There were notable improvements in the interface between security and the public this year. Specialized Security were the predominant firm on site and overall appeared to be doing a pretty good job. This is particularly worthy of note given that we hadn't been too impressed with Specialized in the past and therefore didn't have high expectations for this year. The fact that they have adopted and are putting into practice a vastly improved attitude toward festival goers makes it worthy of note and provides evidence that this is a firm that are moving forward quite rapidly. If they continue to improve and address a couple of issues for next year we at Safeconcerts would be looking very seriously at giving them an award for excellence.
This year Specialized have shown huge improvement both at Reading and at T in the Park, consistent and continuous changes have brought them very close to excellence and for this year we'd say that there's such an impressive improvement with a professional feel to the services provided that it gives the impression that this is a firm that are serious about changing their image and are succeeding. Well done Specialized, you did a good job, we know it’s not easy but if you could look at a just a couple of issues we'd be able to say you're doing a totally top job, you're so very nearly there.
Elsewhere security was provided by Triangle and Stuart. We are not sure who was dealing with the security for the boat queues but they were excellent, customer care was faultless and they did it with such good humour and kept that queue totally fair, thank you so much for the way you ran this aspect of the festival, utterly professional making what could have been a difficult aspect really easy.
Stewards and Welfare Services
There was a noticeable and welcome improvement in customer care this year. Oxfam stewards were abundant in and around the site keeping an eye out for those that were a bit the worse for wear, and they seemed to be doing a sterling job. There was, as ever, a high volume of folk who had overdone it somewhat and the stewards seemed to be onto it quite responsively they were quick to step in, offer help and generally make sure that people were cared for or taken to somewhere they could recover.
Lots of young people in bright pink tabards were dotted around the site providing information, so if you wanted to know something they were there, visible and in numbers. This is a top addition to the festival that saved many a festival goer from missing out on their favourite band, always approachable and friendly and seemed to know their stuff too. Brilliant job well executed, top marks guys and gals.
Reading welfare point had their usual presence on the site, dispensing help and advice for those who needed it. Through the years these guys have provided an invaluable service to the Reading festival they have many years of experience in dealing with a huge range of issues at festivals and dealing with them well.
There was also a presence from the Samaritans festival branch on site all weekend, another valuable service that added to the overall feeling that Reading festival recognise the need to provide services away from the mainstream able to catch those that might just need them.
Medical services were in evidence and certainly used around the NME/Radio 1 stage, there were more comprehensive services tucked away from the mainstream but still easily accessible including a pharmacy.
Litter pickers worked tirelessly all weekend clearing up the mess that festival goers chuck on the floor, always a puzzle as there were plenty of bins available at Reading. It’s a surprise when environmental issues are so high on the agenda and clearly mentioned on the website and in all the programmes, that people are still dumping all of their detritus on the floor, in hedges and streams.
Toilets and weak bladders
The usual 'festival pissers' were out in force at the start of the festival, but in a shock move Specialized security were putting a stop to it by the NME/Radio 1 stage. Well done to them for finally taking some action on this issue. It really made a difference as the festival progressed and this rather unpleasant activity stopped in this area and certainly seemed to reduce it on other areas of the site as well, well done Reading - but for all you festival goers out there - what are you doing? Would you do this at home? What would your mother say? [insert your own patronising cliché here] The fact that folk are way too lazy to use the toilets was a bit of a puzzle, Reading had great facilities this year with proper flushing loos, and we never had to queue, this was a tremendous improvement and as far as festivals go these were the best served and overall the cleanest we’ve found all year. They did wobble though and the first time it happened it was a bit off putting to say the least! Our biggest moment of urine related despair was in the fenced avenue going up to the Gent’s toilets (with no queues) by the NME/Radio 1 tent, where there was a line of people pissing against the fence, not 10 metres from the toilets. Sometimes it seems there is no hope.
