Payment to the volunteers 

10 years ago Keith and I decided to be a host family for a couple of children from belarus. The whole ideas is to open your home and your heart to these kids to enable them to live in a ‘clean’ land, breathing clear air and not eating food that is contaminted from the soil in which it all grow. 

Long story short is that the girls came and lived with us, at the time money was short, I was back at uni full time training to become a pshychotherapist ( A life long dream) 

I was breast feeding and working full time teaching. All this was going on and along with my kids and keith business still in its infancy, money was short.

 So we called around some local attractions to see if they could donate a couple of tickets to allow us to get the russian girls into places and allow us to give them a great experience.

One of the places we contacted was the Northern Green Gathering, it was happening just up the road from us, we offered our skills and painted up the composting loos so we could get a couple of free tickets for our guests. 

While I was there I supported the team in the welfare tent and continued to create bits of arts around the site. I’d not been to a festival for years and years and it felt like going home, talking to folks like us, letting the kids runs wild and watching our Russian girls enjoying such simple pleasures without poisoning themselves with every breath that they took.

From that weekend, lots of weird things came together and before I knew it I was selling a concept to number of festivals, offering a free creative space and asking only for donations. 

Volunteers came forward and a crew formed and we suddenly had a prospective business that could allow us to enjoy the festival scene offer something back and assist others to get into the festivals without having to buys tickets.

Looking back, Keith and I were funding it all ourselves, we bought materials and paid for insurance, fuel and various other bits and bats…( I still remain in awe of the kits we have collected over the years and maintaining it is always a challenge. ) 

by the end of that first season i had plowed over £3k into the space and was still not charging festivals for the work I was doing.. things had to change, I was funding not only the festival organiser’s profit margins but was litrally paying for my crew’s summer!

I learned fast and things got better, I started to ask for a small fee which covered costs and began to look at ways in which i could make enough money from the space without over charging and charging the public tons of money… my aim was to provide free creative activities.. I didn’t want to loose that.

Things grew and my stratergies developed and by year 4 a system and concept had evolved. I invited subcontractors into the space who charged the public and gave me a percentage, this paid for the free activities we offered, some fuel costs and other random items such as phone bills and stationary galore. 

Suddenly it felt viable, it had taken time but we were nearly there, nearly paying for the hours per day i was working and also offer others the chance to make a few bob too.

But with growth came casualties, crew who had vollunteers wanted to develope their businesses, and quite right they were too, they like me needed to make a living. But my business wasnt ready to pay anyone, I’d only just started to cover costs and still needed £7k to come back to our savings account to repay our investment over the years. 

I didnt dare to work out what my hourly rate was, i just knew it was best not to look. But no one saw it and friends left, often unappy, feeling I had let them down, that i was been stingy and greedy. I felt awful, it hurt me to think folks could feel this way

But.. It’s our tenth anniversary and things are much clearer these days. We have an amazing ethos and the community we have created a wonderful space and business.

I have a mixture of staff now, we have paid managers and performers as well as traders who pay a pitch fee or percentage to us to be in the space. We still have volunteers and I work hard to ensure they don’t feel cheated. 

Festivals have run off the back of the work of volunteers for years and without people working in return for their ticket, the whole sector would collapse.

It’s a funny thing but it’s actually the volunteers that get more out of working for us! And in turn we get more in return! They are the ones who arrive with ideas and nervous energy and the ones who come away inspired and content. Those who are paid tend not to emerge themselves in quite the same way. 

Maybe when you get a wage you get responsibility? You need to fulfil your role and with that expectation comes more stress?  When you are employed you feel you need to fulfil an aim and objective and I find it holds people back in terms of confidence to explore their work.

I find volunteers are much more able to explore their own ideas and  happily and confidently take ownership of their roles. They come up with ideas and go above and beyond with the opportunity to experiment with their role.. Maybe this isn’t something you can do if you’ve been paid a fee for a specific task? I don’t know.. I’m trying to work it out, 

It’s important to me that all crew wether volunteers or paid , feel trusted and acknowledged. We have very high standards and expect the best , but the best way to do this is not to design and force people in to roles that simply act put your ideas. (Square peg round hole) 

Giving staff the trust and freedom to own their job means everything. We all know that if we feel secure, interested and confident then we thrive. I happily encourage everyone to take a given role with an object and aim and let them decide how to play it out. .. Let them run with it! 

This creates a collective of massive diversity, a range of exciting activities and a whole host of unique experiences for the public. 

