Getting involved at Festivals – an interview with Tom Parkinson

By: Emily Maybanks

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work at some of the biggest music festivals in the UK? Ahead of BBC’s Biggest Weekend event in Swansea next month, I caught up with Tom Parkinson from Festival Republic, who are responsible for staffing a number of festivals each summer.

Tom has worked for Festival Republic for 12 years, starting shortly after his first year in University as a volunteer. He worked during the summer months almost every year and is now has a permanent job as Ticketing Assistant. “My job is to staff the entrance operation to get everyone in and out of the festival safely,” says Tom.



You’re currently recruiting staff for BBC Biggest Weekend in Swansea – how do you think this event will compare to other festivals?
BBC Music’s Biggest Weekend will take place on four sites, in four nations, across four days. Belfast, Coventry, Perth and Swansea are the four UK cities that will host the event on the last May bank holiday weekend. Festival Republic has collaborated with the BBC on other shows but these concerts are going to be off the scale with the biggest selection of bands available over one weekend! Singleton Park is right in the heart of the student community in Swansea and will host a great party to get the festival season kicked off early and a chance for students to let their hair down straight after their exams! With 2 single days and 2 main stages it proves to be a jam packed, busy weekend of huge names squeezed into one show! It’s already SOLD OUT, so if you want to get involved, get in touch!

Can you explain how working at a festival with the Festival Republic Ticketing Team works? (i.e., the application process; getting offers; and arriving at the festival etc.)
We have a database of interested people who opt in to work at our events every year as it suits them. Once you are on the database you will be kept posted about any work we have on our site teams and you can apply to any number of our shows throughout the season for that year. Following completion of the documentation and getting approval to work we’ll see you on site where you’ll be provided with the training necessary to carry out your role. Our staff enjoy the best of the fun, always meet new friends, and often come back year after year.

What roles are available at festivals with Festival Republic?
There are loads of different roles available across the festival but my team recruit staff to work on the gates and entrances. The roles include working as ticket scanners or wristbanding staff. We also provide a full audit of our operation so we often need people to help with reconciliation.  But our main job is welcoming those happy buzzing people get into the show they’ve been excited about for months and making sure everyone’s in safely and efficiently as possible. It’s a very rewarding job and best of all, the hard work is often done before the main show even starts so you get to still enjoy the bands and all the fun after your scheduled hours are finished!

Which festivals are available? Does this change each year?
Every year we have new shows joining our roster and sometimes additional shows are confirmed mid-season and we operate one-off events too. This year’s festivals and concerts include: Download, Reading, Leeds, BBC Biggest Weekend, Wireless, Electric Picnic, Community, Latitude, Longitude, BBC Proms in the Park, Rize Festival, Liam Gallagher (Finsbury Park), Queens of the Stone Age (Finsbury Park)…

There are so many festivals to choose from across the country and lots of fun to be had!

What skills can be gained/developed through working at festivals?
Lots of our staff originally come for a fun time and gain many new skills interacting with customers, operating in a role with real responsibility and often taking the chances to progress to more senior roles year after year. We have lots to do on site and the job can be demanding, time-sensitive, fast-paced and very important – it’s a chance to be a part of a supportive team and develop both personally and professionally. But every year our staff tell me how much fun they have at work and having the festival to go to afterwards is a massive bonus!

What are the additional benefits of working at festivals?
The obvious benefit – we work at some of the best events in the world! When the work is done, let’s go and see a band, have a beer and dance to some great music! And it’s great experience to add to your CV.  Working in the summer holidays can give you an edge over others who don’t. The less obvious – our entrance teams are great people. Outgoing, happy, fascinating folk and you can make friends for life working at a festival.  You might only see them a few times a year but you’ll pick up right back where you left off from the previous season – there’s a brilliant atmosphere and everyone looks out for each other.

Would you say that working at festivals can lead to a full-time career in the industry (if so, how?)
The jobs we recruit for are only a small section of the huge operation that goes into making these shows happen. By being involved on any level you can meet people and build a network of contacts. I know many people who have developed careers in and around the music industry from initially volunteering with the ticketing team on festival sites. I am one of those people and this is now my full-time job.

What are the advantages of returning to work with Festival Republic each year?
We reward our returning staff in various ways. Everyone pays a refundable security deposit for the season to work and after your first successful year on the team that is heavily reduced to reflect our ‘trust’ in a returning staff member. Many people take on more senior roles if we see potential and know they are interested and this leads to paid roles and a wider breadth of experience. But I think many of our regular staff would say that they return again and again because of the people.

Silent Disco at Reading Festival

What have been the highlights of your career with Festival Republic so far? What’s your favourite festival to return to?
I’ve had many great highlights… My most memorable show was working at Hove Festivalen in Norway in 2014 where the sun would only set between 1am and 3am and then it would be perpetual daylight. An amazing festival venue on an island surrounded by a pine forest and secret beaches. Seeing Stevie Wonder play at Glastonbury or Red Hot Chilli Peppers at Reading. Silent disco with 30 other staff members on the Sunday night after Reading dancing our socks off! Reading Festival is my favourite festival to return to because of the great teams we have every year, working beyond all expectations, and the celebration at the end of the show with a nice cold beer and some great friends who I only see once a year.

What are you most looking forward to about BBC Biggest Weekend (and Swansea in general?)
This is set to be a really exciting new show for everyone. The weekend will be busy for me but hopefully I’ll be able to see an act or two on stage too. I’ve never been to Swansea so either way, I’m looking forward to checking out the city and having an early summer dip in the Swansea Bay sea!

GET INVOLVED: Do you want to get involved and work with a great team? Just drop Tom an email titled “Swansea Student Bio” and he’ll get back to you with application details. Email him at: tparkinson@festivalrepublic.com 

To work with Festival Republic this summer, including BBC’s Biggest Weekend in Swansea, email tparkinson@festivalrepublic.com

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