Reading Festival staff talk tents and drugs after lineup drops

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Concerns about drug tests, tents left behind and protection were all raised in a meeting where a unique insight into how the reading festival was given.

Recently, representatives from Festival Republic, the company that runs the festival, briefed councilors on last year’s event.

The presentation included details on the steps taken to make the festival more sustainable, safer for attendees and how much money it generated for the local economy.

Noel Painting, a representative for Festival Republic, said the company had been involved in “pilot events” for the reintroduction of festivals last year, which were successful enough for the Reading Festival to be given the green light.

READ MORE: A new wave of acts announced for Reading Festival 2022

He said the festival had strong covid procedures, with attendees required to show proof of a negative test before entry.

In terms of economic benefits, the festival generated £64 million in expenditure, with £48 million going to the UK economy and £8.5 million spent in Reading itself.

A whopping 4,650 people work at the festival, but only 500 of them actually live in Reading, according to statistics from Festival Republic.

Reading Festival 2021 Saturday goers

Victoria Chapman highlighted the festival’s efforts to be more sustainable, with the goal of being 100% powered by renewable energy by 2030 – a goal that was mentioned at the COP 26 conference in Glasgow.

No single-use plastics were used by the organizers and festival-goers were encouraged to bring their own water bottles to limit waste.

But concerns have been raised over the number of tents left behind, which was highlighted by aerial photos showing thousands of tents abandoned by revelers.

This is despite a Festival Republic campaign urging people to take their tents home.

Reading column: Tents abandoned by festival-goers on aerial images of the festival site in 2021. Credit: flyskydrones@hotmail.comTents abandoned by festival-goers in aerial images of the festival site in 2021. Credit: [email protected]

Charity partner rescue teams recovered 2,300 tents and 350 sleeping bags.

Councilor Adele Barnett-Ward (Labour, Caversham) said the company had a ‘carrot’ approach to convincing festival-goers to bring their tents home.

“Maybe it’s time to apply the stick,” she commented.

“I wonder what you can do to get people to bring their tents home?”

Victoria Chapman replied that imposing a deposit return if people brought tents back with them would be a huge logistical exercise, adding that a “heavyweight” approach to encouraging tents to be repossessed would not work.

READ MORE: Photos show gigantic size of Reading Festival clean-up task as thousands of tents lie abandoned

Cllr Meri O’Connell (Liberal Democrats, Tilehurst) has raised a concern about the professionalism of security guards due to a report of an incident where security guards escorted 16-year-old boys who had jumped the site gates and had dropped them off in the Oxfordshire countryside rather than somewhere safer.

Mr Painting said: “We had challenges with various teams during the 2021 festival due to covid.

“We struggled to recruit security staff and we had several teams who arrived quite late and while we were looking at the teams there were people who we will definitely no longer employ.

“Once we found out what happened and who was responsible, they stopped working, but I’ll have to check that out.

“I was horrified when I found out and went with it.”

READ MORE: A Coked-up Reading festival-goer punched three security guards

Mr Painting said there had been a drop in in-house drug testing, whereby drugs confiscated from festival-goers are tested for potency and harmful substances.

This method is more restrictive than facade testing, where partygoers themselves go for drug testing for the same reasons.

Councilor Graeme Hoskin said he felt the issue had been “circumvented” in the presentation.

Cllr Hoskin (Labour, Norcot) said: ‘I think the story of young people and drugs shows that children will take drugs at festivals, and what we need to do is deliver the message and the supports that have been put in place.

“Additionally, there is ample evidence that indoor testing can have a significant and major impact on reducing risk and fatalities at festivals.”

He urged Festival Republic to consider indoor testing.

Mr Painting replied that the company was happy to consider and implement it if the board wanted it, but argued that it could give off “a false sense of security”.

Sadly, a 20-year-old woman died in hospital after attending the festival last year, but her cause of death is unknown.

Earlier in the meeting, Mr Painting said a backup group was set up in 2018 to coordinate responses to backup issues between the festival team, Reading Borough Council, South Central Ambulance Service, police of Thames Valley and Brighter Futures for Children.

Reading Chronicle: A group of girls walk along the Thames to the gates, Reading Festival 2021A group of girls walk along the River Thames to the gates, Reading Festival 2021

He added that challenges in 2022 include the loss of the Rivermead car park due to construction work, which usually serves as a park and ride for festival-goers from Reading station to the venue.

The orange door to Wigmore Lane will be reserved for revelers arriving by coach.

The presentation was made during a meeting of the Housing, Neighborhoods and Leisure Committee on Thursday, March 10.

READ MORE: Reading Festival voted ‘Best Festival in the UK’

2021 was the first year the festival had two main stages – with a second main stage replacing the BBC Radio 1 Stage.

The old stage was a large covered tent, and Festival Republic felt it could accommodate more fans by replacing it.

The event was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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