When we started I used to set up each tent and out a workshop activity in it. Staff would be on a rota and just turn up, run the workshop and go!  It worked but it wasn’t special.. It was missing the angel gardens magic that oozes out of the space today. 

Now we have huge amounts of workshops (designed and run by volunteers) and activities. All set out differently and all looking and feeling different too. All owned and reflecting the crew who are running it! 

 It’s what brings a vibe to the space.. Each little area buzzes to its own tune.. Together the whole space sings as an orchestra playing the most modern and exciting score… I’m just the conductor.. The skill and work comes from those sat in front of me, 

We work hard to offer our volunteers not only space to explore their abilities and ideas.. But also to demonstrate what they are capable of. Working in the arts and music sectors is tough and the first step is finding a way to be heard.

By offering creatives an audience and opportunity to create something for that audience you are providing a kind of self guided aprentiship  . We encourage group and one to one mentorship but find the crew don’t need guiding into mentorshipdom as they are empowered enough to share and take freely from their fellow crew on their own terms.

I’ve never seen anyone loose their confidence in the space. We have had crew in who brought negative energy in the past and it really did bring down the group.. One bad apple can change the whole barrel! So we work hard to ensure people understand that bitching and negativity isn’t welcome. We aren’t the happy police we just encourage everyone to respect, hear and support each other openly.

If people don’t want to be there then they shouldn’t be there.. Our spaces are well fought after and we always have a waiting list, thankfully we find these days that those that don’t fit in simply move on.. No hard feelings .. It just wasn’t for them… 

Some people stay forever, some people jump in and off, some find their mojo and go off and go start doing things on their own… And getting good money for their amount work… It’s all ok! 

We don’t just ask that crew take ownership of their role in Angel gardens but ask that they learn to take ownership of their role in life. 

We will play our part in that in however they need it,, it’s our payment to them…to support and believe in them and their work.

Diary Of lost Kids officer. Published on Festival Kidz February 2013

I run Lost Kids and Child Welfare from our space, Angel Gardens, at a number of festivals and thought it would be of great use for you lovely festivalling parents to tell you what goes on behind the scenes and my tips for you and your children should you find yourself separated.  This is a long and comprehensive post because all of the information in it is important and I urge you to read it, but if you haven’t got time right now then skip to the end where we have listed our TOP TIPS.

My background is as a child psychotherapist, I worked within a team of social workers, medical clinicians and schools, support children and their families who were at risk or simply needing some support, for many years. On starting my business creating children and family spaces 7 years ago I realised my skills in child welfare and protection were needed to help festivals and you parents keep your little ones safe and cared for.

Now every festival does things a little differently but the same rules will apply to all events and we all have specific rules we follow and a lost child always becomes a priority at event. Here is how we do it at Angel Gardens and hopefully this will put your mind at rest that we, and all the other festival welfare teams, are doing all we can to ensure your little ones are safe while you enjoy your festival.

Main Tip:

On finding your child is missing, always go straight away to the lost child point.  If you can’t find it or it is a long walk away, find someone like a steward or security person.

angel gardens safe adult thumbs upIn Angel Gardens we have all our staff trained to accept lost children and they have a lanyard that states this.  Many other festivals do this too; it allows your child to find safe adults easily and even choose who they feel most comfortable approaching.  Walking into a lost kids office or medical centre can be very scary!  Tell your children what kind of person to approach when you are on site, it will make them feel safe and educate them where to go in case you do get separated.

Time is of the essence with a lost child, and the amount of parents that don’t come to us for help for well over an hour is staggering.  The longer you leave it the more likely you are to get even more lost, distressed and more in danger!  If you both start looking for each other, you find Mum goes wandering off one way, Dad goes a different way and your little one wanders off in another direction all together.

Coming straight to the Lost Kids Point, means we can keep you in one place ready for when your child find their way back to us and we can send our instruction to the (sometimes hundreds) of professionals on site.  It’s better for these guys to go looking, as they have radios and manpower!  With phone signals unreliable and sites often so big, you may find Dad is still looking for little Johnny an hour after you have found him!!  Stay together and let us do the work.

As soon as you inform us or other personnel, we will inform all the gates and exits to stand by.  This means no-one can leave with a child until we give them a description.  If you come to us straight away it can be done in seconds which is always a great thing.

We then take all your details and the details of your little one and radio it out to all the stewards and security on site.

