Teen team

Festivals are lonely places for teenagers who are too young to drink but too old for the kids' tent

24th April 2019

Being too young to buy alcohol and too old for puppet shows, just what can teenagers do at festivals?

For many years, the teen market has been forgotten about at the endless festivals that crop up around the UK, with children’s areas catering for pre-teens and evening activities centred around over-18s.

Stepping into this gap is the Mayflower Project, a not-for-profit organisation which offers a space for music festival teens in its no-adults-permitted marquee.

Founded by Alice Bewick and her partner Chaz Douglas, the project provides free activities and chill out areas for teenagers at around a dozen UK festivals each year. These include Shindig Weekender, Wonder Fields, WOMAD, Green Gathering, Green Man, Beautiful Days and Shambala.

“It was born out of seeing the gap at festivals,” Bewick tells The Overtake in the pouring rain as we chat to her outside the tent at Shambala. During the four day festival, the Mayflower tent sees around 100 teenagers aged 13-19.

“Most people assume festivals are all for young people. But really they are for those aged 20 and upwards. We allow these teens to be in the weird middle ground between childhood and grownup-hood. People say why would you want to work with teenagers? My answer is because they are really nice.”

There are a mixture of activities for teenagers who are a bit young for, or don’t like, drinking

Alice and her crew all work as volunteers but charge a fee to festivals to cover their insurance and equipment costs.

This enables them to put on a programme of free workshops including music, crafts, upcycling and circus skills.

The Mayflower Marquee is designed as a chilled out living room space with sofas and cushions, plus lots of phone charging points and a pool table.

“It is so much easier for them to have a conversation when they are doing something, so we have a pool table and we try to run different workshops and have shiny new things.

“The teenagers are welcome to join in with as much or as little as they like and while we try to get them involved in the workshops there’s no pressure — it’s their space and if they just want to chill and do their own thing. that’s absolutely fine,” says Bewick.

The project works on the ethos that if you have teen in your age, you can come in, but the criteria is dictated by each individual festival which sets the age restrictions.

Parents are not allowed into the tent but can pop by to check on their children by hovering outside.

Teenagers are unlikely to go to welfare or someone in a high vis jacket if they under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Bewick stresses that the tent is always a safe space as long as teenagers are not smoking or drinking inside.

“We will answer questions about drugs and alcohol. No one is going to tell anyone off or take them to security if they are worse for wear. Teenagers are unlikely to go to welfare or someone in a high vis jacket if they under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but they can turn to the Mayflower Project for confidential, non-judgement support. They can come in and have some water and sit down, and take a break. It gives them a safety net. It wouldn’t happen if we were preachy about it.”

As well as being a space to hang out, chat and charge phones, the Mayflower Marquee is also a place for quieter teenagers to make friends and build their confidence.

We encourage confident teenagers first, and then get others involved

“Our res en d’etre is to make sure no teenager sits alone in our marquee if they don’t want to. Parents are upfront about their children and tell us if they are really shy or have an issue. We are here for the shy ones. and we make sure they get involved,” says Bewick.

“It is actually lovely to see the kids doing things like paper mache and enjoying it, as they try to be so grown up in their normal live.s and it is nice for them to do something a bit younger,” she adds.

Chaz Douglas leads the music events running jamming and open mic sessions. The tent is equipped with a full band rig, drum kit, keyboard, recording desk, PA system and. this year, a DJ mixing desk.

“For the open mic, we take a relaxed attitude. We encourage confident teenagers first and then get others involved. We also record it on our SoundCloud account so they can hear it back,” says Douglas.

Teenagers sometimes play songs they have written themselves but popular choices are Amy Winehouse Valerie and Vance Joy’s Riptide.

I just saw the tent and wandered in

“We take away the shy element. It is just about getting involved in a less pressurised environment and giving people the facility to play with others, which they might never have the opportunity to do if they have been strumming away on their own in their bedroom. Also, they may have played an acoustic guitar at home but have never been allowed to play an electric guitar or drum kit because they are too loud,” adds Douglas.

Ellie Robertson, from Weston-Super-Mare, first stumbled across the Mayflower Project at Beautiful Days festival in Devon when she was 16.

“I just saw the tent and wandered in. You could sit down and chill and charge your phone. I then realised it was doing nice workshops and crafts and had all the music equipment. I just thought it was really great,” she says.

Sometimes the workshop will finish and there is still a kid in the corner working away for hours

Robertson was already working at festivals in order to gain free entry so she decided to apply to the Mayflower Project to become a crew member, with her friend Te.

Even shy kids come out of their shell by the end of the weekend

“I have always enjoyed being a part of the family of festivals and volunteering. At the Mayflower Project, I have met some of the most beautiful and talented people. They all come out of the woodwork,” she adds.

Now age 20, and studying for an artist designer degree at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Robertson is gearing up for her third season with the organisation. Last year she attended Shindig in Somerset and Shambala in Northamptonshire.

She will attend around four festivals this year, working two two-hour shifts a day managing the tent and running workshops.

“Teenagers can dip their toe into the session or fully sit there for four hours. Sometimes the workshop will finish and there is still a kid in the corner working away for hours,” says Robertson.

Hosting craft and circus skill sessions has enabled her to develop her creative side which complements her university degree.

In fact, she first discovered a passion for hula hooping at the Mayflower Project when she made her first hoop at one of their workshops.

“I am now looking to do hoop performance at festivals because it inspired me so much. I had never made a hoop before, and now I own loads.”

Older teenagers don’t want to do kiddie workshops, but also not all of them want to get off their face

Robertson also loves being able to offer cash strapped teenagers free activities such as festival glitter makeovers, hair braiding and henna tattoos.

She also says the project is “a bit of lifeline” for teenagers who feel out of place or uncomfortable among all the “drugs and partying”.

“There is a huge gap at festivals in the middle. Older teenagers don’t want to do kiddie workshops. but also not all of them want to get off their face. It is nice to be able to provide a space where they have lots of things on offer other than drinking.

“What is so nice about the Mayflower Project is that kids come in so timid on the first day, and then by the Saturday or Sunday they are strutting all over the place and so confident.”

The project will next be setting up at Shindig festival in Somerset over the second May bank holiday.

24th April 2019