Laying out a festival site so that it works well is complicated. Experienced site managers can do it on the fly as the trucks arrive, but if you haven't done it many times before you'll want to plan everything out beforehand.
You will need a site visit to help you make the plan, and ideally you want another site visit close to D-day to check that the venue have not changed anything without telling you.
If you're new to this, try and run your site plan past someone else who has done this a million times before. That's probably Mini Mansell
See also page on Site Safety.
Anywhere that gas bottles will be stored needs to be away from ditches and low lying ground where gas could pool. This means your big tents (if using gas heaters) and your caterers. Flammable gas that leaks will sink, and if contained by the shape of the land, will cause an explosion hazard.
If anyone will be driving in stakes (to secure tents or festoon lighting), you need to check with your venue what services may be buried under the area. Often the venue will not know, in which case some common sense around the location of any street lamps and service blocks can help prevent an expensive accident.
Your services determine your entire layout. The most important service is the drainage, because this is the only one that really cannot be moved or worked around. Major caterers, showers and toilets (except blue turdises) need drainage and must be located practically on top of it. Some smaller or fast food caterers may be able to work without drainage; ask them.
Besides that, you need water for toilets, showers and caterers, and power for big tops and bar marquees. You want to absolutely minimise the length of cable and piping runs, and you need to secure the generator/cables/piping/open manholes from the jugglers.
Thus, the tighter you can group the tents and caterers around the services, the less cabling and piping you will need and the more secure the service area will be. Using tents, vehicles and any available buildings to wall in the services is much preferable to using extra fencing. Heras is less secure and looks less professional. If you build everything right, you can often end up with a single service area fully enclosed by tents/vehicles/buildings/perimeter. This area can also be used by caterers for secure storage, although in that case you must also make safe any trip hazards and open manholes that you have about.
Ideally you will not have to run cables across unsecure areas, but if you do have to, you need to sink the cable in the ground (put a spade on the list) or if there is a tarmac path, run it overhead.
Skips and/or big wheeled bins need to be positioned where people will see and use them on their way OUT of the campsite. Nobody carries rubbish onto a campsite, nor do they want to see the Bin Zone as part of the entrance vista.
If you have smaller bins, position them strategically at the exits of bar and catering areas.
Remember that marquees and big tops still need fire exits and these cannot exit into your service area(s) or straight into a fence.
Big tents are usually fastened down by big tent pegs. If you are putting tents on tarmac you will need to make alternative arrangements (e.g. water bowsers or something else convenient and heavy).
You need to run festoon lighting into your campsite, and you want to minimise the amount of festoon you buy and the length of your cable run.
All the suppliers need to be able to get the tents/toilets/etc on site and off again, and the less they have to drive on the grass the better. If it rains you don't want them to get stuck. Once these things are in and the vehicles have left, you may be able to restrict the access somewhat.
During the event, if you have a small generator it may need fuelling. Your toilets may need a pump-out. If you have bands in your marquee, or temporary visiting caterers, they will also need vehicle access. If your skip or bins overflows during the event, it will need emptying. You can open the fence for this but you don't want to have to move tents, vehicles, etc.
Any suppliers who are on site with vehicles will decide they also want vehicle access through your fence. If you back them onto the perimeter fence, be aware that they will own a spanner and they will open the fence (causing security problems) to drive in and out through it when you are not looking.
You also need access by fire vehicles to your campsite, including proper fire lanes between the tents.
The people supplying your tents need more space to rig the tents than the footprint of the tents themselves. If you're putting them in a tight space, measure it first and check with the suppliers that the space is enough.
You need to be able to fence the site. If the site has existing fencing or buildings to one or more sides, you may be able to use this, but if you have a heras fence that meets a building and no way to fasten them together, you've got a security problem. Similarly, if your heras fence approaches a bush or a lower fence, this makes it easier for outsiders to approach unseen and to jump the fence. It is better to leave a wide "no man's land" (ten metres even) between an existing insecure fence or hedge and your own slightly more secure fencing.
The smaller the perimeter, the easier it is to secure. Square shaped areas are better in this respect than thin or straggly or otherwise funny shaped areas.
Heras cannot be used if the land is not pretty much flat.
If you're in a rough area, having your security guys able to drive around the perimeter during the night will help them keep you secure.
You may like to walk the site when you're making your plan, imagining that you are a petty thief and working out how/where you would jump the fence.
Your caterers will want to secure the back of their setup, and marquees and tents may also have vehicles or gas bottles out the back that need securing. Use already available buildings, perimeter fencing or the other caterers/marquees/tents to box them in. The more heras you need to use, the less secure it will be and the less pleasant it will look.
