Support groups and organisations from Reading & Leeds festival have spoken to NME about the help they’ll be offering on site this year, and how fans can access it.
Returning this weekend, the twin-site festival will see headline performances from Billie Eilish, The Killers, Sam Fender, Imagine Dragons, Foals and The 1975 – with the likes of Loyle Carner, Central Cee, Wet Leg, Inhaler, Holly Humberstone, Arlo Parks, Rina Sawayama, Becky Hill and many more also appearing. Check out the full line-up and stage times here.
With R&L being a first-time festival for many revellers, some may be feeling overwhelmed at concerned at the idea of being among such a huge crowd for a few days. There are a number of support groups to help punters across both sites – with some offering advice on sexual assault, some with health and lost property, while others are a simply a safe haven away from the bustle and noise. NME caught up with three of the groups to discuss the services they provide and how to get involved.
SAFE GIGS FOR WOMEN – READING & LEEDS
Mel Kelly, director:
“The main thing we do at festivals is speak to people about how to keep themselves and others safe in crowds. In particular, if you see someone experiencing what appears to be sexual assault or sexual harassment, but also generally how to look after each other. We do that by teaching active by-standing.
“We give people concrete strategies on what to do. We talk about the four Ds. One of those is distraction. My big trick is to go up to someone and speak to the person who’s having the problem – never the person who’s causing the problem. I might go up to them and say, ‘Here’s this tampon you wanted earlier, I see that the line for the loos is short, do you want to go?’ That gives them the opportunity to get out of the situation quite safely. They could say, ‘I’ve never met you before, who are you?’ In which case I’m embarrassed, but that’s fine.”
“The other thing we teach is delegation. One of my very good friends is a musician and he’s almost six foot five. He doesn’t want to walk over to a situation like that because he thinks it could just end in aggression. He might get his much smaller girlfriend to go over and employ the same strategy: ‘Oh goodness, didn’t we go to school together? You should come away’.
“Another is a direct intervention, which we don’t necessarily advocate for at a busy festival like Reading & Leeds, but if the situation warrants, ‘What are you doing?’ That kind of thing.
“Finally if you’ve heard about it second-hand and there’s been a delay – the final D – you do what you can, help document the situation, help them take pictures or get to a welfare tent.
“This is what we try to teach people who come and chat to us. In previous years we put temporary tattoos on people, which means they need to stand still for at least a minute. We would be able to use that as teaching time.
“It’s been really good in 2023. This has been a really big year for us. We’ve been to most of Festival Republic’s major festivals and some really great independent ones like 2000Trees and ArcTanGent. We’ve done more festivals this year than ever and the reception has been great. We find that the younger side of people who attend might have felt like they’d previously been let out of a cafe after COVID, and now there’s a calming down that maybe wasn’t there in 2021 or 2022.
“We get our share of people who come and want to discuss why we exist, and that’s OK too – we accept that. We’re there to give you some strategies to look after your friends, but even if you don’t get a chance to come and talk to us, look after each other. Make sure you know where your friends are, stay in your friendship group and if someone goes missing then make an effort to find them. Don’t leave your friends behind.”
Visit here for more information on Safe Gigs For Women.
READING STREET PASTORS
Sally Leonard, co-ordinator:
“We have two tents in the Orange and Brown campsites, open right the way through to Monday morning. We’re basically a chill-out space with sofas, tables, chairs and the best hot chocolate on-site. We’re there to listen to people and be there as a friendly face. If people become overwhelmed then they can just come and chill out with us.
“We invite people to come any time. We’re there for everybody, even the staff. The thing about festivals is that there often isn’t anywhere to just sit down and be away from everything. It’s really good for young people to just be able to come and do that.
“We’ve been at Reading since 2012 and we always get an amazing reaction. The public and parents always say, ‘Thank goodness that you are there – we feel so much safer’. We’re a caring, listening and helping service. Not only are we in the tent, but we’re also patrolling the campsites from Thursday. We’re helping people to put up tents and signposting them to the right places, and it’s very much just about caring for everybody.
— ReadingStreetPastors (@StreetPastorsRG) August 22, 2023
“It can be very overwhelming for people at festivals. Particularly since COVID, we’ve seen a lot of anxious young people. In 2021 we had one person who’d come on the Wednesday and had a panic attack so we had to call her parents to pick her up.
“It’s a fantastic festival and Festival Republic are really good at keeping young people safe. I’m part of the safeguarding group who meet every day to discuss what’s gone in the past 24 hours. People will make bad decisions and there be bad outcomes, but Festival Republic work hard to try and keep everyone safe. That’s why we’re all there.”
Visit here for more information on Reading Street Pastors.
FESTIVAL ANGELS – LEEDS
Paul Blakey – founder:
“We started at Leeds in 2011, when there was a 79-year-old lady who lived in the village next to Bramham Park who wanted to do something. She got 12 of her friends together, Melvin Benn agreed to have a marquee, it snowballed from there and now we have 205 volunteers.
“One of the most popular things we do is sell mugs for £7, that comes with unlimited tea, coffee, hot chocolate, Pot Noodles. We offer a place for young people who don’t need welfare or first aid, but just need that safe place at a festival.
“Also run a lost property tent, returning thousands of items to festival-goers each year. Fans can pre-register their phones, get a sticker, and if people lose their phones and it ends up in the lost property tent then we can reunite the phone and its owner much quicker.”
— Festival Angels (@FestivalAngels) August 24, 2023
“We sell 5,000 mugs and stickers for phones, and we often tend to be the first place that people come to. Our cafe really quickly becomes a community, so people network between themselves and make friends there. Last year a girl traveled all the way from the coast of Scotland, catching five buses just to see Arctic Monkeys – she found her way into our cafe and now she’s a volunteer.”
“We also have detached teams just wondering around the site, keeping an eye on things, helping people put up their tents, carry their luggage, and working with welfare and medical on some of the more serious things that might happen.
“We’re there from people arriving to people leaving. When things go wrong, we’re one of the many groups of people there to pick up the pieces and help. We’re a friendly face and very visible, so people trust us.”
“We always have a good vibe, with music playing and places to sit if you need to escape Leeds’ legendary sunshine. We’ve got colouring in to illustrate inspirational quotes and bible verses. The amount of young people who sit there colouring in when there’s so much music to see is amazing. It’s a creative and thoughtful place for people to relax and connect. People have just got their A Level and GCSE results and might want to meet people and talk about that.
“There’s always a great vibe, and then there’s the joyful atmosphere when people are reunited with their phones and wallets!”
Visit here for more information on Leeds Festival Angels.
Organisers of Reading & Leeds festival spoke of their plans to increase security to “weed out” drug dealers operating at the site. The new measures have been introduced following the death of a teenager at the festival last year, an inquest recently heard.