WHY DO I NEED A WELFARE SERVICE AT MY FESTIVAL? WHAT CAN IT DO FOR ME AS AN EVENT PROMOTER?
As festivals and similar events have grown; developed; and, largely, become more professional over the years then having a professional, on-site Welfare team has come to be recognised for the essential service that it is: every bit as essential as having stewards and a medical service.
All too frequently we hear promoters say, ‘We don’t need a service like yours at our event!’ We feel this is incredibly short-sighted and probably a result of organisers not being entirely clear about what it is exactly we do.
Broadly speaking, the role of Welfare is to offer emotional and practical support to those attending the event. This can also include your staff. It has been the experience of N.E.W.S. over the last 20 years that whether the event is large, like Reading Festival; small, like Shakedown; a family-orientated event; or a non-camping dance event, like Evolution; then up to 5% of YOUR customers WILL need some source of support and of them up to 5% will need very intensive support indeed – more on that later. This might only appear to be comparatively small numbers, but you, as promoter and licensee, have a legal duty of care especially to the under 18s, vulnerable adults and those that have found themselves made vulnerable at the event. And for even small numbers, the consequences of a gap in provision can be severe.
The simple truth is that no-one can predict what will happen at an event or where emotional or practical support will be needed, however with over 20 years’ experience, N.E.W.S. will risk assess and attempt to cover all the bases. Yes, it may be the inexperienced festival-goer who finds themselves in a predicament more often, but not always; and don’t expect that to be only younger people: we cater for all ages. People in distress can get irate very quickly and situations can soon escalate resulting in a big headache for the promoter. Stewards, security, medics, even local police can get dragged into something relatively minor.
Welfare provides an advocacy bridge in such situations, calming and resolving such issues where possible. We are also in a position to negotiate with the local statutory agencies when necessary as our staff are qualified and experienced in such matters.
We also act as an on-the-ground monitor for the festival and feedback with potential problems BEFORE they become critical. We will also supply you with a comprehensive de-briefing report after the event to help you plan for your next one.
So to say you don’t need a Welfare service is a bit like saying: ‘We’ve never had a fire at our event! We don’t need fire stewards and extinguishers!’
Professional events hire professional crew. Let’s look a little bit more at what we can do:
Monitored rest & recovery area for patients from the medical tent who are deemed ‘medically fit’, but not yet able to return to their tent or go home ALSO festival-goers who self-refer for this kind of help. This could be due to an existing medical problem (physical or mental), substance use (including alcohol) or a combination. This is referred to in social and psychological statutory agencies as ‘complex needs’. N.E.W.S. always has staff experienced in this kind of work present. We will help get people home where necessary.
Harm minimisation advice and support. N.E.W.S. takes a proactive role in substance use awareness (including alcohol) and follows current Home Office and NICE guidelines. Advice around New Psychoactive Substances (formerly ‘Legal Highs’) and N2O.
Safer sex guidance and advice; often free condoms
Active listening & support for concerns such as abuse, self-harm, gender & sexuality issues, relationship problems. Festivals can be an intense experience and sometimes people find these issues come up.
A safe place* to disclose any crime or assault that has happened on-site, whether physical, psychological or sexual, by a festival-goer or festival staff. Advocacy & liaison as appropriate. Emotional support throughout. This is for all ages and genders.
Somewhere safe to stay when a tent is lost, damaged or stolen; equally when someone has quarrelled with their camping buddies.
Somewhere to get warm & dry. It can be really cold on festival sites, especially for the unprepared and/or intoxicated. Hypothermia is a serious condition that can be prevented in good time. Promoters MUST supply appropriate space heating as part of good infrastructure practice.
Assistance cancelling phones, cards etc after loss or theft and help; where possible, arranging replacements and safe transport home. Emotional support in this process.
Sun cream and menstrual sanitary protection – for when nature takes us by surprise in whatever way.
Disability support. You have a legal responsibility under the Equality Act (2010).
Staff support. Your staff too might find the festival experience difficult at times and could potentially have difficult situations to deal with. N.E.W.S. Senior Co-ordinator has many years’ experience as an occupational support counsellor and qualified in Critical Incident De-briefing.
The care of Lost Children/Vulnerable Adults. Good Safeguarding practice MUST be adhered to as part of your licensing conditions. All N.E.W.S. staff involved in this area have a clear, advanced level Disclosure and Barring Service check (formerly CRB) at the very minimum and are closely supervised. N.E.W.S. has a separate policy available for inspection on request. On and off-site liaison.
