Are Reading and Leeds Festivals Safe for 16-18 Year Olds?

The profile of the average visitor to the Reading and Leeds festivals has changed over the years, with 16 to 18 year olds now making up the largest group. The twin festivals are seen by many as a rite of passage after completing GCSEs or A-levels. It allows teenagers to blow off steam with their friends after months of study and exam stress.

They will get to experience the excitement and fun of seeing their favourite bands and acts perform, along with a little independence away from their parents for the bank holiday weekend. There are, however, some well-publicised dangers which are experienced by a few at these festivals. So, should you be worried?

Festival Incidents

There are issues with people selling drugs at the festivals and tents are an easy target for thieves. Both of these problems are well-known and festival security and Police patrol the events. They may not be as large a problem as you imagine, however.

Statistics from Thames Valley Police show that 98 crimes were reported during the 2018 Reading festival. Police arrested 49 people, most of these were for theft with 15 for drugs possession and 10 for intent to supply controlled substances. This is actually a low number of crimes for an event with 100,000 people attending and, in fact, lower than some other festivals.

Festival organisers and police, use bag searches, sniffer dogs and patrols to make sure problems are kept to a minimum. They also have on-site facilities to test the strength of any drugs confiscated. This provides important information which can be used by the emergency services to better help someone who gets into trouble with a pill they have taken. Information on dangerous drugs that are discovered, are also circulated via festival social media pages.

In recent times testing has also been made available to festival attendees who can take a sample to be tested. The sample is retained but the festival goer will be given a clear picture regarding what substances are contained in the sample, the strength of active ingredients and an indication of whether it is potentially dangerous. This testing practice is knowingly tolerated by Police as a safety initiative.

There have also been incidents like the suicide in 2017 and drugs overdoses which have gained adverse publicity for the event. These sad deaths caught the interest of the media, but are they something which should concern parents and festival goers?

Reality Vs Press Coverage

Incidents like the drugs overdose of a 17 year old at the 2019 Leeds festival are always going to attract attention from the national news media. Whereas, if the same type of incident had have happened in their home town, little, if any, attention would have been paid in the national media.

It plays into the narrative the press likes to portray, of a misspent youth indulging drink and drugs. This speaks to the readers of newspapers which are normally older and may have children around that age. It engages them more through fear about their children or allows them to feel superior over the younger generation. Whatever the reader gets from the news story, it sells more papers and gets more views so will therefore continue.

Playing on the fears people have regarding their children, will certainly get their attention, even if it isn’t a fair representation of the real likelihood of these things happening. When you have over 200,000 people attending these festivals over a weekend, it is likely there will be some sort of incident with one or two of them.

Is there more of a risk than if these people would have stayed in their home towns over the weekend? Probably not. The risk of experiencing violence, for example, is significantly lower for young people at Leeds or Reading Festivals than on a typical Saturday night out in Leeds or Reading town centres. It’s unusual to see physical aggression at all outside a mosh pit, at any festivals. Besides, mosh pits are optional and, whilst a bit rough, aren’t usually violent. You’re better off in a mosh pit than a bar fight any day of the week. Despite this, festivals still seem worse because of the negative media attention given to them.

Festival Support

Whilst there could be a greater chance of a 16 to 18 year old encountering drink or drugs at a festival, this isn’t ignored by festival organisers. The events are supervised by experienced stewards and welfare volunteers to make sure people don’t get into trouble.

There is a medical tent which is staffed with appropriately trained personnel, many of them are off duty medical staff and doctors. They are very familiar with dealing with those who have overindulged in drink or drugs and send them to the hospital if necessary.

In many ways, festival-goers are safer than if they were doing these things in their home town.


The Reading and Leeds festival organisers want their event to be as safe as possible. The media isn’t keen to report on nothing going wrong, however, so it is natural for the risks of these sister festivals to appear greater than they really are.

While the risks of harm may be overplayed by the media, there is a very real risk of getting wet and muddy and losing valuables. The last weekend in August is notorious for rain which has hampered the festivals many times in the past. Teenagers who experience a bad time at these festivals, normally do so because they are ill-prepared for these conditions or they’ve lost their wallet or phone.

The reality is that festival-goers will suffer more from lack of sleep and the effects of mud, than the things that grab the headlines.

Parents should support their child but not be overprotective. Whilst there are some potential risks, statistics show they aren’t greater than the dangers offered by a weekend out in their local town centre. They need to make sure their fears don’t stop their child from having a memorable experience and a weekend of fun after completing their exams.

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