an audience that, compared with the general public, is younger, better educated and, in the long term, will boast a greater disposable income. Are festival goers your target market, or should they be?

2. Consider what your charity has to offer - Is your mission relevant (WaterAid digs latrines at Glastonbury, for example)? Can you offer useful advice, products or services (for instance, RNID offers music fans ear plugs)? Do you have creative ways of involving the crowds?

3. Audit your charity's resources - Do you have enough planning time, money (even charities get charged for stalls), staff and volunteers (festivals may be busy 24 hours a day), equipment (tents, phones, laptops, display stands), materials and experience? Do you know a charity with festival experience that could advise you?

4. Be prepared for problems - Is your charity fully insured for festivals? You should consider all eventualities, from property loss and event cancellation to public liability. Who among your staff has first aid skills and is keen on camping? Do you have proper back-up in case of illness, accident or volunteer no-show? What on-site security will be available for your stand and its stock?

5. Check your options - With so many festivals taking place, you have a choice of events. Which would be the best fit in terms of audience demographic, income, interests and how they fit what your charity could offer?

6. Plan and recce - For Glastonbury or one of the other big festivals, an application for a stall might need to be sent in months ahead of time - if you want to suggest something unusual or innovative, probably earlier. Also, this is one time being next to the toilets might just pay off with a captive audience.

7. Grab their attention - It's all about attracting passing trade. A crowd attracts a crowd, so plan how your stand, show or double-decker bus will create activity, make noise (if allowed), give away freebies, sell must-have items (which might mean a bigger fee) and stand out from other distractions.

8. Grab their data - A big on-site hit that collects no names, numbers or emails is no success, so how will you get their details? Will your stand have power for laptops? Can you get people to text message on the spot? Or will you have paper forms?

9. Do an event post mortem - Be honest in evaluation about what worked, what didn't and what can be fixed for the future, including true income and expenditure. And find ways to add real numbers rather than anecdotal excuses such as "we had a lot of interest". How well did your speakers and attractions go down with the media?

10. Finally, don't forget your ... mobiles and spare batteries, contacts lists, earplugs, sun-tan lotion, spare loo rolls, torches, blankets and that absolutely vital item - wellies.

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