Boomtown on Drugs: The Harm Reduction Story

How should festivals tackle drugs? This short documentary looks at Boomtown Fair and its efforts to protect festivalgoers from harm.

Covering Boomtown Fair has long been an annual highlight for the Clockwise crew. It’s been an honour to follow the 10-year Boomtown story and see the festival evolve into one of the largest and most ambitious events on the UK’s summer events calendar.

Our team has grown with the festival; we now send a 30-strong crew to cover the action and produce a highly anticipated aftermovie, musical highlights from the various stages, and a series of teaser films that go out throughout the year. Last summer we were asked to add another element to this package: a behind the scenes documentary.

As Boomtown has grown, the festival team has had to grapple with weighty issues that come with hosting an event of this scale. Drugs are a feature of the UK festival scene and Boomtown, like many other events, has witnessed a number of drug-related deaths over the years.

The Boomtown team could see the accepted approach to dealing with drugs at festivals wasn’t working. In the organiser’s words, despite their best efforts: “Drugs can still get into the festival and may be experimented with, sometimes to dangerous levels. The; ‘drugs are illegal, don’t do them’ policy hasn’t worked in general society, and it is no different for festivals.”

In 2017, Boomtown introduced a radical harm reduction policy. Alongside its usual efforts to prevent visitors bringing drugs on-site, the festival worked with The Loop, a non-profit drugs testing and advice agency, and introduced a comprehensive welfare and education strategy.

This short documentary documented these efforts, which resulted in a 25% reduction in the number of drug-related incidents being dealt with by medical staff.

One particularly poignant moment featured the family of Ellie Rowe, who died at Boomtown in 2013 after taking a combination of ketamine and alcohol. Director Tim Crawley said: “Never before have I met such a lovely and incredibly brave family who have channeled their grief into something so positive. Needless to say there were tears on both sides of the camera.”