With the live events industry still some way from being able to boast a truly diverse workforce, we explore what is being done to drive change and encourage young people from all backgrounds to make it a career choice.

While many festival promoters have made considerable progress in recent years to make their artist line-ups more diverse, with an increasing number taking the 50:50 Keychange Pledge, there remains a far from equal balance among those working behind the scenes. 

When Chris ‘Tofu’ MacMeikan MBE is not behind the decks DJing, or producing themed areas at festivals such as Camp Bestival, Boomtown and Glastonbury, he is striving to open the industry up to young people who may otherwise be excluded. 

Chris Tofu

The Continental Drifts director has been working with Global Carnivalz founder and chief executive Pax Nindi and Certain Blacks artistic director Clive Lyttle to invite Black, BAME and PoC 18-30-year-olds to join its free nine-week course. 

Global Local’s Festival Lab course, which last took place at East London venue RichMix in the Spring, saw students learn from industry professionals at organisations such as Boiler Room, BFI, Hackney Council and Notting Hill Carnival. The team plan to hold two courses next year in both London and Bristol. 

MacMeikan, who is a director at Bristol’s Lost Horizon and Glastonbury’s Shangri-La, says the course is targeted at the Black, BAME and PoC communities because this is where the main shortage of people is at a senior level in the industry: “We realised the representation of people of Black heritage and communities of colour in senior production was the least among almost all industries. The workforce at a senior production level at carnivals in the UK is predominantly white, even though 98% of the music being played is of black origin.” 

Students on the Festival Lab course, which is overseen by female-led production company Swans Events, are given the opportunity to undertake work experience at festivals such as Wilderness, Secret Garden Party and Ensemble, while being paid £90-a-day. 

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says MacMeikan. “Every festival has adopted it and given them so much encouragement. I can’t big up our sector enough for that, I’ve never seen that in any other sector – it’s quite heartwarming. Festivals like Secret Garden Party feel really strongly about this, they understand that we’re in this terribly unfair and unbalanced working world and we shouldn’t be. 

 “Too often getting involved in festival production is very much about who you know.” 

“The problem is white festival organisers don’t know where to look and nor do people from those communities. There’s a lot of barriers. This year we learnt that we need a specialist person on site to break down these barriers.” 

Glastonbury has a £50,000 Diversity Fund, of which £5,400 was used to enable nine Festival Lab students to work and learn at the festival this year. MacMeikan says that opportunities have been created for students to return to the event and build on the knowledge and experience gained. 

The charity is also working with organisations such as the GLA and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to help fill available roles. 

“It’s created a whole level of organisation that we hadn’t foreseen, but it’s very positive,” says MacMeikan. 

Must be Love 

Team Love, the promoter of Bristol festivals including Love Saves The Day (cap. 60,000) and The Downs (30,000), set up the Big Team CIC in 2019 to create opportunities for young people in the city who have historically been excluded from the festival industry. 

Phoebe Holman

Team Love producer Phoebe Holman says, “Too often getting involved in festival production is very much about who you know, which we wanted to try and address. It felt like there were a lot of people within the festival industry who wanted to see a change, so Big Team was set up to try and actively start doing this.” 

The CIC (community interest company), whose collaborators include Bristol 24/7, ACE (Aspiration Creation Elevation), Bristol Festivals, Glastonbury, St Pauls Carnival and Saffron – whose work specifically focuses on advancing gender equality in music tech – has also been creating opportunities at Team Love’s Forwards festival (60,000), which it co-promotes with AEG Presents. 


Forwards was launched in 2022 and returned to Bristol Downs this month where it hosted artists including Erykah Badu, Bonobo and Aphex Twin. Team Love co-founder Tom Paine says one of the aspects of Forwards that sets it apart from other festivals of its scale is its focus on working with the local community. Among the ways the festival is bringing in young people is by offering paid placements. Members of the Big Team network are given the chance to explore the festival site before it opens to the public, where they see the festival build and meet members of the core team. 

Holman says the festival industry is a long way from having a truly diverse workforce but it is moving in the right direction, and Big Team has plans to considerably ramp up its activity next year. 

“The specific nature of festivals and the systems that have developed for working at them create barriers that make access really unequal,” she says. “This summer we have been doing a lot of work talking with both young people and festival employers to try and really explore this; why are things as they are and what might it be possible to change. Unfortunately, there’s not a quick fix, but there is a lot of will within the festival industry to improve and it does seem like things are gradually moving forward.” 

WRD on the street 

TheWRD, a pre-degree diploma in creative entrepreneurship, was launched last year by independent trade body for songwriters and composers The Ivors Academy in partnership with creative talent development agency Generator. It is part of an ambitious plan to help 10,000 students over the next ten years to develop their careers and creative projects. It includes entrepreneurial modules and sessions on areas including marketing, live events and touring. 

The initiative is being overseen by chief education and learning officer Howard Monk, whose wealth of lecturing experience includes the BIMM Institute, University of Creative Arts and University of Southampton. 

Howard Monk

“We want to break down the barriers people face when trying to develop their creative ambitions,” he says. “Too many people of all ages are ruling themselves out of a career in the music industry due to financial constraints, geographical location, or simply not feeling like this is for them. Art and culture are for everyone, and as a sector, we could do much better to represent the society it serves.” 

A survey, commissioned by TheWRD, found that of some 500 respondents aged 19-29 who said they were interested in a career in music, more than 70% felt that starting a career in the industry would be difficult, citing barriers such as not having contacts, it being too much of a financial risk, there being a lack of opportunities, and the industry not being open to people from their background. 

When asked about the barriers young people faced in accessing further education, almost 50% of those surveyed felt they were unable to afford it, with one in four saying they do not have access to courses near where they live. Only 7% of respondents felt they did not face any barriers. 

Monk says TheWRD does not promise people jobs, but it does promise students to get “into the room” and ensure they have the knowledge and confidence to represent themselves in a positive way. 

There is state funding available for students but for those who are not eligible and who are unable to fund themselves, there is the option of applying for a bursary from TheWRD’s network of partners that includes Amazon Music and PRS for Music. 

Of TheWRD’s ten-year plan, Monk says, “At first this seemed quite ambitious but with this plan of having just one course broken into smaller pieces, students can undertake kickstarter courses right up to the full two to three-year Access to Higher Education Diploma course, which is fully validated and carries UCAS points to help them go on to study at university.” 

TheWRD sponsored the AIF Festival Congress this year, and events including End of the Road Festival (10,000) have opened their doors to its students. 

Monk says the Panic! It’s an Arts Emergency report from 2018 made it abundantly clear that the arts and creative sectors can do so much more to diversify: “We pride ourselves on the diversity of the folks performing on the stage, but it’s those people doing the programming, running the companies – the gatekeepers – that don’t truly represent a diverse spread. 

“Lack of diversity occurs in many ways, and we’re doing our bit to try and help. We have done a lot of fundraising in the music industry and have secured a pot of money with which we can support eligible people, via a scholarship, to study with us. The industry has been incredibly supportive in various ways. Amazon, TikTok, and others have helped enormously with access, finance and ideas. 

“Change is starting to happen. There is a societal, economic reason why certain groups don’t feel any kind of ownership of, or kinship with, the events and festival sector, and the wider creative sector. We would like to do more to change that.”