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Since 2016 Hertfordshire charity Herts for Refugees has been rescuing tents and sleeping bags from festival sites and donating them to refugees in France. This year the charity worked at three festivals – Festival Republic’s Reading Festival, Vision Nine’s Boardmasters and John Giddings’ Isle of Wight Festival – where it salvaged 3,955 tents and sleepings bags in total.

Herts for Refugees chair Angus Clark spoke to Access about the charity’s work. 

Why did you set up the tent salvages?

There’s a huge demand for tents and sleeping bags, especially in areas like France, Northern France and Paris particularly. Once we realised that salvaging was a thing, we thought let’s see what we can do in terms of getting ourselves some tents and sleeping bags. Prior to Brexit, we would go straight from a site we would fill the vehicles and drive straight from the site across to France. That’s obviously a bit difficult now, it takes a lot more planning and expense but it’s the same principle.

The main reason we need so many items is due to the hostile and violent policies of the Police in northern France. They regularly evict refugees from the camps and destroy everything they possess. This includes personal possessions such as passports, legal documents and children’s toys as well as tents and sleeping bags. They are literally left with the clothes they are standing up in. The police have even been known to take people’s shoes.

How do you work with festival organisers?

With Festival Republic for example, this took a lot of effort this year because a lot of our contacts had been cancelled from last year and had moved on when we came to do it this year. But when we did get contacts, we were in touch with Festival Republic’s sustainability team and we’ve worked even more closely with them this year. There was a bit of a misconception that if you leave your tent or sleeping bag it’s automatically going to be collected by a charity like ours. This is not the case as we collect about 10% of what’s left behind, which leaves an awful lot that either goes to landfill or incineration. So we would rather people donated their gear rather than abandon it – we want to make that distinction.

This year we also worked with a group called Eco Warriorz. They’re all about trying to change the mindset – to not dump your stuff, and instead pack it up and donate it if you want to give to charity. Part of the problem is the popularity of pop up tents, where a lot of people can’t get them back in the bag again – which is one of the reasons why people leave them. Eco Warriorz is there at the festival helping people with this.

What has the response been like?

We’ve got a lot of regular volunteers who we see every year which is fantastic but we always encourage new people to come along as well. It’s a great way to give back to the community because you’re obviously benefitting the local environment by preventing the stuff from going to landfill or incineration, as well as supporting some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

Do you think festival organisers can do more on the sustainability side?

It’s an ongoing issue and they often get a lot of stick for this year every when it’s in the papers and there’s always outrage. But they do work closely with us and they do want us to be there. They do try to get the message out and they have donation points and signs for example. We’ve been talking to them about having more messaging on the stage and on the big screens. But you don’t want to get so heavy on the messaging that you annoy people – you’ve got to encourage them and change that mindset. Ultimately it’s up to the individual.

I think once you get to a point where more people are taking stuff home with them than or not, that’s the tipping point where it becomes socially unacceptable to leave stuff behind. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.

The charity works with the following people and organisations:

  • Victoria Chapman and Paul Burke, sustainability at Festival Republic
  • Charles Storer MBE – founder at Hope And Aid Direct which provided the 7.5 tonne trucks and delivered everything to France for the charity 
  • Mobile Refugee Support – distribution partner in Dunkirk
  • Collective Aid – distribution partner in Calais