Monday 19 September 2016

Festivals and the wellbeing scene

courtesy Shambala Festival
by guest author Philip Moisson

During this blog I'd like to talk about the Powys Five Ways to Wellbeing and how they interact with the experience of summer festivals – now that the season has come to an end. 

This year I was one of the thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds who volunteered for Oxfam as a Festival Steward. There are many festivals around the UK and beyond, and Oxfam provides the stewards for a good number of them. I was at the glittery and costume filled world of Shambala in the Midlands. In return for three shifts, and including three square meals, you can enjoy the festival experience for nothing – whilst earning money for Oxfam's vital work at the same time.

Philip Moisson
The stewarding scene at Shambala Festival this year was the friendliest I've ever known – and I had an amazing, almost spiritual experience which caused an acute 'mental health' reaction (think clenched fists, inner turmoil and shouting followed by hours of tears) – but thanks to the support and sound words of those around me I feel I can remain healthy and well since processing this

I did however receive absolutely first rate support from Oxfam and the security staff at the festival, which is pleasing to say.

So, let's look at the Powys Five Ways to Wellbeing. They are based on the following: Take Notice, Keep Learning, Connect, Be Creative & Give and Be Active. I want to talk about how a good festival experience can impact on yours and others wellbeing, and also to discuss how hard we should be working and partying.

The first thing you do in regards to your wellbeing at a festival is Be Active. Dancing is something that almost everyone can do and enjoy –  whether they have mobility problems or not. It is social, physical and healthy.

The second thing you do when you dance is Be Creative & Give – and just as dancing is very creative it also helps when you give love to the artist on stage, who in turn performs with all of their energy for the crowd. It's worth mentioning that stewarding is a very giving role, so if you volunteer for Oxfam you will be all over this element.

For people who go to festivals or who steward, a good festival will push your boundaries and encourage you to Keep Learning. Stewarding is a challenge, and even if you are a regular participant you should be ready to join talks and debates and take part in workshops.

I always find at Shambala that the harmonious ensemble of the senses at most times causes me to reflect and Take Notice. Knowing how you feel when the music is playing and the atmosphere is heightened, and then knowing how you feel about your more normal life – is essential to making the playground of the festival have an impact on your daily routine.

And finally, let us all agree that we would hope to Connect at any festival gathering, large or small. Connecting involves making and cherishing friends and partners and family, and extending this love outwards in perpetual circles. 

courtesy Shambala Festival

So, if festivals are good for your mental health, what went wrong for me recently and what was the good practice in mental health? Similarly, are there lots of youngsters pushing themselves to the same sort of distant extremes, but with drink and drugs, and therefore negating the effects of the Five Ways?

Stewarding for Oxfam at Shambala meant being part of a family of people who lived and danced, ate and slept, laughed and sometimes cried together. I was hugged at Shambala more times than ever before, and that was before my moment of severe anguish.

On a busy festival Saturday night I was on my stewarding shift at the Stiletto Disco venue, helping, interacting with, and chatting to, festival goers. The night was long and we gave every ounce of energy we had into making the venue swing and into keeping the crowd and short but constant queue as happy as possible. At some point before 5am, I sadly met a man who was in a bad place, and he connected with me emotionally.

I rejected his drunken and poor attitude –  and when I lost my temper I had clenched my fists with all my might and had to howl towards the heavens in horror until he left me alone. However, if it hadn't been for the security guard who asked me first “What happened mate?” then I might not have calmed down so quickly.

Similarly, Oxfam quickly moved to protect me and relieve me of stress and worry and any further compulsory duties. I was taken to the Welfare Tent – a place for tea and empathy. I was told I had nothing to feel bad about, but the heartbreak at meeting someone who wanted to ruin the perfection of the festival left me weeping in my colleague's arms until the following day.

I'm fine now, and will be back next year for more. Be prepared to assess your wellbeing at a festival, and consider the range of places you can steward for Oxfam –  it comes highly recommended and they will offer you a first rate experience brimming with happiness and love, and then, as in my case, 100% support if things don't go to plan.

Finally, let’s be frank, we all know that festivals can involve drug taking for some people. It’s important that those who do educate themselves about what they are taking and why. There is a not-for-profit community interest company called The Loop “that aims to promote health and minimise harms in nightclubs, bars and festivals. It provides information, outreach and interventions by trained and experienced staff about alcohol, drugs, sexual health, mental health, crime and violence.” Thanks to The Loop some festivals are even offering free drug testing now. These drug testing kits can provide a safer experience for those who like to take things away from the ordinary run of the mill of streets, roads and offices into the primal nature of musical communion in a place which is as follows:

"Shambala is a space to play, to reinvent, revitalise, and return to the world fueled-up on the beauty of being alive. It’s a playground, a realm for wild experimentation and alternative education, where unforgettable life skills are shared, learned and put to use.

We see Shambala, as so much more than just a monumental party, it’s a haven, a think-tank, a happening - all infused with a heartfelt, purposeful hedonism. So let’s revel in being human, in all the things we do so well - the euphoric heights to tangible solutions - and see how much we really can do together.”    Shambala Festival

Many thanks for Phil for writing about the Five Ways to Wellbeing from a festival point of view. You can read more about the Five Ways in our team blog post. Do the Five Ways work for you? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.


  1. great blog, I love that it shows that the 5 Ways can be applied in all areas of life.