Don’t worry, we NEVER announce your child is missing to the public and you may hear us using code words.  This system is in place so we don’t inform anyone we don’t want informing that a little one is alone and vulnerable. (Just for the record…. 80% of the time the child doesn’t even know they are lost and are busy playing in a sand pit somewhere as happy as Larry)

On giving out descriptions EVERYONE working on site will be looking!  It is the easiest thing in the world for a potential abductor to approach a child he or she knows is lost and win their trust.  We and all other festivals will do everything to keep your information safe and NEVER let anyone we don’t know look for your child.

It is so important that you stay with us when you report your child missing.  We had an issue at a festival a few years ago, a dad came running up to us in a panic and shouted as he passed “My daughter is gone!” – he followed with a brief description and ran off leaving us stunned but with no option to put procedures in place with the little information we had.  We were looking for 3 hours and had to bring police on site as we had no way of knowing the child had been found.  The father staggered up later to tell us he found her minutes after reporting it!  You can imagine how much wasted manpower and time this had taken and how it could have jeopardised us finding other children or dealing with other issues of site.

Another thing to remember is when we find your little one, we need you to be here to greet her or him as she may be upset and although lost children staff are trained and friendly, they may feel very frightened. Golden rule… LET US LOOK, YOU STAY WITH US!

We have procedures in place should a child not be found in an allotted time, this changes depending on ages, so if a baby goes missing, we close all gates and exits immediately and they remain closed till we find baby, for a 12 year old of course we have different times before we reassess the situation regularly.  The most professional child welfare workers will be able to assess each and every case and make educated decisions.  But no matter how things evolve you know they have very solid procedures to follow and your child will always be the priority on site at the time.  Rest assured the gates and exits will not let anyone exit with a child of your description, age or gender nor will they stop searching until the lost child officer in charge at the time confirms they can be opened again.  We don’t do that till you have been reunited…  Staff will look, and remain looking, until we are 100% sure we have brought you back together.

Of course we have always prepared contacts with Police and local Social Services, so should we feel we need to take further action, we are always ready to do so. We take time scales very seriously with lost children and everyone will be trained, I personally meet with stewards and security team before any festival starts so they know EXACTLY the protocol we use.  Although different events have different procedures they tend to fulfil the general aims and objective set by national UK child protection guidelines.  But clarity is a priority for any child welfare team.  In 7 years of doing this work and over many many events and hundreds of lost children, we have only ever had to call for outside help twice!  Once to find the little boy in question had slipped down the side of his air-bed and was hidden under the covers!  We were all so very relived to hear him snoring snug as a bug in a rug!


So what if your child loses you?

Well believe it or not parents are always getting lost!  We much prefer a child to come to us tell us that they are lost as we know they are safe and in our care.

Having mobile numbers on the wristband is a help, but we do have a slightly more effective system that other festivals are taking on board. We always try and ensure no one can win your child’s trust, and offer a registration service.

trixie lost kids welfare point

This is Trixie, our caravan, but Lost Kids offices come in all shapes and sizes!

Children and parents come to ‘Trixie’ on arrival at a festival and fill in a form with everything we need, contact numbers, descriptions, addresses and contacts off site and even medical info and allergies. This form is numbered and both you and your child receive a wrist band with a number that relates just to your information. This means no matter why or when you or your child comes to us we have everything we need to reunite you and QUICKLY. Also it means you are not putting your contact details for all to see… Again we encourage as little personal information on show as possible as it can be used to gain a child’s confidence.

Children can often be upset when they come to us, and younger children find it difficult to tell us simple info like: what mum is wearing and even a simple surname.  This registration form means we can skip past that and get stuck into making your child feel safe warm and happy, while another colleague can get on with finding mum and dad. More and more festivals are following our lead with this and if registration schemes are in place I would highly recommend you use it.

If a registration service isn’t available, write the mobile number on the INSIDE of the wristband so no one can see it other than the person who removes it.

Again we have time deadlines set for reuniting a parent with a found child, and although they are more relaxed than those when the child is lost, they are still in place for your child’s safety. We can announce a parent’s name on the stage for example as it causes no risk to the child in question and we do send security and stewards out look for you if we are unable to contact you on your phone.  But while your child is with us they are safe so we don’t rush around the same as we would if the child were lost… again… come straight to us if they are missing, don’t go looking around as it may just cause more upset for you when in reality they may be sat with us drawing a picture of the main stage and talking our hind legs off about the circus skills they learned earlier!

