We were recently fortunate enough to come across Henry Lecky and Jenni Flett´s blog. They were working the festival circuit during the summer and decided to blog about their experiences at hooplaadventures.wordpress.com. Hoopla Adventures is the journey of a couple who decided to give up their settled lives and travel. Working seasonal jobs to see the world is a way to travel while earning. Starting with UK festivals they used this blog to give a true insight into the life of a seasonal worker and to show others how to give up the rat race too!
Interview with Henry and Jenni from Hoopla Adventures: The Realities and the Opportunities of Event Staffing
We’re much happier without rent or bills and getting to see parts of the world we would have never gone to had we stayed put. We get up and do a hard job, but it’s a job which rewards you with a fulfilling lifestyle..
You mention in your blog that being a seasonal worker is a way of life. What attracted you towards it and what keeps you working in this field?
Jenni – I was always a lover of music festivals, live gigs and I come from the ultimate festival city of Edinburgh. I’ve got years of hospitality experience and I’m a qualified journalist who has dabbled in PR and music reviews for a friend’s website so I always manage two or three festivals a year whether as a reviewer or reveller.
Henry – Unlike me who before I met Jen a couple of years ago had never even been to a festival. She took me to the Sunday at T in the Park for our first date – albeit inadvertently! I did have lots of hospitality experience as well and had moved to Edinburgh from Brighton to be with Jenni and got work in a kitchen while she worked in a restaurant.
Jenni – My friend had inspired me – he had worked a couple of years ago a season of festivals. We decided we wanted to travel, so quit our jobs and life/flat/ responsibilities etc in Edinburgh and drove around the country working festivals. This has snowballed from taking other seasonal workers advice and moving on to do an autumn in the Highlands in a hotel before we do a winter in the French Alps at a ski lodge.
Henry – We’re much happier without rent or bills and getting to see parts of the world we would have never gone to had we stayed put. We get up and do a hard job, but it’s a job which rewards you with a fulfilling lifestyle and this is what motivates us to keep going.
You described festivals as "organised chaos". In that light, how important is planning? What could event staffing companies do better in regards to it and are there any practices you have found beneficial?
Jenni – I think this is just the nature of events and festivals – they take a long time and a lot of effort to organise. There’s so many variables and things that could go wrong but whatever goes on behind the scenes on the whole people pull together to make that festival a success.
Henry – Agreed, planning is key. In terms of events staffing companies – the best experiences we had was when we knew which gate to arrive at, we knew what we were doing and what uniform we needed, details on what food would be provided in plenty of time. The worst experiences was only finding out that morning that your shifts would be shorter than expected or to not know anything about your job.
Jenni – Most of the time everything worked out and generally we got more hours than expected which is great for us. I found it helpful to have that email with everything you needed to know a couple of days beforehand and text communication between us and our operations manager that weekend or a phone call really put our minds at ease.
Image rights belong to Henry Lecky and Jenni Flett
...a simple email at least a couple of days beforehand with most of the details and if anything changes last minute just a quick email update or text/phone update..
How could staffing firms better prepare or inform staff members of job related details such as location and of various requirements pertaining to the job?
Jenni – Again a simple email at least a couple of days beforehand with most of the details and if anything changes last minute just a quick email update or text/phone update to say for example, ‘staff have now to arrive through Gate B not Gate G’ which was a common last minute change.
Henry – Yeah there’s nothing worse than yeah you have your job confirmation but you’ve no idea what to bring or where to go. Quite often this is again the nature of the events world and things do change last minute but don’t keep staff waiting or wondering if they’re still doing their shifts.
How important is it for you to be able to choose the jobs and festivals to work at? Do you value planning ahead and how easy is it to do that with different methods companies offer?
Henry – Planning ahead was Jen’s job – I drove everywhere and she had in her head where we’re going to go based on which festivals events companies had on their list of jobs. The first thing she made me do was to sign up for various events companies in May/June and either attend an interview or do a phone interview to secure our places on the agencies list of employees.
Jenni – Once we had our places, we filled in our experience and applied for jobs or showed our interest, maybe picking a couple of events in case one was over staffed. We also made sure the agencies knew we were driving and could be at any event across the country so our location didn’t matter. We would also pay a deposit if necessary or do phone backs to guarantee our positions.