Don’t come to Reading if you are looking for gourmet food and fine dining, it’s not that kind of festival
Food and Drink
There were plenty of food stalls around and about serving up all the usual festival fodder; prices were normal for festivals, a bit overpriced on the whole for not a huge deal of value and there's no easy way to eat healthily here. Don’t come to Reading if you are looking for gourmet food and fine dining, it’s not that kind of festival, and to be honest, if they were on offer we suspect that they would never be very busy considering the demographic. We couldn’t even find a cup of tea with fresh milk, it’s all UHT and if you have food allergies and intolerances then your choices are slim to none of finding suitable food or people who know what they are serving you (at all festivals, not unique to Reading). Having said that there were a few reasonable stalls and some gorgeous looking danish pastries! What I wouldn't give to be able to get a decent cuppa and some quality chips though. Reading turns you into a beer and junk food monster, which seems to be exactly what most people are looking for.
It's hard to assess the drink situation as a non drinker, there was an awful lot of it about and inevitably a lot of people who'd gone just a bit over the top this year, they must have missed huge amounts of the festival! It’s hard to moderate your drinking in these circumstances but you do need to know your limits, this is difficult to cater for when the demographic is predominantly young, inexperienced and unleashed. There was quite a lot of help about but the best advice we can give is to reiterate what we always say, please take care of the people around you and those that you go to the festival with, we know that some are difficult to help when they're very drunk but whether they like it or not we all need to make sure they're safe even when they might just be being a bit obnoxious!
Flags, Crowd Surfing and Health and Safety
The site layout is good and easily accessible so you could get to different stages without too much difficulty. The new rules banning flags went down like the proverbial sandwich, many folk were moaning and a select few managed to get them past security! This is another really tough decision, as a reviewer and photographer they look great and it's splendid seeing the effort that people put into them, as a punter they're annoying when they spoil any chance you might have of seeing the stage you’ve waited hours to watch.
Festival organisers are trying really hard to stop folk crowd surfing and this year some of the festival crowd surfers were ejected and made to walk the long way back to the arena, quite an effective way of dealing with it and we have to confess that its ingenuity made us laugh! Speaking to the pit stewards this has made a huge difference to the amount of surfing on the main stage, but there were plenty of folk merrily crowd surfing at the NME/Radio 1 stage and we didn't see any evicted in the same way. We did note a bit of rough handling by security that really wasn’t necessary. Should there or shouldn’t there be crowd surfing at festivals? You tell us. We know there are dangers and risks, we know that people sometimes get hurt, but clearly there are quite a lot of people who do it and for whom it is part of the whole festival culture and ethos. You can't have performers crowd surfing and yet tell the crowd that they can't emulate the behaviour of their idols - can you? It's not as clear cut as it seems and it strikes us that there's no really easy answer.
There were some amazing circle pits and wall of death stunts getting about, but it’s quite amusing to see how this was nearly always orchestrated by the acts, we didn't see it happen spontaneously. A notable example of this was during the Gallows set, when the crowd were ordered around like an edgy line dance. This very controlled action seemed to fly in the face of the whole nature of the behaviour, but obviously great fun for those who did it and very entertaining for spectators to watch.
Security were trying very hard to stop people from getting up on shoulders this year, which inevitably led to some amusement particularly during Lady Sovereign’s set; security staff were almost beside themselves trying to make people to get down, particularly when there was a tower of three people. Having yelled and shouted, made various gestures, jumped up and down at the barrier one hapless security guy resorted to throwing several cups of water!
What happens next is very much down to festival goers themselves, we know that there are some disturbances at campsites year after year and this will be dealt with in a separate article, but if festival goers continue to behave in a way that puts themselves and others in danger we'll all find much more restrictive practices put in place, we don't know about you but this is something we really don't want to see. There's a very fine line between safety and control but if festival goers push the boundaries too far we'll all find our last few precious freedoms seriously curtailed. We don’t know how best to deal with the few trouble makers but we do know that this is an issue that affects everyone, it’s behaviour that needs to stop, preferably before someone loses their life and this is absolutely down to festival goers themselves.
We think that Reading festival 2009 really pulled it out of the bag this year, we knew it would be good but this was Reading at its best. Three full days of top quality entertainment, for the most part it was dry, the site was well set out and facilities good, there really was nothing substantial to moan about this year!
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