I've been hearing some rather worrying things about the volunteer stewards at the How the Light Gets in Festival this year. I've always thought that stewards, who do have some responsibility at events, should be paid for their work, so I wasn't thrilled when I saw the posters from the Globe advertising for volunteers to man their Festival, but that's the way they decided to run their Festival, and if people wanted to volunteer, it was up to them to decide if they thought the benefits outweighed the disadvantages.
Then my neighbour took pity on one girl who had signed up as a How the Light Gets in volunteer steward and gave her a bed for a couple of nights. She was a student from London, and had assumed, when she signed up to come to Hay, that accommodation would be provided. She found that she was expected to roll out a sleeping bag in one of the tents at the Globe after the last event had finished (and they went on into the early hours of the mornings) and sleep on the ground surrounded by young men she didn't know.
The other evening Brian and I got talking to a chap in the Rose and Crown. He was camping down at the Riverside site, and had thought that volunteering to be a steward would be a good way of experiencing the Festival. He told us that the stewards got various perks, like half-price food on the sites, but he also told us that he had to pay a £50 deposit, which he would only get back if he worked for the hours he had signed up for. Apparently some volunteers left early last year - so this year the Globe were demanding the deposit.
He also said he'd been on duty at the Riverside site when the accident happened. One of the volunteer stewards was told to take a trolley load of pallets from the Riverside site to the Globe site - and it was a wobbly load that the man we talked to at the bar had to help through the entrance tent. A couple of minutes later, they heard the crash and thump outside - the volunteer had been hit by a car while trying to cross the road at the bridge, and had to be taken away by ambulance. They asked him if he knew where he was, and he said "What's Hay Festival?" so he may have had concussion. Brian already knew about the accident, because Dickie Hebbard, who walks Denzel the Staffie for him, had been there, and spent some time directing traffic around the accident site while Denzel was tied up to the bridge.
Brian used to work for Balfour Beatty, managing large projects, and he said he'd have been fired instantly if he had allowed that to happen to one of his workers. He knows a lot about risk assessment, and risk management, and was very worried indeed about the way the Globe site was being managed. He wondered what would happen to the volunteers sleeping in the tent if a fire had broken out, for instance.
The main Hay Festival has volunteers too, managing the queues for events, but there it seems to be much better organised. The volunteers there tend to be older than the ones at the Globe, and local, and come back year after year. I think they should be paid for their work, too, but I got talking to one young girl who had spent the Festival working as an intern, and she was delighted with the experience. She said she'd got the autographs of several authors she admired, and the work had been interesting, fun - and exhausting!