Finally, simply someone to talk to; a place to rest and chill out for a bit. This could be a one-off visit or befriending someone throughout the event. People do come to festivals on their own and find it an over-whelming experience or perhaps they lose or quarrel with their partners or friends.
N.E.W.S. staff are recruited from such professions as counsellors, substance use workers, residential care workers, youth workers, police & youth offending teams, general & psychiatric nurses, child care workers, social workers. All receive a full printed guide before the event; receive a full briefing on-site and are supervised by the Senior Co-ordinator and her Deputies. Current HSE law is followed and staff are briefed on relevant areas.
The welfare service will never be used to promote religious or party political agenda.
*While we are not a statutory designated ‘place of safety’+ we do provide a ‘safe place’ and will liaise with statutory agencies on and off site as required by law and by good Safeguarding practice.
+Mental Health Act 1983 amended 2007; Mental Health Act 1983 Code of Practice 2008; Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1985 (PACE)
© Corinne Lane, National Event Welfare Service, 28/4/2015
One year, an 18 year woman came to see us at about 2.30 am. It was cold and had begun to rain. She was wearing just shorts and a t-shirt. She was a bit afraid to talk to us at first, but the stewards had reassured her we would help. We gave her a cup of tea and the loan of blanket to warm up near the heater. It turned out that she was upset because her boyfriend had not replied to any of her texts for a couple of hours and her friends with her had been drinking heavily and were acting ‘like idiots’. She was very tearful at times. We were able to reassure her that sometimes it does take a while for texts to get through on festival sites and loaned her a phone to call him directly. This cheered her up. She then started talking more about her friends. She was worried that they might have made themselves very unwell and were talking to strangers. We were able to arrange to go back to her camp with her and the stewards and make sure all was well. Next morning, they all came back to say thank you and regularly said ‘hi’ as they were passing. Be-friending is an essential part of our service.
One afternoon, the medical team brought in ‘Josh’*. He had been standing near the stage and someone had given him a pill that would ‘make him giggle for a bit’. Josh had tried N2O & cannabis before and was expecting to feel something like that. He had no idea what it was he had taken. Josh was very afraid, hallucinating and paranoid. He kept seeing things crawling up the walls. We cared for Josh for 8 hours in that distressed state until eventually the effects had worn off and we could talk to him about what he wanted to do. Josh did not want to stay at the festival and we arranged for his mum to come and collect him, while offering some information and reassurance for her also.
‘Aleena’* had come to her first festival since having mental health problems the previous year. She had been well and stable lately. She and her friends had very sensibly checked in with us and medical on arrival and let us know where they were camping. We praised them for having this foresight and for showing such care for Aleena. We reminded Aleena that she could come to us at any time if she wanted to talk or chill out. Unfortunately, the size of the event and crowds became too overwhelming for Aleena and she ran off from her friends saying she wanted to hurt herself. Her friends ran to us to tell us and, because she was now considered to be ‘vulnerable’, we were able to contact all site services and local Police. Aleena was soon found wandering alone, confused and distressed. With the support of the site medical team, we offered a co-ordinated approach to get Aleena to hospital and support her friends who stayed at the festival.
3 young men in their mid-20s were brought to us one night in a Security Landover. They were all heavily intoxicated. They were also totally naked and covered completely in mud. Clearly we were concerned that they were at risk of hypothermia as it was now the middle of the night. We helped them clean themselves up and gave them some clothes to wear and some water. One of them needed to vomit frequently. They stayed overnight and then we helped them back to where they were camping – after popping into medical for something for the headaches.
A one day dance event. A man in his late 30s comes to talk to us. We notice from his behaviour that he seems quite ‘wired’. He doesn’t say very much and soon wanders off, however we make a note amongst ourselves to watch out for him. He returns a couple of hours later saying we seem ‘alright’ and then opens up about his regular use of amphetamine and cocaine. He also discloses he has been diagnosed with a personality disorder (dual diagnosis). We offer what harm minimisation advice is appropriate in the situation and signpost support services in his locality. He becomes a regular visitor throughout the event as he had come on his own. He kept thinking people were following him, so it felt safe to come and sit in Welfare where he knew he was not being judged and it was confidential.
‘Brian’* was brought to see us at a 3 day rock orientated festival with camping, which he was attending with his teenage son. Brian was middle aged and had been drinking very heavily. He was extremely angry; shouting and abusive. Security were concerned by his behaviour and the safety risk to his son and others: if he would not calm down then he would be evicted. It took some time, but eventually we discovered he had been having problems in his campsite and with ticket collection. By taking his feedback for the organisers and by resolving the issues with camping, we were able to calm things down and Brian and his son stayed to enjoy the gig.
* All names have been changed to protect client confidentiality.