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Well-Known Member
(Not written by me)

Festivals are all about the collective. Who's carrying the beers? Who's going to hammer in the tent pegs while you hold the frame down in the wind (and let's face it, rain)? And who's got the spare bog roll when you run out with two days to go?

Heading to a packed field this summer can be a daunting prospect when you're on your own. It can be nerve-wracking to strike up a conversation, especially when loneliness is rife among young people - a BBC study last year found that 40 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds experience it often.

Enter Camp Loner. Download Festival has led the way in making a noise about social isolation and loneliness at festivals, with the concept later spreading to the Bloodstock and Reading events.

The annual rock and metal festival at Donington Park near Derby has played host to Camp Loner since 2008, offering a spot for the solo camper to meet new like-minded pals.

"Because it is alternative stuff, is rock and metal, and many people in our group didn't have a ton of friends in school and were marginalised," Ben Willmott, who helps to run Camp Loner, tells The Big Issue. "Obviously I am stereotyping here and that is not all of us but we do get a lot of people joining our group who are anxious and nervous and might only have a few friends online and that's it.

"It's genuinely one of the most heartwarming bits on a Wednesday afternoon when people arrive at the festival, seeing people chat when they hadn't even met just two hours before and they are relaxed and talking rubbish and really enjoying themselves. Friendships are blossoming and it's just great."

Camp Loner was started almost by accident when one reveller from Jersey was let down by his friends a couple of months before the festival. He posted a plea for other people in the same position to join up with him at the campsite.

That first year brought together a small core of 35 to 40 people but now as many as 1,000 people camp together in a special cordon of the campsite after organisers made the special community an integral part of the Download experience.

And it is not just about five days in June either with Willmott, alongside fellow Camp Loner organisers Louise Bedwell and Chris Morris, organising meet-ups and keeping the "community vibe" going throughout the year.

He says: "Going on your own can be very daunting - there is 90,000 of them and one of you, there's five whole days and you're in the middle of nowhere, what do you do? What do you say? Actually it is one of the easiest things in the world.

"Yes, you do have to sort of reach out to engage in conversation but that little investment pays back a thousand-fold in a matter of hours."

"Big" Jeff Johns is all about conversation. The 36-year-old has become a legend in the Bristol music scene for his insatiable passion for gigs, sometimes taking in more than one per night.

With his fuzzy blond hair and his 193 cm frame, Big Jeff is unmissable down the front enthusiastically getting into the rhythm, whatever the genre.

"My experiences at gigs have helped to save and change me. For me, it was the excitement of seeing the musicians that drew me to gigs and being able to connect to something," says Johns, who was diagnosed with Asperger's a few years ago.

"I find a lot of social situations very intimidating but as soon as I go somewhere and see a stage and PA set up I know that there is something that can take that focus away."

Inclusivity is a big deal in the music world, something The Big Issue identified by including Gig Buddies in our 2019 Changemakers list for their work in allowing volunteers to team up with people who have learning disabilities to accompany them to concerts.

And the ability to meet other gig-goers has been life-changing. "Without music I think I would be a recluse. I'd really struggle making friends and forming bonds with people because I find social situations difficult," Johns says.

"I gradually found myself being inter-connected with lots of different micro-scenes within Bristol. It helped me get over my social anxieties because then I know that in between bands I can talk to people and I'd often find that we would have a shared love or a shared hate."

When you're waiting for the first set to start this summer, think about how reaching out to other gig-goers could help change the tune.

Source: The Big Issue (paper edition)
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