The Green Gathering - a festival for fun, frolics and fundamental change

Performers at the Green Gathering. Photo: Green Gathering.

Performers at the Green Gathering. Photo: Green Gathering.

The Green Gathering is a festival with a rich history that's not afraid to encompass hedonism, writes Emma Fordham - but also goes way beyond it. A showcase of real life alternatives with a mission to have fun and change the world, it's coming back this summer - so prepare for an unforgettable experience (and £10 off the ticket price).
Our slogan 'beyond hedonism' doesn't mean no fun. It means having a party, yes, then waking up the next day with your new mates from the night before, and starting to put the world to rights!

Festivals bring large numbers of young people into the great outdoors - but often recreate the city in the countryside rather than creating a space for people to enjoy nature.

The Green Gathering is a little different. A festival of around 5,000 people, held annually in the Welsh borders, its focus is education for sustainability, with the proviso that education should be hands-on and fun.

The festival's strapline is 'beyond hedonism', and its mission is to provide an environment where creativity can be applied to ecological and social dilemmas.

This translates into a tapestry of skillsharing and entertainment, all powered by wind, sun and people. Campaign stalls and a debating forum vie for attention with tiny music stages showcasing up-and-coming and avant garde talent.

Performance artists, healers, mystics and tipi dwellers inhabit the festival's fringes. There are forays into the surrounding woodland for wild food, and campfires to cook your hand-picked produce on.

You can learn to light the fire by rubbing sticks in a survivalist workshop, or build an efficient twig-burning stove to take home.

A party to put the world to rights!

The event attempts to showcase a post-capitalist, post-fossil fuel world, and has ambitions to help bring about change in wider society in the longer term:

"This shows how a community of four to five thousand people can live sustainably ... the politics of expansion must end, industrial civilisation is contracting, and here at The Green Gathering we have an example of how we can make the transition."

So says Shane Collins, one of the directors of The Green Gathering, in a recent interview with Mark McGowan - aka 'The Artist Taxi Driver' (see embed, below).

As McGowan describes to his Youtube audience, the glimpses of self-sufficiency and sense of community at the Gathering demonstrate that life after industrialisation could be rather more fun than than those currently in power would have us believe.

"They try to make Green sound grim with talk of the lights going out, but the opposite is true - being in tune with the natural environment makes people happier and more confident", claims another of the festival's co-ordinators.

"Our slogan 'beyond hedonism' doesn't mean no fun. It means having a party, yes, then waking up the next day with your new mates from the night before, and starting to put the world to rights!"

This is a festival where the people might wear tie-dye, but are more likely to 'drop in' to community activism and green politics than 'drop out' of society.

Our slogan 'beyond hedonism' doesn't mean no fun. It means having a party, yes, then waking up the next day with your new mates from the night before, and starting to put the world to rights!

Festival-goers frequently report that attendance at a Green Gathering changed their life, opening their eyes to alternatives to the hamster wheel of work-to-consume.

For example Dave Weirdigan, now Entertainments co-ordinator at the Gathering, was inspired to set up a housing co-operative after attending a Green Gathering twelve years ago.

The co-op was a success and now provides secure, self-organised housing for nine people. The young lead singer of a band booked by Dave in 2014, in turn reported that his anger at social injustice was transformed into a passion to be part of the solution by the Gathering's inclusive community atmosphere.

From small beginnings via boom and bust to winning awards

The history of The Green Gathering is long. In 1980, members of the Ecology Party (forerunner of today's Green Party) decided a summer camp might be more fun than a stuffy conference and organised a gathering at Worthy Farm, the Glastonbury Festival site.

Those involved see this as the seed of independent Green Gatherings held in a variety of locations in the early 80s, culminating in a festival near Molesworth in 1984, after which many festival goers stayed on site to protest against the presence of cruise missiles at the nearby RAF base.

Molesworth Peace Camp was evicted the following year in the UK's biggest ever peacetime military operation. The 'Battle of the Beanfield' occurred soon after, with those attempting to attend Stonehenge Free Festival thwarted by roadblocks and police violence.

In the ensuing years the political climate made it difficult to hold a festival of any size; however Green Gatherings of a few hundred people continued under the radar until, in 1993, the Big Green Gathering Company (BGG) was formed.

The BGG described its events as "pioneering, renewably-powered, ecologically-oriented events ... showcasing green technologies, providing a networking hub for environmental activists, giving families their first taste of a greener lifestyle, and demonstrating that festivals can be peaceful, sustainable and educational."

At its peak attracting 20,000 people, the Big Green Gathering was a renewably-powered temporary city with its own reed-bed sewage system, which helped to support numerous campaigns, community groups and ethical small businesses.

In 2009, as reported in The Ecologist, police and council authorities pulled the plug on the BGG just days before the gates were due to open, citing health and safety concerns.

One of the busiest venues at BGG in its latter years was the Last Chance Saloon, a fundraiser for Climate Camp. Embedded amongst the bar crew was the now notorious undercover police spy Mark Kennedy. After Kennedy was outed by activists in 2010, suspicions mounted that the BGG was bankrupted deliberately to quash the climate movement.

And so the new Green Gathering rose from the ashes

The Green Gathering community - those involved in previous gatherings as co-ordinators, stall holders and crew - met in the Autumn of 2010 and decided to launch a new Green Gathering the following year.

In 2011, The Green Gathering was held in Piercefield Park near Chepstow. Now looking forwards to its fifth year, this phoenix rising from the ashes has gone on to receive positive reviews in Permaculture Magazine and Juno and has won awards for being one of the UK's most family friendly festivals.

And to prevent any recurrence of the BGG's problems in 2009, we've moved to Wales, where the local authority is less likely to jump on us; we're on a site that has its own licence; we've set up The Green Gathering Charity, which actually owns the production company, so any hostile forces would have to take on a registered charity. And we have cancellation insurance!

The Green Gathering recently confirmed a collaboration with Beatfreeks, a social enterprise set up to provide platforms for growth and expression to young people while addressing social and community issues.

The Beatfreeks collective will run a series of youth-oriented workshops in poetry, music, dance, enterprise, leadership and media at the festival, culminating in a poetry slam and performance jam on the solar powered Floating Lotus Stage.

Off Grid College, Transition Towns, Radical Routes co-ops' network and an Occupy camp have all played a part in the latest incarnation of The Green Gathering.

Networking for a green future

This year, festival organisers are working with the Permaculture Association to raise awareness about the International Permaculture Convergence to be held in the UK in September.

Permaculture Ambassadors will be at The Green Gathering to share their knowledge of ecological design systems from around the world - and to dispel the myth that permaculture is only about gardening.

Those attending the Gathering will also have the chance to network with Reclaim The Power activists, who in recent years have been responsible for raising awareness of climate change and fuel poverty by occupying power stations and organising direct action camps on fracking frontlines.

Where many festivals are all about forgetting responsibilities and enjoying the show, The Green Gathering aims to trigger a sense of responsibility and to equip festival-goers with the mindset and skills to transform their lives, and the world, for the better.



More information

Emma Fordham
became a director of The Green Gathering in 2013. An environmental activist and occasional blogger, Emma camped outside St Paul's Cathedral as part of the Occupy movement in the winter of 2011-2012, and was arrested at the Barton Moss anti-fracking protection camp in 2014.