A festival site can switch from being a green field utopia to hellish mud bath within hours if bad weather hits. Fortunately, the industry has a wealth of experienced infrastructure suppliers dedicated to making things run as smoothly as possible, come rain or shine. Christopher Barrett reports
The festival market has exploded over the past two decades, but it is not just the number of events and attendees that have grown exponentially, so have festival-goers expectations.
From food, beverages and accommodation to toilets and campsites, festival attendees now expect a standard of facilities that were only available to a select few until relatively recently.
Boutique camping and VIP packages are now major revenue steams for festival operators, and it is not only decent amenities that attendees are interested in, they also expect overall entertainment to be at a similarly high level.
As a result festivals are hosting increasingly complex productions that require additional staff, equipment and power.
With festivals often having the equivalent of the population of a small town or village onsite, keeping them safe and secure is the first priority.
As well as controlling access to a site, fencing and barriers play a key role in crowd safety.
Since its launch in 2004, Kent-based Enteree has grown to become a leading temporary infrastructure supplier, providing fencing, barriers and trackway.
It works with more than 60 festivals per year and has supplied events including BoomTown Fair (cap, 60,000), Creamfields (60,000), Reading (90,000), All Points East (40,000) and Download (85,000).
Among the array of products on offer are four types of steel fencing including 3.4m high, heavy duty, security fencing, Heras fencing and Smart Shield; a more attractive option clad in wood panelling.
“Entertee also has a crew division so we can offer services such as ingress and egress management, along with the infrastructure required for these elements,” says client services manager Liz Gillies.
Entertee has seen an increase in demand for solid steel fencing from festivals in the last few years.
“While some of the increase can be attributed to the fact there are new festivals being launched year-on-year, a major factor is that a significant percentage of the festivals, especially those taking place in city-based locations, are ramping up security, as a result of attacks on the public such as those seen at Manchester Arena in 2017 and on London Bridge,” says Gilllies.
Aside from the nightmare of a terrorist attack, unpredictable weather has long been one of the eventualities most feared by operators. Inclement weather has been the death knell for several events.
Having seen the damage poor weather conditions caused festivals in 2017, Enteree designed Ali-Mat, a trackway product that can be swiftly deployed in challenging weather conditions.
“Being delivered in stillages, requiring no specialised equipment or crew for install, the product can be laid to help get people on or off-site, when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to – one of the main reasons that festivals are cancelled during the bad weather,” says Gilllies.
Attention to detail
Based in Dorset, Capital Barriers & Temporary Fencing specialises in the supply and installation of crowd control and temporary fencing solutions.
Among its clients is The Big Feastival (20,000), which takes place on Blur-member Alex James’s farm in the Cotswolds.
Much of the company’s work involves supplying products for hospitality and VIP areas, including rope and chrome posts, picket fencing, and flooring products such as wooden decking.
“We are seeing an increasing focus at festivals on dressing these areas attractively,” says director Gary Wakefield. “We supply the niceties for those areas, the added extras that improve the ambiance and facilities for the guests.”
When it comes to ensuring things run smoothly onsite, Wakefield says nothing beats a personal touch.
“We don’t overcook, we won’t book three festivals per weekend, because we want to be there for the events and make sure everything runs smoothly,” he says. “I will be on hand at each event most of the time.”
Launched in 1946 by Bill Search, Leeds-based William G Search provides infrastructure products including temporary buildings that are used as anything from production offices and box offices to artiste dressing rooms.
It also supplies golf buggies, toilet and shower units, drinking tap boards and waste tanks to more than half a dozen festival clients, including BBC One Big Weekend (50,000), Download, Wireless (49,000), Latitude (35,000), Bluedot (21,000), Reading, Leeds (80,000) and Creamfields.
Events manager Charlie Lister says the company has more than 25 years of experience working with festivals and, as a result, its staff have detailed knowledge of the various event and their requirements.
“Weather is without question the biggest challenge when working on festivals, that and logistics as some events overlap,” he says. “Getting suitable staff with the right mindset and work ethic is also not easy.”
Power to the people
One of the world’s largest temporary power suppliers, Aggreko delivers rental power, temperature control and compressed air systems to more than 3,000 events per year, including Glastonbury (147,000) and Download.
It not only supplies diesel generators to power the lights and sound requirements of festival stages, but also a power solutions across an event’s entire site.
Headquartered in Scotland, the company’s offering includes transformers, load banks, fuel tanks, electrical distribution equipment, cables and an array of accessories.
Aggreko communications manager David Palmer says the company is seeing increasing demand from festival organisers for renewable energy solutions.
The company has supplied power, heating and cooling systems to Glastonbury since 2007 and began providing the event with bio-diesel generators two years later. In 2019 several areas of the 900-acre site were powered by hybrid thermal-solar generators, combined with battery storage systems.
