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Cleaning up Leeds Festival

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

UPDATE: final tally from this year, we reckon just under £55k worth of stuff salvaged by our group - not including efforts by brill organisations like Yorkshire Aid, Hidden Homeless and others.

Whether it's student changeover in Hyde Park and Headingley, or the Otley Run, or Leeds Festival our approach to big events is to get stuck in and find constructive solutions.

We focus on the prevention of problems, and making use of any waste, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water.

For Leeds Festival we've been working for about a year to do that, ever since salvaging in 2022 to redistribute items to local charities.

Jools Heselwood with sleeping bags to take to a local charity
Jools at Izaak's house, picking up sleeping bags to take to St Paul's in Ireland Wood

Here's how.

Improving safety

Following a tragic death and far too many injuries and dangerous situations in 2022, safety had to be our top priority. Izaak is on Licensing Committee and worked with all of the other councillors on that committee to look at the event from every angle. Cllr James Gibson, Chair of Licensing, led these efforts. Many from the community fed into these work, and Emma helped make sure that the experiences of young attendees were listened to. Many young people who attend find it a worrying experience.

Festival Republic (the company who run Leeds Festival) responded by putting in more security checks, and providing more visible welfare sites with greater access to healthcare. Access to welfare was a serious issue in 2022. We were able to see what this looked like with a site visit as the festival was being set up.

Fires were also banned, and from the salvage this year it looked like that had been successful. They also brought in more experienced support from a police Silver Commander.

Preventing waste

After seeing the ecological disaster of 2022 we pushed for more action on sustainability. Through the Licensing Committee we set up a focused Sustainability Sub Committee, which met directly with Festival Republic in addition to the normal Licensing Committee sessions. We used our salvaging experience to push in particular:

  • More messaging aimed at waste prevention

  • Make it easier for attendees to take their stuff home, e.g. help packing up tents

  • Make it much easier for attendees to responsibly dispose of stuff they don't want, such as food

  • More time on site for salvagers, to make sure that the useful items would be more likely to go to a good home

We had mixed but certainly some success:


There was more messaging about waste (and safety) on site, including on the 'main stage' screens which are a crucial way of communicating:

Image of main stage at Leeds Festival
See the main stage screens on the left and right of the stage

Festival Republic made some other changes, such as banning disposable vapes, although from what we found that wasn't easy to police.

Taking stuff home

There was limited help for people to take their stuff home in the main camp.

Festival Republic did more than double their 'eco camp'. Tickets for this cost more, with higher expectations to look after your things and volunteers to help you take everything home. This is clearly a growth area for Festival Republic as more people want a...'nicer' experience. It's very successful at preventing waste, and we unsuccessfully pushed for this model to be spread across the whole event.

Responsible disposal of items

They did put some donation points in at the help / information stations, but they don't seem to have been as well used as they could have been. Worryingly, some security volunteers seem to have told attendees they can leave stuff behind because it'll go to charity. This is not the message we wanted to go out!

More time on site for salvagers

We got an extension to include the morning of the following day.

Also, it was much better organised this year. The briefing was better, all of the vehicles were gathered on a bigger field beforehand which was quite a nice social experience (even if it involved too much waiting), there seemed to be quite a lot more salvagers there (kudos to people like our friend Jed who spent A LOT of time organising for this).

We also arranged for council caged bin vans to join in the effort and they really went for it! We hope to get even more next year.

picture of council refuse lorries at Leeds Festival

We definitely took more of the useful items away this year (in addition to our own tally there were hundreds of others salvaging including Hidden Homeless, Homeless Hampers from Otley, and Yorkshire Aid).

Nonetheless, the vast majority of useful items were incinerated. This is a huge, huge waste both economically and environmentally.

What we'll push for next time

Of course, a continued focus on safety. Through Licensing Committee we'll be looking for an in depth report on how that was managed and the experience of the police and other emergency services who were present.

On the waste front we can be more certain about what we want to see. These ideas are based on the input from the really brilliant community of volunteers we worked with on salvaging.

This is a community effort. We will advocate for these ideas as part of that community, as well as through the Licensing Committee which reviews the 'Event Management Plan' for the festival every year. One change that's worth noting: this year the committee will be reviewing plans earlier on, so that councillors have more of an opportunity to shape the event.

Help for attendees to take down tents and gather their stuff

Just like they do for the Eco Site. Give people free or discounted tickets if they volunteer to help people take down tents and/or make sure that their 'patch' of the camp site is left clean.

Rent items and create salvage stations

Leeds Festival hosts vendors, including at least one which sells camping gear such as inflatable mattresses. An incredible number of these are left behind, probably the majority as they are a pain to deflate and people don't have much need of them outside of festivals. Can these be rented instead?

And for people who do bring in or buy stuff on site, let's set up salvage stations where they can put clean and neat items ready to be redistributed. At least then people won't be under the illusion that stuff they leave on the field is going to charity, because most likely it won't.

More proactive communication about salvaging direct from Festival Republic

Salvaging is a great opportunity, but it shouldn't be left to people like Jed to evangelise about it. We'd like to see Festival Republic, working with Leeds City Council and other Yorkshire authorities, reach out to organisations and invite them and give them as many passes as they like so people don't have to apply individually.

Make the salvaging process more efficient

Similarly, many organisations don't get involved because of uncertainty. A really practical point: permission to salvage seems to be given extremely last minute (i.e. days before) so some people have to duck out or can't get their volunteers committed to it.

If permission was given weeks in advance then many more people could attend.

Also, health and safety briefings could be done ahead of time. There's no need for us to gather and wait around in a field for over an hour, important as it is to tell people not to touch any drugs they find!

Make salvaging more of an event

More time on site, perhaps people can even stay over night using the left behind equipment - cleaning up the space, sorting everything that's there rather than desperately rushing in and out. It could be a cultural opportunity too, a chance for smaller local acts to 'play Leeds Festival'. Can Festival Republic and Bramham Hall work together to make this happen?

An organised network of salvagers

To date this has happened organically. We're on a WhatsApp group of wonderful people who want to work together to improve this situation. By putting charitable people and groups into a network, we can get more done - lobbying for changes, sharing vehicle space, getting more efficient in how we do salvage, looking out for items that one organisation in particular may need, and even sharing space to sort and clean the items we do salvage.

For those who can't go to the site itself, there are other ways to get involved.

Offer space to sort items, get involved in sorting and redistributing items, offer your vehicle to be driven, help us share the word, or perhaps you are in need of items - great, we often have more than we can use! If you're interested in getting involved next year email

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