Review of the Festival of Wellbeing

| 17th October 2013

Festival audience enjoys dance performance. Image courtesy of Network of Wellbeing

Florence Scialom, of the Network of Wellbeing, gives her feedback on the Festival of Wellbeing held last weekend in London.......

The recent Festival of Wellbeing run by the Resurgence Trust provided an inspiring invitation to see things differently. The Festival was broadly guided by the question of how we can move away from an obsession with economic growth towards a growth in wellbeing, and within this framework speakers explored many issues including health, the environment, energy, work, education and more.

Chair of Resurgence Trustees, James Sainsbury, opened the Festival by stating that a new vision is desperately needed, for an economics and a way of life that enhances ecology rather than erodes it. Throughout the day we then heard from speakers who outlined how this new vision could become reality. 

There was no shying away from the challenges involved in this shift towards wellbeing. We heard from high-profile speakers such as Vandana Shiva, who spoke on the growing dangers of genetically modified food, and Richard Wilkinson, who argued that growing levels of inequality are drastically detracting from people’s wellbeing. We also heard from Tamsin Omond on the insidious influence some multi-national corporations can have when they falsely claim to be caring for people’s wellbeing.

Speakers provided insightful and in-depth overviews of the many issues which can potentially prevent a growth in genuine and holistic wellbeing levels. However, the Festival did not provide an analysis of the challenges only. Held at the Bishopsgate Institute in London, this event was packed with people who were keen to not only understand the depth of the problems, but also engage with potential solutions. In fact, throughout the day there was a sense of shared inspiration drawn from the opportunities which current challenges could provide us with, in working towards personal, community and planetary wellbeing.

As one of the event’s official sponsors, The Network of Wellbeing had a stall at the Festival throughout the day. We had many exciting conversations with people interested in engaging in our work, at local and global levels, in order to make practical steps to continue engaging with wellbeing. 

A theme running through the Festival was the importance of human interconnection with nature. Tony Juniper argued passionately on the demonstrable and well-proven health benefits of “putting people back into nature, where we belong”. Making the point that positive environmental legislation has often been motivated by risks to public health, Tony outlined an array of scientific evidence that shows the positive health benefits of natural green spaces.

This was a point also picked up by Alys Fowler who gave a talk entitled “On growing happy: how beauty and biodiversity is central to our wellbeing”. In her talk, Alys talked about “biophilia, our love of life or living systems. It is an innate and genetically determined affinity we have with the natural world”. She demonstrated ‘biophilia’ in action by outlining further mounting evidence that green spaces are good for our health, and she also shared details on some exciting practical projects which are helping enable people to engage more actively with nature and gardening. 

There were so many inspiring talks at the Festival that it is hard to summarise them all, which is why it is lucky that the whole event was recorded and you can find videos from all speakers and performances online. In addition to those mentioned above you can also find Juliet Davenport talking on the value of renewable energy sources, Lynne Franks sharing insights on where the seeds of change are blossoming in different education projects across the world, Edward Skidelsky arguing for the importance of genuine leisure time for our wellbeing, and Theodore Zeldin sharing his vision for a more interesting future in which people value their working time more fully. 

A highlight of the Festival for me was a talk given by Rowan Williams, on the importance of embodied knowledge. There is a danger, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury argued, in thinking there is only one form of knowledge, that of analytical thinking and fixed answers. He highlighted that there is also a type of knowledge in our bodies, in the physical skills we learn, in our ability to successfully relate to others and to exist in the world. Through fostering this kind of knowledge and reconnecting with the body we can push back against all that tries to make us separate, and discover that the material world is something which it is vital that we care for and appreciate. Thus, this talk summarized a theme running through many of the Festival’s presentations, on the importance of connection: the way we exist in nature has an effect on our natural environment, and our natural environment has an inherent effect on us. 

As if in well-planned acknowledgement of the importance of the different forms of knowledge highlighted in Rowan Williams’ talk, the Festival of Wellbeing also hosted some amazing creative performances alongside the many excellent speakers. There was music, from the talented Sophie Stammers, an amazing Indian Dance from Khavita Kaur, and moving poetry from Ruth Padel and Ben Okri, and Martin Powell too. The day culminated with the wonderful Resurgence and Ecologist Editor Satish Kumar, sharing his words of wisdom on the importance of acknowledging our inherent interconnectedness and moving towards a vision of shared wellbeing. 


On behalf of the Network of Wellbeing, I would like to say thank you so much to Resurgence and the Ecologist for allowing us to be a part of the Festival of Wellbeing. Please visit our website for further information about our work, and watch out on our website for video interviews we conducted with many speakers at the Festival!


Florence Scialom is International Community Coordinator for the Network of Wellbeing