When you come to collect your child, you may find you are asked to stand outside the office or place where your child is been cared for for a few moments.  Please don’t worry, we do this so your child can identify you and we are sure they are going to their parents.  You will always be asked to sign a form to say you collected your child too, again nothing to worry about.  Some festivals contact parents after the festival to ensure they didn’t suffer too much trauma and offer support; we just like you to confirm you have been reunited so we can tick it and add a smile that we have another happy ending.

We make a point of caring for the child in the best way we can, we have toys, heated locations, drawing bits and bobs and drinking water.  We personally have a special caravan (Trixie) that we use as a holding place for ‘found’ children, as we are a Kid’s Area too we can even let children join in activities with one of our workers chaperoning, while we find parents.  Different festivals have different areas, from cosy yurts to more formal offices. Familiarise yourself with these places with the children on arrival.  Officers normally welcome you on the first day of the festival; we always have stickers of ‘Trixie’ and balloons on hand for our first day guests!!  (Note: If your child needs medical care while in our care, medics are brought to the child and they are treated while we are present and if the child needs urgent care and needs to be moved we send a chaperone with them at all times.)

More and more,  we come across young adults who are becoming venerable due to drink and drugs.  It’s tough when you have 13 year old girl who looks like they are 25 but it is good to remember we are here for these guys too.  We had a situation last year where a young girl had become a little worse for wear and was offering herself to every passing guy.  She was only 14 and was putting herself in a very vulnerable position.  We were contacted by a member of the public and we were able to remove her from the situation she had put herself in and reunite her with her very shocked mother.  Similarly with under 16s we work as chaperones should they find themselves in the care of medics or security.  Festivals are great places to discover adulthood, but we are still here to ensure young people are cared for and that parents understand the importance of keeping a close eye on their safety.  We understand and remember how we felt invincible when we were teenagers so it is so important to all festivals that they have policies in place for young people as well as children… as we know NO ONE IS INVINCIBLE.

festival fun angel gardensSo that’s it! That is how hard we work behind the scenes to make sure we are ready to help you should your family becomes separated. We know and understand festival life and also, as parents, understand how easy it is to get separated.   I can’t tell you how many times we have reunited a child with the parents and the child just said something like, “ What? I’ve just been making a puppet in the Big Top!” – often they didn’t know they had even been missed.



1 – If there is a child registration scheme USE IT!

2 – Write mobile numbers on the INSIDE of wristbands.

3 – Make your first trip at the festival a trip to the lost kids office!  Say ‘Hi’ and meet the staff, help your child feel comfortable to approach them if they need to.

4 – Over the weekend point out ‘SAFE ADULTS’ – stewards, security, children area workers! Say ‘Hi’ to them too, show your child they are approachable… you will find most have a stash of sticker in their pocket for this reason.


6 – DON’T LOOK FOR THEM YOURSELF Stay with the lost child officer till you are reunited.

7 – Check your phone will have signal in advance, most festivals will say on the website if they don’t have coverage for certain networks.  You can get a cheap pay as you go card for less than £10 (it can be your festival phone!).  Also bear in mind that even areas that normally have good coverage may suddenly find it is patchy when several thousand people are trying to use a network in a field usually occupied by a couple of sheep!

8 – Put your phone on VIBRATE and NEAR YOUR SKIN when you are by the main stage or having a boogie.

9 – Be very clear if you are arranging meeting places with older children. Visit it first together so you know exactly where to meet and Sync your watches!!! 

10 – Don’t leave your younger children in the kids area, most festivals are offering family activities not a babysitting service.  You may find a child you left in a workshop making a wand will be calling you from the Lost Kids ffice after staff accompanied them over after the activity finished.

11 – Stay together! Festival as a family! 90% of reported lost children is when parents ‘nip to the loo’ or ‘arrange to meet them by the flags in ten minutes’ – kids lose their nerve quickly, so do stuff together.

12 – Communicate with each other, make sure you know who has the kids when you are in a big group… even if you need to make a joke by putting large groups of kids in pairs or do head counts… You’d be amazed how many times a child goes walkabout from a large group and isn’t noticed straight away.

13 – Invest in walkie talkies!  The kids will find it brilliant fun, we used to put ours in little hi-vis jackets and haver their walkie talking on a strap around their body… they thought they were spies and we played games with them so they got used to using them.

14 – (Well I couldn’t leave it at 13 …very unlucky) So finally, have fun!!!  Enjoy encouraging your children be part of a very safe and friendly community. Festival as a family, stay together and have some fun!!!! Things don’t often go wrong at festivals and I have only ever had one serious issue to deal with in all my time doing this work. But it’s good to be safe and good to be educated… now go forth and partyyyyyyy!!!