Think of festivals and disgusting toilets are not far from most people’s thoughts. But thanks to an army of volunteers that image is slowly changing.
John Wareing, from Penwortham, was one of 450 WaterAid volunteers whose job it was to keep the loos clean for the 175,000 revellers at the recent Glastonbury Festival.
The 64-year-old was called in to carry out several five-hour shifts at a bank of compost loos near the Stone Circle Field and he says things aren’t as bad as you might expect.
“They honestly didn’t smell”, said John, whose wife Anne and son Sam also volunteered at this years’ event. They were probably the best loos on the site and they were manned 24 hours a day. They don’t smell because they separate wee and poo at source and then it gets covered in compost. There’s a big lot of compost outside and you take a handful in with you when you go in. They don’t take a lot of cleaning at all.”
There were 2,500 other ‘long drop’ toilets on the site, which were also maintained by WaterAid volunteers.
“They’re tin sheds over a long pit”, said John.
“They’re always going to be a bit smelly, but we managed to keep them reasonably clean.
“Volunteers were there with mops and buckets, cleaning the seats and the floors, and the festival goers were really appreciative.
“Things have got an awful lot better in the 12 years I’ve been coming. They’re still not perfect, but they’re reasonable and I think we’ve stopped most of the men from weeing in hedges. It’s not the same as if you’re on a countryside walk and you’re on your own.
“If there’s 10,000 people doing it, there’s going to be a problem.”
The charity WaterAid was brought in by festival organisers two years ago to replace hired contractors.
John said: “The contractors were cheap labour and some of them might not have been very interested in the job. So that’s when the WaterAid volunteers came in - the Eavis family (who own Worthy Farm) liked the idea and the relevance was quite direct. Most people in the UK have no concept of not having a toilet until they’re suddenly in the middle of a field, queuing to use one.”
As well as cleaning toilets, WaterAid volunteers were campaigning at the festival, collecting signatures for the #TheWaterFight petition which calls on the UK Government to make sure that all government plans for schools globally include taps and toilets for every child.
Globally around 1 in 3 schools don’t have clean water or decent toilets.
The lack of basic facilities means children are unable to focus on lessons properly because they are thirsty or need the loo, have to miss lessons to fetch water, get sick from diseases caused by poor hygiene, and girls regularly drop out of school when their periods start.
John spent most of his career working in the water industry and has been involved with WaterAid since 1982, having attended its first meeting.
He said: “People were wonderfully receptive to the message, it’s that kind of place.”
John and Sam were treated to lunch with festival founder Michael Eavis at Worthy Farm last Tuesday, in recognition of their volunteering. When he wasn’t manning toilets, John, who has volunteered at the festival since 2005, said he spent most of his time socialising rather than listening to bands. He said: “When you come to this many Glastonbury’s it’s not so much about the music, but catching up with people you know.
“We’ve made a lot of friends who work for WaterAid, some really interesting people.”