Monday, 27 October 2008

Crime at UK Festivals

One of the basic selling points of music festivals is to enable people to get away from their everyday existence and have a good time. As part of that basic ideology it is reasonable to expect the environment where the festival takes place to be a happy and safe one, to feel part of the community of that festival.

Words such as community are banded about far too often these days in the UK; maybe as a result of a sadness of the loss of the concept. Over the last 25 years both Tory and Labour governments have destroyed the very idea of what the word stands for. Instead they have instilled in society the selfish values of looking after the individual as everyones priority. The "I'm all right jack," attitude is now almost everywhere we go. However it is quite often at UK festivals, that I still find a strong sense of community; where people get to know their neighbours, enjoy the company of strangers and most importantly look after each other as well as themselves. Inherent in this sense of community that is created by such actions is a feeling of security.

This feeling of security can be massively undermined by a few less savoury elements that can make the whole festival experience very upsetting. Crime, and in particular, tent theft is unfortunately a sad fact of many of today’s festivals. I am lucky that I have attended over forty festivals and never been the victim of crime. However this year the BBC reported that crime at Glastonbury Festival more than doubled, thefts from tents being the major non drug-related crime, with more than five times as many incidents reported. This pattern is common place, particularly at other big UK Festivals.

A while ago I reported on the formation of the Association of Independent Festivals, who had been created with the aim of bringing independent festivals together to help make events greener, more cost-effective, and better for fans. The Association have now reported on the first piece of work they have been doing, which is the formation of a security task force to help stamp out thefts from tents and campsite crime at festivals.

An announcement today on E Festivals website describes this work. “The task force will be set up to provide a constant presence at participating festivals, working with event security firms and police services throughout the UK to identify known thieves before they enter festival sites.

Building on existing police initiatives, including intelligence-pooling which reduced tent thefts at some festivals this summer, the task force will provide support for security with extra teams on hand over busy weekends when there are multiple festivals being held.

It has been acknowledged that a small number of organised criminal gangs, rather than opportunist thieves, are responsible for the majority of thefts on site at festivals. These gangs follow the festival circuit around the country, normally targeting campsites on the first night when people have all their weekend's money. The new task force will allow festival organisers to more effectively target the gangs involved.

Jim King, director of Loud Sound and AIF board member said, "Whilst still statistically low, thefts at UK festivals have to be addressed. Customer experience and safety is a most important part of the whole festival experience and we want to act to ensure that customers have a great time at our events without experiencing the upsetting scenario of being a victim of crime."

Although the security task force is an AIF initiative, the board realise that this is a problem that affects all festivals, and say that they would welcome the involvement of non-members in the scheme. Thefts can take place at all shows and criminals move from show to show, and so the AIF will make this service available to everyone. The AIF believes the larger festivals who are affected the most will welcome the support of this initiative to help them in combating crime.Speaking at the launch of the scheme, Rob da Bank, Bestival promoter and AIF co-founder said, "Tent theft at our festivals has always been very low, but any theft at all is really upsetting for the promoter and the people involved. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to set up AIF and I really believe we can make a difference with this initiative."An open invitation to tender has been sent by the AIF to all reputable security firms with experience in outdoor event security. The AIF expects to have the new team finalised, ready, and in place by March next year.

The AIF aims to establish best practice for festivals, to make them as good as they can be in a variety of areas such as security, the environment and beyond, providing a knowledge base for festival promoters, as well as creating collective purchasing and marketing opportunities for its members.The AIF is also working on a number of other initiatives including helping members with issues around securing UK visas for international artists and developing databases of suppliers, and services. AIF networking and tutoring events are expected to be announced in the New Year these will cover topics from licensing to booking artists for festivals.”

Breaking More Waves hopes that this initiative is a success, but that increased security is kept as unobtrusive as possible for the vast majority who are attending a festival simply to have a good time and have no intention of spoiling it for others

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