A crowded scene

Festivals are always looking for a way to exceed expectations so Access looks into how security has tested the industry’s limits.

With the ever-growing industry of festival and outdoors events, the level of security is going to be pushed to its limits regardless of what controls are put in place by organisers. It is, and will always be a first and foremost to consider how to secure any environment that sees large groups of boisterous people drinking, dancing and engaging in questionable activity.

Notting Hill Carnival, in recent years, has seen its audience grow from its origins in 1966 when the festival first began as a replica of the Trinidad Carnival. According to London’s TimeOut, the carnival is Europe’s biggest street party and the second largest carnival in the world. Yet, each year it seems, an attempt is made at undermining its status due to security concerns.

Last year for example, following a survey of the residents of Kensington & Chelsea conducted by Victoria Borwick MP, it was proposed to con ne the carnival to the Wormwood Scrub park and restrict it to be a one-day event only.

The Notting Hill Carnival sees over two million people gather in the streets to dance and celebrate Caribbean culture and music, with the event allegedly contributing more than £93 million to the London economy each year.

The costume troupes that lead the way through the streets are called ‘mas bands’, the ‘mas’ standing for masquerade. There’s also soundsystems, steel pan bands, calypso and soca as the themes for the carnival.

So by default, Notting Hill carnival, taking place on the Sunday and Monday of the August bank holiday weekend means that people are ready and willing to bring noise, colour and large numbers that need to be monitored by security in order to keep everyone safe and secure at such a big and bright event.

The term for security can range from a bunch of metal rails keeping out gate-crashers, to police roaming the streets at Notting Hill in full protection gear working as crowd management.

 

“You will always have a certain amount of people to want to drink excessively or get high.”

– Ben Allen

 

Security is everything and it keeps organisers on top of their game to curate the perfect festival, carnival or outdoor event. But with this being said, the threats to the future of the Notting Hill Carnival derive from genuine concerns that the ever-expanding crowds will one-day result in a Hillsborough-type disaster.

Access spoke to Ben Allen from Bam! Music Marketing, PR and Digital Consultancy who has 14 years experience working in PR for bands performing at Glastonbury, Bestival, Isle of Wight, Cornbury, Zoo Project Festival and Americana Music Assoc Festival.

He took the time to chat to Access about his opinions on security at festivals, so when we asked him his thoughts about what the main security flaws are from his experiences as a festivalgoer, he had plenty on his mind.

“Sometimes there can be a lack of common sense employed at festivals. It is usually where an inexperienced security guard or a steward is given a position of authority that they’re not equipped to deal with,” replies Allen.
“I see this a lot and I really believe that there should be basic training and aptitude tests given to staff members before being deployed to a position of public protection at an event.

“I’ve seen security abusing their authority with unnecessary intimidation and in some cases also physical force, first-hand,” says Allen. The issue of violence at a festival is an extremely high level of importance and should demand strong authoritative control, but what happens when it is those in charge of your safety who
 are inflicting the violence?”

As investigated in last month’s issue of Access, in our ‘Protecting the skies’ feature (p.17–18), we discussed with Andrew McQuillan, a drone pilot and security management officer from Crowded Space Drones about the topic of flying drones safely.

He stated openly his frustration on issue of the
remote piloted aircraft systems: “If festivals or event 
organisers don’t have a proper strategy put in place for
dealing with visitors who bring drones onto their event
site, or they’re using drones themselves and they hit someone, the consequences could be severe,” he states.

“As it is everywhere, a drone at a festival is an invasion of privacy and a sure-fire way to get people’s backs up. Regardless of who owns the drone, whether that is official footage or a punter, they’re only ever going to ruin the relaxed atmosphere of a festival,” explains Allen. “Ban them.”

“Gatecrashers are also a major problem as every large event organiser knows its health and safety limits, guidelines and parameters in order to keep its paying punters safe and for the event to run smoothly – from security and medical staff numbers all the way down to the amount of food traders and toilet cubicles. If you have thousands of extra gatecrashers putting an event at over capacity, then the well-being of your event across the entire spectrum can be compromised.

“The mainstream media loves to attack and embellish the issue of drink and drugs at festivals,” continues Allen. “Even with venues such as Fabric.” Fabric, the London nightclub in Farringdon, was forced to close after two drug-related deaths of teenagers in 2016, but has reopened early this year with new licensing conditions in place.

 

“People take for granted simple, well-measured, responsible, respectful, professional security. That is priceless.” – Ben Allen

 

“This will never stop, it keeps people afraid of what they don’t know. In a gathering of 50,000 people in any place, from any walk of life, you will always have a certain amount of people who want to drink excessively or get high on recreational drugs,” says
 Allen.

“Just as you’ll always have a majority of do-gooders and some bad apples. The bad apples will always get the attention.
Take the ratio of peaceful sport-loving football fans to violent hooligans for example; who gets reported on the most?” 
Coming down to how to keep the festival attendees safe at events such as Notting Hill Carnival, or even at big UK festivals like Reading and Leeds or Glastonbury, security done right is essential.

Access asked Allen for his thoughts: “If done correctly, the level and intensity of security does in a way directly relate to an attendees level of safety. But seeing thousands of hi-vis jackets and magnum boots is overkill. It is just never going to help keep an environment calm and safe. People take for granted simple, well-measured, responsible, respectful, professional security. That is priceless.” The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) recently organised a day which saw festival websites shutdown to raise awareness of sexual assault at festivals.

The Safer Spaces Campaign was held on 8 May with over 25 music festivals taking part including Bestival, Parklife and Secret Garden Party. Th
e campaign was fuelled further after reports surfaced that in 2016, two women were raped at Reading Festival.
“It’s raising awareness and letting audiences know that if something were to happen, they can report it on site,” says Renae Brown, campaign manager at the AIF.

“This something we should be talking about at festivals. We want people to look out for each other.”

“It’s not up to festival security to solve this worldwide problem,” adds Allen. “But it’s up to us as the attendees and organisers to look out for each other more and to have the courage to collectively stand up for the victims and potential victims of sexual assault,
and abolish this culture of victim
blaming and shaming. We
can start this practice
at festivals.”