Fighting Poverty Through Festivals

Melvin Benn visits Koch FM at Korogocho Slum, Nairobi. The station takes about 5 interns at a time and manages to train about 60 young people per year. Some go onto working as professional journalists. Koch FM ask professional journalists, editors etc to come and train the team, who then in turn train the young volunteers The aim of the station is also to make the local government of Korogocho accountable and empower the local residents by making information available via the airwaves. They campaign on issues around HIV/AIDS, security, poverty, domestic violence, youth employment, talent promotion and harassment from local officials. They broadcast 50% music and 50% education and information.

Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn has long supported the work of charities, and raises over £250,000 a year. To commemorate ActionAid’s 10 years of campaigning on anti-poverty issues at Reading Festival, the organisation took him to Kenya to see its work. He tells us all about it…

Melvin Benn visit Koch FM at Korogocho Slum, Nairobi. The radio station was set up from scratch by a group of volunteers / residents of the slum.

“WE STARTED working with ActionAid after one of our staff married one of their staff. I was talking to the bride and groom at the wedding and although it was clear that providing some activity at a festival other than handing out leaflets was new territory, it took off from there.

“ActionAid provides a tent at Reading with DJs and bands – most of the acts are quite modest, but some of the really big names go in there to perform incognito which is a great talking point for audiences. It’s a really nice hang-out space for people and is somewhere Reading Festival-goers feel comfortable talking to ActionAid about what they do.

“What’s fantastic is the way ActionAid approaches its involvement with the festival. For instance, one of the great shouts you hear at Reading, which travels across the site like a Mexican wave of sound, is “bollocks!” It’ll start in a campsite and quickly travel across the whole site.

ActionAid took that and developed the Bollocks to Poverty Campaign, based around the Reading audience.”

Melvin Benn visits Koch FM. The station takes about 5 interns at a time and trains about 60 people per year. The aim of the station is also to make the local government of Korogocho accountable and empower the local residents by making information available via the airwaves.

“I spend quite a lot of time in Kenya with another charity we support, Kenyan Orphan Project [of which Benn is a patron], so I’m very familiar with what it’s like there, but for me it was a fantastic experience to be able to spend time with the young people in Nairobi and Mombassa, who, if they lived in the UK, would be festival-goers.

“It was a wonderful experience to have the opportunity to see the difficulties many young people face, such as poverty and deprivation, and how – by and large – they respond to that in a really positive way.

“My philosophy – and the philosophy of Festival Republic – is that every business in the developed world should have a charity aspect to it – you should give something back whether you’re making nuts and bolts or running festivals.

“That said, I don’t think festivals have a responsibility to be making social change. Festivals are parties, and one of the last things you want to do at a party is to be educated about something which will make you feel unhappy.

Melvin Benn visits Kenyan slums

“If there’s an opportunity – and at some festivals there is – then we should help. Glastonbury is the perfect example: its integration with Oxfam, WaterAid and Greenpeace is a perfect fit.

“Equally, the interaction between Reading and ActionAid is perfect.”

Bollocks to Poverty, the youth arm of anti-poverty charity ActionAid, is celebrating 10 years of campaigning at Reading festival. Each year the hard-hitting charity has asked the Reading masses to campaign on an issue that is a driving force behind poverty and injustice. To celebrate their 10th amazing year of standing up for the right of people all over the world at Reading festival, ActionAid is staging a series of bespoke, unpublicised performances by big names in their cool and cosy tent. Bands Enter Shikari, Bombay Bicycle Club, Simian Mobile Disco along with festival compére Huw Stephens, are gearing up to give fans a surprise set to remember.

In 10 years 32,000 Reading music fans will have taken part in ActionAid campaigns, 200,000 Bollocks to Poverty stickers and tattoos have been worn (some where the sun don’t shine), 3,500 giant Jenga towers have been built by people chilling in Reading’s only charity tent and 120,000 people have busted some moves to ActionAid DJs.