As music fans head to festivals this summer, Samaritans have set up camp in their usual spots, in the middle of the revelling masses.
Samaritans' Festival branch: a day in the life
Samaritans’ Festival branch volunteers have been going to outdoor events since the 1970s, offering emotional support to thousands. Here volunteers Janet and Marion describe a typical day at Samaritans' Festival branch.
Janet: Between 6 and 9am, we talk to a lot of people who haven't gone to bed or who are waking up and coming over if they’ve had a bad night. We get some sleepy ones, but some who can be really animated or agitated too. As with any Samaritans branch, we will always give a warm welcome to people who want to come and talk to us. We complement the welfare offer at festivals, and very often staff from the festival’s Welfare Team will direct people to us who need emotional rather than physical first aid.
Marion: “By 10am people who haven’t had too heavy a night are up and about, and the site really begins to come alive. Then the shift changes, fresh volunteers arrive while others head back to our camp to rest.
From 11am to midday, people start to head towards the bands, we get a big ebb and flow of people. Our tent is very visible and it’s a great opportunity to promote what we do – not everyone is looking for support, many at that time of the day are just curious about who we are and what we do.
Janet: Throughout the day, we get busier and busier. The image of a festival is that you’re going to have a great time, non-stop, but that’s not always the reality, especially if you’ve had a lot going on at home. You hope things will be better, that this will be the panacea. But for many, they don’t leave it at home, they can’t leave it at home, so they take it with them. And sometimes the people they’re with will understand and encourage them to talk, but we see a lot of need. People have so much going on in their lives.
We get a lot of people coming to talk to us, especially at festivals with younger crowds like Reading-Leeds. I remember one group of lads who all seemed happy because they’d got their exam results but one person hadn’t achieved what his parents had hoped and he was really down about it.
He stayed and talked to us for a long time without his friends and they came back for him and were really sympathetic, encouraging him to talk about it and deal with it. If we hadn’t been at that festival, that may not have happened - he wouldn’t have had the support from us and he may not have had the support from them. And you can see them learning from each other and encouraging each other to talk about their feelings. That can only be a good thing.
Marion: And it’s not just the fans that we speak to, it’s also traders and others like the people doing security.
Janet: There are so many people whose livelihoods depend on the success of festivals. If it’s a bad weather event, the takings can be really down, and because they’ve invested so much to come here, that can have an enormous impact, that threat, that stress.
Marion: Into the evening, as the music gets louder and the bands and the crowds get bigger, everything becomes much more vibrant and there’s much more of a buzz about. We’re really busy again. Some people just find us in the throng – they didn’t know we were here but they end up stopping and staying and wanting to talk.
The atmosphere at festivals, the friendliness, allows people to open up that little bit more, and can help us with what we do. That can be true of men in particular. They may not meet in the street and kiss and hug, unless their football team has won or something, but here they feel they can. Often they’ll come up and say, ‘All I really want is a hug’, and not just the young lads, men and women of all ages.
Janet: From sun down to sun up, it’s party time, that’s the really crazy time, and that’s when we start to get people affected by drugs and alcohol. The melancholy sets in and in the early hours, as people are coming down, a lot of things can become an issue and people want to open up. We have a lot more volunteers on from 10pm to 2am, that’s our busiest time.
Very often you’ll get a group that come in together to talk and we’ll look to see the make-up of the group and perhaps notice someone on the edge, who maybe isn’t talking. We’ll give them an opportunity to talk and they’ll open up - something they wouldn’t have felt able to do in earshot of the whole group. Our training makes us really alert to who it is that really needs the emotional support.
Marion: By 6am, you’ll have people coming off shift and then of course, we have people starting. There is no day or night with Festival Branch!
Janet: Often, we get people coming back more than once at a festival. Sometimes it’s simply to say thank you - “If you hadn’t been here last night, I don’t know what I’d have done.”