Building the basics of Glastonbury

Turning a farm into a city and then back again, is no easy feat. For the festival to run smoothly there must be adequate water, sanitation, road access, and electricity. Phil...
01 August 2010

Interview with 

Phil Miller, Infrastructure Manager, and Georgie Pope, Glastonbury Festival


Ben -   The Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts is the largest green field music festival in the world.  This year, it celebrated its 40th anniversary and nearly 200,000 people shared it with them.  But turning a farm into a city is no easy feat, especially when it needs to be a working farm again within just a few weeks.  For the festival to run smoothly, there must be adequate water, sanitation, road access, and electricity to all corners of the site.  The infrastructure that keeps the water flowing in, and the waste flowing out, is managed by Phil Miller.  He explained the challenges of putting on the festival.

Phil -   Our biggest challenge is to make sure that you have all the facilities in place for that volume of people - not only the people that are ticket holders, but the vast amount of staff that are on-site as well.  So you must make sure there's sufficient water, adequate roads to get here, sufficient parking, sufficient toilets, sufficient showers; all the facilities.  It's a global problem for the site if you haven't got them in place.

Ben -   And of course, the rest of the year, this is a working farm.  You need to be able to reduce the impact that the festival has to keep the farm running.

Phil -   We try not to impact on the farm at all if we can help it.  We leave the setting up of the site until May generally.  There is some impact during May, but not completely.  The cattle have still been able to use their fields during the May period.  There's a time set for the license purposes that they have to be off, I think it's about 28 days before the event.  And then after the event, the clearing up process should take approximately 3 to 4 weeks - so the site's reinstated to a normal farm again.

Ben -   So starting with the transport issues, how many roads do you need to build and can they just stay there all year, or do you need to build temporary structures as well?

Phil -   The site has probably over 20 miles of road, including the camping areas and the temporary roads which are laid.  They are generally used as farm tracks during the winter months for farm operations, because obviously it includes several farms -  the amount of land that we need to actually put the whole event on. As well as the roads, it's bridges, and bridges are sometimes not always strategically located.  We have to strengthen them - with articulated lorries coming on to the site now, in an excess of 40 tons, we have to make sure that the loading capacity is appropriate for whatever vehicles come on to the site.

Ben -   And in fact you've built nine new bridges in the last year.

Phil -   We have completed nine bridges.  I mean, of those nine, three to four are pedestrian bridges with load bearing obviously a lot less and a lot easier to provide.  But the other ones are mainly load bearing capacity.  Some aren't necessarily new bridges - they are old bridges that were reinstated where they'd failed the test of time.

Ben -   Phil Miller. So I could see firsthand what goes into preparing the site, I was taken on a guided tour by Georgie Pope.  First of all, a half-built bridge...

BellaGeorgie -   Now, we're at Bella's Bridge which is the bridge that Michael Eavis has said is going to be the loveliest bridge in the whole country.  It's named after Bella Churchill.  It's in the corner of the area that she liked the best.

Ben -   It obviously isn't quite finished at the moment.  Infact we are standing next to it on some scaffolding. I assume it's all going to be ready in time for the festival?

Georgie -   I assume so too, I hope so.

Ben -   It just looks like a fairly normal bridge to me.  What is it that's going to make this the most beautiful bridge in the country?

Georgie -   It's got this lovely, grey stone work over here which I think is quite pretty and then it's got this wonderful curve which gives it that humpback look.  It's a very attractive bridge.

Ben -   So once you have all these people here, obviously, one of the most important things is to keep them well-watered.  Supplying water for this many people, keeping it clean, and being able to get it around the whole area must be very difficult?

Phil -   Yes.  It's been a learning curve over the last few years and the new water regulations have forced the festival to actually introduce improved facilities for all the people that attend the event.  What we've done in actual fact, is build  two category V reservoirs (that's the highest category they can possibly have for reservoirs).  Those tanks will hold about 2 million litres of water.  The holding capacity is not the most important thing;  the most important thing is that if you're using water at 25 litres a second, we need to replace the reservoir water with 25 litres a second.  So what we've done this year is put in an underground water main, a 6-inch main that runs around the site and will be operating as any other town or city in the country.  From that, there will be spurs, taking the water to the strategic locations, giving us what  I hope will be the appropriate water pressures.

