Concerns about drug testing, left behind tents and safeguarding have all been raised at a meeting where a unique insight into how Reading Festival was given.

Recently, representatives of Festival Republic, the company that runs the festival, debriefed councillors on last year’s event.

The presentation included details of the steps taken to make the festival more sustainable, safer for attendees and how much money it generated for the local economy.

Noel Painting, a Festival Republic representative, said that the company had been involved in ‘pilot events’ for the reintroduction of festivals last year, which were successful enough for Reading Festival to be given the go ahead.

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He said the festival had strong covid procedures, with attendees having to show evidence of a negative test before entry.

On the economic benefits, the festival generated £64 million in spending, with £48 million going into the UK economy and £8.5 million spent in Reading itself.

A whopping 4,650 people work at the festival, however only 500 of those actually live in Reading, according to Festival Republic statistics.

Reading Chronicle: Festival-goers on the Saturday of Reading Festival 2021Festival-goers on the Saturday of Reading Festival 2021

Victoria Chapman highlighted the festival’s efforts to be more sustainable, with an aim for it to be powered 100 per cent by renewable energy by 2030 – a goal that was mentioned at the COP 26 conference in Glasgow.

No single use plastics were used by the organisers, and festival goers were encouraged to bring their own water bottles to limit waste.

But concern was raised about the amount of tents left behind, which were highlighted by aerial photos showing thousands of tents discarded by revellers.

That was despite a campaign from Festival Republic urging people to take their tents home.

Reading Chronicle: Tents left abandoned by festival-goers in overhead images of the festival site in 2021. Credit: flyskydrones@hotmail.comTents left abandoned by festival-goers in overhead images of the festival site in 2021. Credit:

Salvage teams from charity partners recovered 2,300 tents and 350 sleeping bags.

Councillor Adele Barnett-Ward (Labour, Caversham) said the company had a ‘carrot’ approach to convincing festival-goers to bring their tents home.

“Maybe it’s time to apply the stick” she commented.

“I’m wondering what you can do to compel people to take their tents home?”

Victoria Chapman replied that imposing a deposit return if people brought tents back with them would be a huge logistical exercise, adding that a “heavy handed” approach to encouraging tents to be taken back would not work.

READ MORE: Photos show mammoth size of Reading Festival clean-up task as thousands of tents are abandoned

Cllr Meri O’Connell (Liberal Democrats, Tilehurst) raised a concern about the profressionalism of security guards due to a report about an incident where security guards escorted 16 year-old boys who had hopped the gates out of the site and depositing them in the Oxfordshire countryside rather than a safer location.

Mr Painting said: “We did have challenges with various teams during the 2021 festival as a result of covid.

“We struggled for security staff and we had several teams that came in quite late and whilst we vet teams there were people we certainly won’t be employing again.

“Once we found out what happened and who was responsible, they ceased to work, but I’ll have to fact check that.

“I was horrified when I found out, and I dealt with it.”

READ MORE: Coked-up Reading festival-goer punched three security guards

Mr Painting said there had been a drop in back-of-house testing for drugs, whereby the drugs confiscated from festival-goers are tested for potency and harmful substances.

This method is more restrictive than front of house testing, where revellers themselves go to have drugs tested for the same reasons.

Councillor Graeme Hoskin said he felt the issue had been “skirted over” in the presentation.

Cllr Hoskin (Labour, Norcot) said: “I think the history of young people and drugs shows that kids will take drugs at festivals, and what we need to be about is providing the messaging and support that has been put in place.

“Also there’s a lot of evidence that front of house testing can have a significant and major impact in reducing risks and deaths at festivals.”

He urged Festival Republic to consider front-of-house testing.

Mr Painting replied that the company is happy to look into it and implement it if the council wants, but argued that it could give off “a false sense of safety”.

Sadly, a woman aged 20 died in hospital after attending the festival last year, however her cause of death is unknown.

Earlier in the meeting, Mr Painting said a safeguarding group had been set up in 2018 to coordinate responses to safeguarding issues between the festival team, Reading Borough Council, the South Central Ambulance Service, Thames Valley Police and Brighter Futures for Children.

Reading Chronicle: A group of girls walk along the Thames to the gates, Reading Festival 2021A group of girls walk along the Thames to the gates, Reading Festival 2021

He added challenges posed in 2022 include loss of Rivermead car park due to construction works, which typically serves as a park and ride for festival goers from Reading train station to the site.

The orange gate at Wigmore Lane will be for revellers who arrive by coach only.

The presentation was given at a housing, neighbourhoods & leisure committee meeting on Thursday, March 10.

READ MORE: Reading Festival voted 'Best Festival in UK' 

2021 was the first year that the festival had two main stages – with a second main stage replacing the BBC Radio 1 Stage.

The old stage was a large covered tent, and Festival Republic felt that it could accommodate more fans by replacing it.

The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.