Music festivals are celebrations of art and though patrons come in with the festivities in mind, it is still important to make safety a priority. Bass Coast has emphasized this importance through the many years of hosting their festival. Their harm reduction program has been steadily growing year by year, giving attendees invaluable service ranging from a providing safe spaces to education of safe sex and drug use.

Stacey Forrester is the Harm Reduction Manager for Bass Coast. She has been in this role for 9 years, since the festival made its move Merritt.

“I was a regular volunteer in Bass Coast and I kept emailing them after the festival, saying that I’m a harm reduction nurse, I really am passionate,” said Forrester, who at the time was a harm reduction nurse.

“They replied ‘thank you for volunteering, stay in touch with us,’ and then when they made the move to Merritt, they had bigger plans to roll out with the vision for the festival and they finally said ‘yes, let’s do a harm reduction program.”

Since its inception, the harm reduction program has been a staple of the festival.

“The way that bass coast has grown, including our harm reduction, was very organic,” Forrester described.

“Every year we add something new, we add more people for example. The first year I had roughly 20 volunteers. We were in a tent at the back of the field but now we are on the main drag with 120 volunteers scattered all over the site.”

During this year’s Bass Coast, harm reduction services opened up on Friday, July 9 and was open 24 hours until the end of the festival on Monday July 11. The program included the following services;

-education space
-wandering teams roaming the grounds
-night life guard
-artist outreach
-on-site drug testing

Harm reduction also provided a break room for people in non-medical crisis.

“This is a very overwhelming environment, it’s very common for people to have anxiety,” Forrester explained. “They can come in, lay down, take a break, and connect with a support person.”

Kristen Begg is a first year volunteer for Bass Coast’s harm reduction program. She shared her experience working at the event.
“I’ve honestly found it super empowering and beautiful,” she said.

“Just watching people want to be educated on the substances they’re taking and wanting to be safe is so incredible. Everyone wants to party, everyone wants to have this experience at Bass Coast but being able to do it safely and with the right methods and being able to enjoy it correctly is amazing.”

Begg worked as a harm reduction volunteer in Vancouver for two years, during the COVID-19 Pandemic. She identified that the most common services she saw people ask for is education on mixing different types of drugs, safe supplies, and general questions about consent.

“If you need someone to talk to or you need five minutes to chill out or to feel validated about the anxiety you are feeling, that’s also what we’re here for.”

According to Forrester, this year’s harm reduction team has been getting great feedback from their services.

“As soon as our volunteers, in their peachy pink shirts, are out, all they hear are ‘thank you, thank you for your instagram posts, thank you for being here, we love you.”

“We do a post-event survey where we ask people for feedback, and they always give a strong response about how safe they feel on site.”

Forrester also explained that harm reduction was not created as a response to address already existing problems in the festival.

“The arc of this program has never started with the idea that lots of unsafe things were happening,” she said.

“The way that this has grown is that we’ve had very low incidences, we’ve sent very few people to the hospital and I think that’s because of our education, we talk about our safety on Bass Coast’s socials all year round, we make sure that before people arrive on site, they have an understanding of risk and harm reduction. We do track how many people come through our space so after the festival and you view our socials, you’ll see over 2000 people come through, which is a significant percentage of our patrons.”

Much like the festival itself, the harm reduction program will look to improve on its services for next year’s event. Forrester already has an idea where to start.

“Our workshops are always well attended so that tells me that our patrons are really hungry for education on site,” she explained. “My wheels are always turning, thinking about what to add.”