Ben -   How do you keep that water clean?

Phil -   Because it is directly sourced from Bristol water supplies and we have got the category V tanks, there shouldn't be any contamination issues.  New water regulations have stated that there will be tests and we have 10 samples a day taken on-site, and that's for chlorine levels, for chemical, or microbiological samples.  We shouldn't have any contamination from those sampling points.  If we did, then obviously we would have a problem, but I'm fairly confident that with all the facilities we put into place, because we've renewed all the taps on-site, as well as renewed pipes and having the reservoirs, we shouldn't have any contamination issues.

Ben -   Thinking about the reservoirs themselves, how are they built?  What did you have to do to put reservoirs into what's normally a farm?

Phil -   Well first of all, you have to get some of the permissions in place.  We also have to have the licensing section of the council approve whatever changes we make on-site.  So there are a lot of people that become involved in permissions and once those permissions are in place, the work is obviously checked after the event. 

At the moment, we're looking at finding an accredited company to test out water pressures for us to make sure that all the systems being installed are going to be safe and usable prior to this year's event.

Ben -   And you were able re-use the stone that came out when you actually excavated the reservoirs.

The Pyramid Stage, GlastonburyPhil -   Yes.  Most of the stone that came out that we dug out for the reservoir has gone back into roads and as I mentioned earlier about the bridges, the strength of the roads and the bridges are really important not only for the weight of the vehicles, but the volume of vehicles that we have on-site.  We're very conscious of our carbon footprint in trying to make sure that we do everything that we should do and we take into account the local community as well. Reducing the lorry movements on-site is one way in which we do that, and we are putting some of the materials in the reservoir back in roads.  We're bringing in lock gates from the British Water Board that we're using to make bridges with and seating around the site.  All the time, we are thinking about how we can best recycle the equipment we have for the facilities that we need.

Ben -   So we've come to see not only the completed reservoir, but also the reservoir that's still under construction.  What have we actually got in front of us?  It looks like a bomb shelter.

Georgie -   It would probably look after you if a bomb hit it.  It's going to contain a million litres of water, which is about as much as an Olympic swimming pool.  It's deeper but narrower.

Ben -   But about the same length, about 50 metres long.  There seems to be an enormous amount of concrete.

Georgie -   Yes, but there's also - you can see that we've dug out the rock there which will be used for the roads. So there's something re-usable about this.

Ben -   But once it's all completed - and it looks like it's getting fairly close now - what will this actually look like?  Is this going to be this concrete monstrosity all year round?

Georgie -   Well, if  you look over there, that's the site where the other million-litre reservoir, and it's completely grassed over, so there's no sign of it at all.  The only clue that it's there at all is that concrete periscope type of thing which is where you can go down, and it's a viewing chamber and you can see the levels, and check everything is as it should be.

Ben -   So, all that's left other than beautiful looking green grass is a small area where you can go and inspect the water from.

Georgie -   Yes.  Don't worry.  It won't look like this.

Ben -   Inevitably, this many people over this much time are going to create an enormous amount of human waste, an enormous amount of sewage.  What can you do with that?

Phil -   Well, there's not a lot you can do with that and obviously, it would have to be taken to respective plants and discharged in the normal way.  We have improved the way in which that movement would happen over the last year.  The haulage was quite a long way at one stage, and now, we've improved the local facilities at our expense to make sure that we can haul much shorter distances, so that we aren't having an adverse effect onto the planet in that respect.  It is a high volume of material that just has to be disposed off - we have looked at biodigesters.  Biodigesters are great for our animal waste at the moment.  If we could use it for human waste, we would.  But we're not at that stage yet and I don't think the information is available for us to consider that.

Ben -   But the knock-on effect of the waste created at the festival is that now, the local area has better facilities to clean sewage all year round.

Phil -   Well, the money that's been given to Wessex Water to improve their plant obviously would have an impact all year round.  We only use that facility for 17 to 20 days.  So it's a very short life span for us, but the facilities have been improved.

Georgie -   We are standing next to three huge cylinders that are going to contain all the human waste produced by the festival, by which I mean, poo.