Henry – That ability to ‘book your place’ on various events meant we could literally map out a route and go from event to event based on where we were and where we were going. Sometimes you wouldn’t get confirmation until the week before but with the PARiM system we certainly knew we had the job confirmed a lot sooner than with other companies who were more last minute.
How do you go about applying for new jobs? Do you find it easy to apply for new shifts? Is there anything you particularly enjoyed or disliked about any process?
Jenni – All companies had their own system online, which generally you could go into, pick your events, wait on confirmation, pay your deposit if necessary, get your shifts and be emailed any details. Some companies had call back days and others would phone you – either way we would always phone just in case something was missed and just doubly confirm we weren’t driving a long way for nothing.
Henry – We certainly enjoyed the having an online system to check updates on jobs and with PARiM we could always easily email someone whether that was your line manager or someone in the office and they would be prompt in getting back to you.
Image rights belong to Henry Lecky and Jenni Flett
..with the PARiM system we certainly knew we had the job confirmed a lot sooner than with other companies who were more last minute.
Jenni – The only thing is sometimes you would have a panic if the agency had changed a shift or a date closer to the event and you got an email to say your shift was cancelled but on further inspection it had just been moved but that’s why we say it’s always best to phone and make sure you’re still needed!
How do you keep track on how much you have earned and what you will earn for upcoming shifts? Would tools that automatically keep track of your pay be of any help to you or your co-workers?
Henry – Being an ex-accountant this comes naturally to me! We got weekly payslips via email and if there were any issues like we had been underpaid we could quickly send an email to rectify the issue. We did have a couple of issues with this but it was always quickly fixed.
Jenni – It was a case of knowing you would be roughly working 12 hours a day for example, and there’s 3 full days and a half day and we need X amount of petrol to get from here to the next festival. I have a savings account so would store monies in there and we took it in turns to pay for petrol.
Henry – Certainly after speaking to people we met along the way a tool which automatically calculated your pay and perhaps your tax etc would be useful. It is a case of working one event to fund the next event and it would make saving a little along the way much easier.
Would you find a way to notifying potential employers of your unavailability or availability useful?
Jenni – Yes we would, quite often we would phone to say we were free to work an extra day or two and pick up shifts like that. If they had a calendar that showed what days we were travelling or free that would help them manage shifts a bit easier.
Henry – Absolutely! We’re always keen to work more and letting employers know we could get there a day early would be a massive help for both us and them.
Does using an app or event specific software make you feel more connected to the employer? If yes, in what ways and how could that connection be improved upon?
Jenni – We did use FB groups and often festivals had their own app to keep track of performances if you had some downtime to enjoy some of the fun. Generally having something like a staff FB group meant that others could see any issues and pitch in with a solution plus your managers could quickly respond to you.
Henry – I did like this, it’s something we’ve used in bar jobs in Edinburgh as well and it’s always more comforting to have an open line of communication especially when something can change so quickly. Emails and texts are always great too, as long as you can always contact someone.
Jenni – If this was consistently the case – that you knew every event you had a FB group or app to consult and use to communicate. I found this summer only some events had this depending on the line manager so it needs to be a guaranteed thing that you know you’ll have. A safety net so to speak.
Finally, are there any easy changes that event staffing companies could do that would elevate both the work seasonal workers do and their quality of life?
Henry – The top thing on our list would be make sure your staff know exactly where they’re going and what to bring etc with plenty of notice.
Jenni – I would say make sure your staff are fed and watered properly. Some staff packed lunches weren’t great in terms of choice and overall quite unhealthy. If you want consistent staff who respect your company and who will work hard give them a decent choice, access to water and probably a staff drink if they’ve slogged on a bar for 14 hours!
Henry – Yeah, the best experiences we had this summer was having food tokens (1 or 2 a day) and a choice between a few food stalls who would be reimbursed after the festival by the agency. Nobody wants a disappointing sandwich or a choice of chips or chips and cheese every weekend for 13/14 weeks!
Jenni – Just inform people, treat your staff nicely and make sure they have somewhere warm to go to in case of emergencies, and ensure they all have their breaks with time to eat and sit down.