Beware of public footpaths. You have a legal obligation to leave them accessible to the public, and they provide cover for thieves who can approach pretending they are just normal footpath users. If paths widely used by the general public come very close to your campsite access, you increase the risk of opportunistic sneak-ins.
If it rains during your event, things will get muddy. Mud will track in your hall and your toilets and showers and make everything filthy.
Encouraging people to bring indoor footwear and having somewhere outdoor footwear can be left by the entrance will stop a lot of the mud being brought into your buildings.
If you can bring pedestrian traffic along paved routes as much as possible, you'll cut down on mud. Paved areas at high traffic points like the approach to tents and building are even better. Similarly, clustering all your food/drink/entertainment in one place cuts down on the traffic. Consider positioning (for example) your bar tent next to your big top with a tunnel, so that traffic between the two stays out of the mud. Heras can be used to block off shortcuts that go across grass.
If you are able to leave enough width at the entrance area to allow two possible entrances next to each other, you can close one and open the other if the first entrance turns into a swamp. Paths will also get wider as people avoid walking through the middle of a muddy pathway.
It is can be very useful if you are able to visit your site after heavy rain, to see which areas flood or where puddles form and how fast is drains. A field can look quite flat but surface water will show you where the lowest points are. If your pathways have to cross an area prone to flooding or intense puddling maybe construct a raised walkway if necessary.
An exposed site can be vulnerable to high winds, so things like adequate bracing of fencing or tying down other lightweight temporary structures needs to be considered.
Ideally you want jugglers to be BLOWN AWAY when they enter site. You want to plan the visual effect of walking onto the area. The first thing they see when they walk onto the outdoor area might be your "food court" or "food road", or your big top entrance facing them in the near distance. Not, if you can avoid it, a sea of other jugglers' tents, not the toilet block with its associated pong, and not skips and wheely bins, particularly overflowing ones.
Fast food sellers near the entrance to bar and big top will do well.
Toilets need to be fairly convenient for the bar and big top, otherwise people will piss on your tents. They also need to be far enough away that any smell does not reach the food consumption area. Ideally they should be out of the sightline of people eating food.
To generate the best ambience, you want to create one or two areas where people will naturally congregate, next to traffic paths that bring most of the jugglers past that area regularly. Usually this will be a "food road" or "food court", with space for people to sit outside the bar/caterers or hang about chatting. Ideally you want through traffic here - the more you funnel everybody through this area, the better the atmosphere. You will also increase the takings of your caterers, for which they will thank you. If the passers-by can see the interior of the bar or food tent, and the menu board, as they go by, they are even more likely to go in.
Minimising the length of your main traffic routes will keep people happy. So
- main building to bar/catering
- bar to big top
- big top to toilet
- bar to toilet
- camping to toilet/shower
However you need to leave enough space between things for people to congregate freely, stand and chat, and queue for shows. A narrow "food road" will mean people keep moving along it rather than stopping to read the menu or look around for their friends or stop to chat.
If you split the campsite completely into loud/quiet beware that this will dampen the atmosphere in your "village" due to reduced traffic.
Some events have productively divided their camping into "noisy" and "quiet", or the alternative suggestion of "early noise" and "late noise". While people like quiet camping, they don't like walking far to their tents, and they certainly don't like walking far from their tent to the toilets and showers in the dark.
If there are sloping areas in your campsite this will reduce the capacity substantially.
The more square shaped your fenced area is (as opposed to longer and thinner), the less fencing you will need, meaning it costs less money, is quicker to put up and is more secure.
Having enough clear routes (fire lanes) through the camping will hopefully discourage people from trying to take short cuts through densely tented areas and snagging guy ropes in the dark.
The sound system in your bar and big top needs to be pointed away from any local housing as far as possible, and away from your campsite. Large sound systems are enormously louder from the front than they are from behind and canvas does not stop noise any better than toilet paper. Sound carries a LONG WAY, so this doesn't only apply to the houses you can see over the fence. If locals are annoyed during the event they won't hesitate to come over in their PJs and give you a hard time (or call the police or council noise officer).
If you are having loud events in your bar area, you ideally need an alternative quieter area where people who just want to chat can go and drink.
Big tops, bars and caterers generate queues. These queues need to have somewhere to go that does not cross other queues and does not go in front of other traffic routes like the marquee entrance.
Areas with a lot of people (such as big top exits), toilets or tripping hazards will need appropriate lighting, lighting can also be used to help security. Some campers do not like bright lights shining into their tents all night. Flood lighting the entire site all night will not be very cheap and other forms of electric lighting will need a power source and wiring.