A blog written by Martin Evans, one of Greenbelt’s elder statesman and festival manager in the 80s and 90s
I write this having just returned from Greenbelt 2016 and wondering why I’m missing some of the familiar faces I used to see there. Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled to see everyone at the festival, and to see new people coming – especially the hundreds of young adults who came this year on the newly discounted 18-25 ticket. But, as a long term Greenbelter and a man of mature years, I can’t help calling to mind those I’ve grown up with through the festival over the years.
I’m wondering why some of them don’t come anymore?
The festival this year, its third time at Boughton House, was simply wonderful. The only way I can describe it is that it is a gift. It is a privilege that, in our lifetime, this extraordinary event takes place every August bank holiday and we can go and enjoy and participate in it.
Why am making such a fuss?
Firstly, the new site at Boughton Park is simply stunning. In my view – and I have been to every Greenbelt festival site – it is the most beautiful of all Greenbelt’s seven locations. The trees, the avenues, the waterways, the skies, the stars, sunsets and sunrises, the rolling parkland, the peace and tranquility. After teething difficulties in 2014, the site is now easy to access and the walkways make for easy, dry walking. On Saturday at this year’s festival there was the mother of all thunderstorms and the ancient grass at Boughton simply absorbed it all so that on Sunday you would not know there had even been any downfall.
Secondly, the programme has real life in it. The Greenbelt Trustees and staff have taken on board the findings of the 2015 Consultation and are genuinely attempting to offer a festival where, to use their phrase, ‘faith, arts and justice collide.’ These three sprits continue to haunt Greenbelt and are alive and well everywhere you look – from the Bogside Mural Artists in 2015 to Nahko and Medicine for the People in 2016, and a myriad of content in between.
And it’s fun too! For instance, Harry and Chris’s poetry and music brought The Canopy venue down on Sunday evening and was a great example of faith and art flowing together without a join at the same time as putting a smile on your face.
Plus, following the Consultation, young people’s and young adult tickets have been slashed in price and there is much more opportunity for all to participate in the programme. Added to which, there was a great children’s and family programme at the festival this year as well.
John Peck died six weeks before GB16 peacefully at the age of 92. John was the theological backbone of Greenbelt for many years. He made this interesting statement: “It’s easy to do a faith and justice festival. It’s far harder to do a faith and arts festival. Our faith defaults to justice if it is good. But what Greenbelt strives to do is to be a credible arts festival.”
I believe that Greenbelt is unique. It is the longest running summer festival in Britain. Glastonbury started at the same time but has missed a couple of years. But what is really unique about it is that it is trying to be both Christian and centred in the arts. It can and it will do better, I believe, but I know it will never stop trying.
As the festival continues to settle into its Boughton House home, I am thrilled and excited to see it in such fine form. Boughton is a beautiful place to spend a weekend. The company is great, and you get to participate in a festival that seeks to stimulate, challenge and move you in so many ways.
My message is simple: if you’ve stopped coming to Greenbelt in recent years, please come again!
With much love,
Former Vice Chairman (1984 – 1998) and General Manager (1988 – 1994) of Greenbelt. Leader of the Greenbelt Consultation in 2015 and now simply a volunteer and a fan.
Pictured: Harry and Chris in The Canopy at Greenbelt 2016