Policing the Glastonbury Festival

Police officers at Glastonbury Festival.

Mark Nicholson oversees police operations for the Glastonbury Festival. I have never been, but I was intrigued. He agreed to tell me all about it and he should know, after all, he’s been to a great many of them over the last thirty years.

Words: Catherine Levin, Editor, Emergency Services Times

Mark Nicholson is an Inspector in the operational planning department for Avon and Somerset Police, having joined the team earlier this year. His department looks at events and decides what kind of police response they require and then plans for it. These range from Royal visits and football matches to demonstrations and marathons. But of course, the most famous and biggest event is the Glastonbury Festival.

He talks about threat, risk and harm when it comes to assessing events. His team uses a Red Amber Green (RAG) assessment to determine what are green events for local police teams and those big events at amber or red that will lead to the creation of a command team with gold, silver and bronze commanders. Mark is one of 12 trained silver public order commanders in Avon and Somerset Police. Each commander has a public order public safety adviser or POPSA, as it’s known.

Multi-agency planning

I wondered how this planning process fits with the other emergency services involved in an event. Mark explained that a Safety Advisory Group (SAG), is convened to provide a forum for multi-agency planning. This is chaired by the local authority, Mendip District Council and includes representatives from the emergency services, the event organisers and other organisations who will plan and deliver a safe event.

Mark explains, “Well before we start engaging with the organisers, we know it’s coming and start planning our own resources although it is always the event organisers who ask for police resources.” It is a Special Policing Service and as a result must be paid for by the event organisers, who in the case of Glastonbury, are required to have police resources in place as a condition of its licence from the council.

The number of officers who are involved in policing this year’s Glastonbury Festival is not in the public domain. Mark says that they will look at data and information from previous years’ events and ask themselves, “How many officers do we need this year? What is a proportionate number?”

Preparing and training officers

We move on to talk about training and how to prepare staff to police Glastonbury. Mark says they have around 600 officers trained in level two public order tactics who could be deployed to Glastonbury; and of those that are, they are just doing their day job when they are at Glastonbury.

“These officers are trained to deal with crowds, confined spaces and understand the relevant legislation. We are using them for public safety,” he says.  

There is an operational order for all events and within that order, there are expectations about how police officers will operate on site. Staff work 8-hour shifts at the festival, but with travel time to and from the site this can total 10 hours. Mark clearly loves working at Glastonbury and tells me, “Everyone enjoys working at Glastonbury and many officers volunteer for it and will ask to do it again. There’s a real benefit to that as officers build up on-site relationships year on year.”

Neighbourhood policing approach

During the interview, Mark refers to Glastonbury as a temporary city of around 200,000 residents and as a result, the force adopts a neighbourhood policing approach. “We want our officers to be approachable, engaging, helpful and friendly, like the bobby on the beat.” The site is split into different sectors and the staff are deployed to the same sector each day. That helps with relationships too as police officers get to know traders and visitors alike.

Silver coordination from a barn

Of course, police are not the only emergency services on site, ambulance and fire are there along with local authority representatives, Glastonbury Festival organisers, highways, steward companies, corporate comms and others.

It comes as a surprise to me that they all gather in a big barn to carry out silver command duties. Mark explains, “The barn is only used for the festival. Glastonbury are really good hosts; they have built great technology and connectivity for use by all the agencies. Before the festival our ICT team will go and check it out and make sure that the wires we use haven’t been eaten by bats. On day one we plug in, and we’ve got access to all our own systems.”

Levels of crime

Mark says that the volume of crime at Glastonbury has gone down over the years and the move to a cashless society has had an impact on the type of crime they are now seeing. Figures are available from the 2019 festival and show that there were 25 arrests ranging from drug offences to theft and possession with intent to supply drugs. This year, throughout the five days of the festival, 76 reported crimes were reported.

Debriefing and learning

Individual agency debriefing takes place daily on site and post festival, Mark and his team carried out their own more detailed internal debriefing exercise as they attempted to learn what worked and what could be improved for next year.

He reflects on what was different about this year. “It was the first Glastonbury Festival for three years. Technology has moved on; people are living differently after Covid and the world is very different to what it was in 2019.” In October, he will attend a multi-agency debrief with the festival organisers to listen and learn from others, and that collaborative approach is one of the reasons why the Glastonbury Festival is so successful.

Mark is speaking at The Emergency Services Show on 22 September.