FRANKing Around! A Summer of Festivals

Our FreeFill Coordinator, Hamish, shares some of his adventures on the festival circuit for FRANK Water!

Hamish Hay with FRANK Water's classic and stainless steel bottles! You can still get hold of one here. 

Hamish Hay with FRANK Water's classic and stainless steel bottles! You can still get hold of one here. 

FRANK Water is a small charity tucked away in a garage in Montpelier, next to the the proudly independent minded area of Stoke’s Croft in Bristol. FRANK, in common with many other organisations in the city, punches far above its weight and is known well beyond the city boundaries. The charity has already worked with over 300,000 people in India to help them gain access to safe water, and enthusiastically advocates the multitude of benefits that this can bring, such as access to work, improved health and gender equality.

The idea for FRANK was started back in the late 1990’s when our founder and CEO, Katie Alcott, contracted dysentery after drinking some less-than-safe water in India. After being ill and unable to work for several months, and realising that such illnesses were common amongst Indians in some regions, she vowed to do something about it. In 2005, she started raising money for a single NGO in India by selling artesian spring water to cafés and restaurants around Bristol and at small festivals – FRANK was born!

Simultaneously, Katie realised that by selling bottled spring water she was fuelling another problem – plastic bottle waste. We in the UK, use a staggering 15 million bottles every single day in the UK, and whilst much of it does end up being recycled, this in itself is a wasteful and energy intensive process. The solution was FRANK Water’s FreeFill initiative, which now sells durable, refillable bottles at festivals and then offers the buyer unlimited refills of chilled, filtered water for the remainder of their time there. It’s a model that since been replicated by other organisations and is beloved by many Bristolians and festival goers all over the country! Since 2010 the charity side of FRANK has also expanded dramatically, and now has a dedicated project team working with six different partners across India.

Cornbury Festival! Diving into deep water...

Our first festival was Cornbury in Oxfordshire! I was lucky to have some amazing weather for the first few days, backed up by some fantastic music (especially from the late 90’s, and with Blue and Seal adding their stamp of approval to our bottles, we couldn’t really go too far wrong…). This was certainly a baptism of fire for me, with two marquees and fifteen volunteers to manage. In practice, lots of the stock management systems were unworkable in the dark, noisy and chaotic world of festivals, and I realised that quick-thinking and an immense degree of flexibility was the key to keeping everything under my control. It was a great experience that was to help prepare me for what was to come!

This whole family got themselves kitted out with our new stainless steel bottles!

This whole family got themselves kitted out with our new stainless steel bottles!

Larmer Tree! The Peacock, the yogi and the mathematician...

After Cornbury (with about 12 hours in Bristol to recover) I was deemed fully experienced, and therefore packed off to Larmer Tree Festival to manage the team, with the support of some experienced core team FRANKers! Set a chalk plateau high on the Dorset/Wiltshire border this magical and mysterious festival is set in a beautiful estate, and is very much integrated with its surroundings. One of the highlights is surely the “lost wood”, a forest filled with small grottos, art installations and the odd crazy mathematician showing off his latest invention. Hip touches, like art deco lampshades hanging from trees, and regular workshops like mass outdoor yoga add to the quirkier and more relaxed vibe of this festival. Not to mention the peacocks that roam free around the site! For FreeFill, we had just one marquee as well as a great group of volunteers, which helped to make my first festival in charge a success.

One of our FreeFill mobile units at Larmer Tree Festival!

One of our FreeFill mobile units at Larmer Tree Festival!

WOMAD! Mud & multi-national mayhem...

However, as welcome as the the chilled vibes of Larmer Tree were, this didn’t last long, as our next festival was WOMAD! Here the number of marquees expanded to four, the number of volunteers to sixty, and the excitement by many orders of magnitude! WOMAD is one of the world’s biggest festivals for world music, with some of the most unusual stage line-ups and eclectic artists. However, it’s not just about the music. There’s food from all over the world and weird and wonderful workshops to enjoy at almost any time of day. 2015 was our biggest ever festival for FreeFill, so with support from other staff in the office, we dived in and survived four days of fun, with huge helpings of mud and rain thrown in. Sadly, the weather did take its toll on our bottle sales (the local press nicknamed it ‘WOMUD’...), but we came away with lots of ideas for making FreeFill even better next year!

Jon Snow makes a surprise guest appearence at WOMAD!

Jon Snow makes a surprise guest appearence at WOMAD!

Shambala! Serenity, Surreality & Sustainability...

After a short break, in late August it was time to dive into my most hectic but exciting festival yet – Shambala. The festival commission us to offer free refills for everyone and bottled water is banned across the festival site! Shambala takes sustainability very seriously, and applies circular thinking to almost all aspects of the business. There are many clearly visible interventions, as well as the elimination of single-use plastic waste, the web site is hosted on servers that exclusively use renewable energy, coach travel is subsidised and the fish meals sold on site are of species vetted by the Marine Conservation Society. Add on the actual festival itself, which features fantastic musicians that you’ve probably never heard of, workshops galore (I went on a wild food hunt), endless fancy dressing and hot tubs next to the woods, and you have the recipe for a magical experience!

The Weird, wonderful world of Shambala!

The Weird, wonderful world of Shambala!

End of the road - Literally...

Shambala was quickly followed by End of The Road festival back at Larmer Tree Gardens. It has a slightly more serious vibe than the other festivals where music is concerned, and a noticeable number of people certainly with pre-prepared lists for their weekend entertainment. And what a line-up it was! It’s also more chilled compared to previous festivals, with less dressing-up and more relaxed conversations with strangers in the fields. We were lucky to have incredible weather, and our plastic bottles and specially-branded End of The Road bottles went down a treat! It ended up being one of our best festivals of the summer, with very good sales (especially considering we only had a single marquee).

The FRANK Water band performs our song, "Saturated", at End of The Road. Download it on iTunes for just 99p!

The FRANK Water band performs our song, "Saturated", at End of The Road. Download it on iTunes for just 99p!

Now I’m back in the office, helping clear up all the equipment from the summer and thinking about the festivals for next year, where we’d like to make FreeFill bigger and better than ever before! If you’re involved with festival management, or know one that you think could benefit from having the FreeFill initiative, please do check out our website and get in touch.
 

Finally, a big FRANK you to all the volunteers, core team members, the food traders that literally kept us alive and kicking (big shout out to The Curry Shed, Pizza Tabun, Wrappers Delight, amongst many others) and amazing staff at FRANK (especially Annabelle!) for making my summer so fantastic!