At 7am, we drove one French car and one French van from Calais to Reading. To the aftermath of Reading Festival.
This was the Reading Festival Salvage: what happens the morning after the night before.
I was working with the Dunkirk Refugee Ground Support Network alongside Care4Calais and other organisations. An eclectic mix of volunteers, from England and France, we arrived to the most shocking of scenes. Huge fields that festival-going campers had recently quit lay like garbage heaps, strewn with tents, sleeping bags, mats, bottles, litter, drugs and food.
In our disposable culture, it is easier to buy new, to pop-up, and to leave to never biodegrade. That thousands of people can afford to spend such significant amounts on camping equipment, booze and festival tickets, to consume it all and then abandon is, I suppose, to be reckoned a happy sign of our affluent society.
Or is is a sign of endemic social and environmental neglect?
Not far from this society is another society. A society without shelter, sanitation or support. Over in Calais and Dunkirk, thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers sleep rough out in the open. These families and individuals have their tents routinely broken or confiscated by the police, live off the food provided by volunteers, and have no access to basic sanitation.
The smallest amounts of rain turn the woodland ground to sludge, dirtying everything, increasing illness and underscoring the depressive condition of living as a refugee with no fixed shelter.
Over the course of the afternoon and evening, we salvaged hundreds of tents, camping chairs, sleeping bags, tins, mats, wellingtons: all things in great need just a few hours drive away.
All this apparent ‘refuse’ can be reused to help improve the living situation of refugees in the north of France.
I find it difficult to comprehend fully the extent of this massive, multi-locational, annual, festive catastrophe. It is shameful and reviling, but sadly it is just a rare opportunity to glimpse something of our personal, domestic relationship to consumption.
These same individuals will return home to churn out more waste with little thought to the environmental consequences or to the potential benefits of ethically repurposing what they use.
On beginning the Reading Festival salvage, we were told not to take any photos. I wondered why. I can only assume it was to cover up an environmental abomination.