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Special feature: a fleet fit for Glastonbury festival mud

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Music, mud, tents, unusual haircuts. Yes, it’s Glastonbury, Britain’s annual celebration of music and generally letting oneself go for a few days.

Taking place near the eponymous Somerset village each June, some of the world’s biggest musical names have performed at the festival, watched by up to 180,000 people.

Such a major operation, staged across 900 acres of farmland, requires serious manpower, all of which needs to get about before, during and after the weekend of the festival itself.

The staging of such an intensive fleet management exercise is down to Glastonbury assistant site manager Jackie Slade and her small team.

It’s her role to ensure that every aspect of the festival’s infrastructure runs smoothly, including monitoring a fleet of 132 vehicles.

A local to Glastonbury, Ms Slade has a background in stage lighting and started working for the festival for three or four weeks of the year as part of a wide range of freelance work.

“But over the years this job has got bigger and bigger and it’s pretty much year-round now,” she says.

Her current role covers procurement and management of vehicles and plant alongside the rest of the festival’s infrastructure, from security fencing to the laying of the temporary road.

Jackie began her role at Glastonbury at the end of the 1980s, when the festival had a grand total of five vehicles.

But as the event grew, so did the requirement for transport.

“The following year it went up to 20, and it just kept growing,” she recalls.

“The vehicles were just used for generally getting around the farm.

"It’s a big site and where other sites might use buggies, they are not really robust enough for us.

So we use 4x4s – mainly Land Rovers – and now the uses are more specific.

“Most of the artists are able to drive in themselves as we have a temporary road to the stages. But if the weather is bad we have to ferry them in.

“The majority of vehicles are used by the crew.

"Each part in the site has an area manager and they each have their own vehicles. Vehicles will be needed by the security, electricians and medical staff, as well as the health and safety team, the fire people and Oxfam, whose volunteers look after the gates.

“Before the festival each year they tell me what they need. I start working from a list from last year and try to keep it the same as much as possible.

"But very often people will tell me about changes and say they need an extra vehicle.”

The process of bringing in vehicles starts in January.

"Glastonbury hires its vehicles from SHB 4x4, a dedicated four-wheel drive rental and leasing company that the festival has dealt with for 20 years.

The festival outsources health and safety management to a third party firm, but there is still plenty to do when it comes to monitoring vehicles and drivers.

“We have to make sure before we sign a vehicle out to anyone that they have a clean, current driving licence and that they are insured either by themselves or through us,” Ms Slade says.

“There is a site speed limit, because sometimes if it gets wet and the ground gets muddy it’s like ice.

"People start sliding around – we’ve had a bit of that.

"And on occasions, people have had accidents out on the road too – luckily no one has been hurt.

"Most of the time damage is confined to small bumps and crunches where people aren’t paying enough attention.”

Luckily, most of the damage – and indeed most of the driving – is done before the tens of thousands of punters turn up – driving during the festival itself is strongly discouraged.

“We don’t allow driving through the site during the show except for absolutely essential vehicles, like ambulances,” Ms Slade says.

“I would rather walk during the show because there are so many people about.

"Stewards stop people driving through particular areas. If you do want to drive, there will be people walking with the vehicle.

“The starting point has to be that you don’t want anyone to drive anywhere.

"Then you look at what is essential. We have our own festival medical team that runs the hospital and first aid centres and they would be allowed access.

"Service vehicles to empty toilets or emergency plumbers would also be given the right pass to do the job.

"With a considerable following from people keen to preserve the environment, plenty of efforts are made across the festival to minimise its impact on the world, but Ms Slade admits that it can be difficult.

“We really do try to adhere to environmental guidelines but with a show like this the CO2 footprint is not great,” she says.

“Having said that, we are getting better year by year.

"Our Land Rovers now take 5% bio-diesel and our tractors use 100% biofuel.

"We are looking at transport all the time, trying to reduce it wherever possible.”

The biggest challenge of the job is keeping tabs on the vehicles once they arrive.

“It’s the biggest headache,” Ms Slade says.

“We have to keep on top of it all the time. Each Land Rover is numbered as it arrives from SHB and signed off then signed out to whoever it is for.

"The vehicles start trickling in at the start of May and most of the rest arrive on transporters the weekend before the event.

"Afterwards, the whole thing is reversed. We get the keys back, the vehicles are checked and then sent back in a reasonable state.

"We give them a wash before they go. This year the last one went back on August 1.”

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