Ben -   These are enormous silos.  How much waste can you actually fit in one of those?

Georgie -   Well, I think this new big one that's being built takes almost 2 million gallons of waste.

Ben -   Two million gallons of human waste.

Georgie -   Yes.

Ben -   How much actually gets produced throughout the festival?

Georgie -   Well, it never actually gets to the top because it will get half-filled and then trucks will come halfway through here every day, and take some off it.  So, it's difficult to say exactly how much because it will never reach the top, but somewhere in the region of twice that.

Ben -   So almost 4 million gallons of human waste.

Georgie -   Yep don't say it too many times.  It's horrible, but it's the reality of it and it's something amazing we have to deal with.  It's something that in a city, the sewage department is dealing with every day, but revellers and party goers complaining about lack of loos aren't necessarily thinking about what's happening to their waste.

Ben -   And of course, we're so used to the fact that our waste goes down into the sewage and is dealt with straight away, that this really, really brings it to mind that it has to go somewhere and something has to happen to it.

Georgie -   Yes and quickly.

Ben -   How long does it take all in all?  What's the timeframe to turn a farm into a festival and back into a farm?

Phil -   Well we try to do it in a shortest period of time possible, but I would say that we would probably need 6 weeks to build it and 4 weeks to dismantle it.  But there are some things onsite that take much longer - and that would be things like the reservoir and bridges.  They need a little more engineering time.

Ben -   And how many people are involved?

Phil -   Well, the licence has a figure quoted for about 35,000 staff - a lot of those staff would be security staff.  Within the infrastructure section, we have about 1,000 people that work for us. There's also a lot of volunteers and if it wasn't for the volunteers, it would be very difficult to achieve the levels of service that we do.

Ben -   The volunteers also, I understand, help a great deal with dealing with all the rubbish that's created during this festival.

Phil -   Yes.  They work in the recycling area.  We have a recycle barn.  We have planning permission to improve that facility now.  We're going to make it larger and safer for people to work in because there's about 200 people working on that aspect of the site.  So again, it's quite a large operation.

Some rubbish, GlastonburyBen -   Well you said that you'd bring me to see the bins.  I wasn't really looking forward to it.  I have not got great experience of rubbish bins before, but this is incredible.  It's a multi-coloured mountain of re-used oil drums.  What's the story behind these bins?

Georgie -   Aren't they beautiful?  It's a fellow called Hank and he has a team of 100 volunteers that come before the festival and they all paint them, each bin is unique with wonderful peace signs and invocations to recycle.  They come back every year if there's more to be done and they work for their ticket by painting bins.

Ben -   Do you know quite how much rubbish?  There's a lot of bins here.

Georgie -   A lot.  There's a lot of rubbish.  We try recycling it.  We've recycled 50% last year and we're hoping to reduce the amount and recycle more next year.

Ben -   So the important thing really is to try and get people to think about rubbish in a different way, because you're not just throwing it away into an ugly plastic or metal bin.  These are things that people have put care and attention into to get you to think about your rubbish in a very different way.

Georgie -   Yeah and it adds to the feeling of the site.  They're very colourful and they're bright, and that's the sort of way that the Glastonbury Festival site looks.

Ben -   So what's the next big challenge going to be for you?  Clearly, dealing with all the planning permissions, the regulations for the reservoirs, have been a challenge to-date.  What do you think is coming next?

Phil -   Most certainly biodigestion.  We've already got plans ahead for the solar panels on the farm roofs, but if we did have a biodigestion system working, and it was successful, we would be able to probably reduce some of the generators that are currently used onsite.  It's high volume of generators, but then again, it's a very large site and a lot of people.  So, if we can build up supplies of energy that we could tap into during the festival's period by selling back to the grid, you know, it would be great for us.

Ben -   Infrastructure manager Phil Miller, explaining what's needed and Georgie Pope, showing me the sights and smells of the farm as it gears up towards the festival.  Two million litres of reservoir and a capacity for almost 4 million gallons of human waste, it might sound like plenty.  But this year's festival was exceptionally hot and sunny.  The heat led people to drinking far more water than expected and this inevitably led to a greater volume of liquid waste.  Without these reservoirs and the additional waste capacity, this year's festival would've had to be cancelled.


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