“More festivals are looking to provide power in an environmentally sustainable way, but you have to balance that with the need to have a robust power source where it is most critical, such as a headline act, but we are moving in that direction,” says Palmer.
Festival Gas has supplied some of the UK’s biggest festivals for more than two decades, with clients that include Glastonbury, Latitude, Reading and Download.
“We work on more than 60 events between May and September each year, it is a very short and full window, when we are horrendously busy,” says Festival Gas founder Simon Beale. “Providing the gas supply for events on greenfield sites is not easy. We have a team on-site 24 hours a day delivering and clearing cylinders, and topping up supplies.”
The Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) supplied by the company is used for purposes such as heating systems for medical tents, backstage facilities and showers and powering anything from catering services to on-stage pyrotechnics.
“The biggest changes we have seen in recent years is the growth of boutique camping areas with their own bars, restaurant, and even their own stages. The demand for gas on the pyrotechnic side has also grown considerably; Boomtown Fair has 14 stages with pyrotechnics attached to all of them,” says Beale.
With many leasing festival organisers looking to reduce the environmental impact of their events, Beale says he is pleased to be able to begin offering them a new product this year.
“It is a carbon-free gas made from waste residues and sustainable source materials called Biogas. We are going to try and launch Biogas in the Arcadia area at Glastonbury this year,” he says.
GT Trax is another operator doing its best to minimise its environmental impact. Formed in early 2005, by Graham Crisp and Trevor Tinker, the Huntingdon-based company provides temporary roadway and walkways, flooring, barriers, seating and StarShade marquees that can accommodate up to 180 people.
The company usually works with around 20 festivals, with clients including Glastonbury and Green Man (15,000).
“We are usually the first on site and the last to leave,” says Crisp. “We always try to ensure that our roadways and walkways are installed and ready to accept vehicles and foot traffic before the main infrastructure arrives.”
All of its flooring is manufactured from recycled plastic and is itself recyclable. After an event, GT Trax cleans its floor panels with rainwater, harvested by its own water capture system.
“Once a panel is deemed unfit for further use it is stockpiled with other damaged panels at our depot,” says crisp. “When a suitable volume has been compiled to allow for economic transport, the panels are shipped to our manufacturer in the Netherlands or to a UK-based plastic recycling firm, where they are broken down and introduced into the manufacturing process as a constituent material. In this way we have achieved zero waste in our primary waste stream.”
Drinking it in
Keeping the populations of these pop-up towns hydrated is another vital task and among leading water supply operators is Wincanton, which works with festivals including Glastonbury, Latitude and Leeds.
Having started out transporting milk in 1925, Wincanton maintains a fleet of more than 700 tankers and offers a range of water supply options, including large static tanks ranging in capacity from 1,000 to 28,000 litres.
The responsibility doesn’t end with the water’s arrival on site. Once the supply has been set-up, Wincanton’s team will then monitor and replenish the supply.
“We carry out regular workforce training to meet the technological advances in water quality sampling, the requirements of individual water companies or customer requests,” says Keith Lawrence, general manager of food services specialist solutions.
The bottom line
With three decades of experience in the portable toilet hire business, Andy Loos works with more than 100 festivals and events, including Glastonbury.
Acknowledging that poor toilets conditions are a festival-goer’s biggest nightmare, Andy Loos events sales manager Michelle Coles says the company works hard to ensure its facilities are of a high quality and well maintained.
Surprisingly perhaps, Andy Loos does not find it hard to recruit staff to keep the facilities clean, bur Coles says it can be a challenge to get festivals to agree to the number of service staff required to maintain a high level of cleanliness.
She says festival attendees have also become much more demanding when it comes to WC facilities.
“That isn’t a bad thing,” she says. “Festival toilets have had a bad reputation for too long, the festival industry is growing and we need to match the customers demands.”
She says it has become increasingly common for large festivals to hire more luxurious facilities such as portable shower units and vacuum toilet systems for VIP areas.
“It helps festivals bring in alternative revenue through higher paying customers and broadens the festival’s appeal to new types of customer,” says Coles.
Another WC supplier is Loos For Dos, which works with events including Portsmouth’s 90,000-capacity Victorious Festival.
While agreeing the expectations of festival-goers have risen in recent years, Loos For Dos director Ed Warner says that people usually simply want a clean, well-stocked loo that they haven’t had to queue for hours for.
As with all festival infrastructure suppliers, Loos For Do’s Ed Warner says the biggest challenges are poor weather and site conditions.
“We have had a number of years when there has been waterlogged sites and that obviously slows down installs and derigs, which ramps up the pressure on our teams.”