The Green Gathering is the latest incarnation in a long line of Green festivals. Its fulsome history intertwines with the stories of Glastonbury, Stonehenge Free Festival, the Big Green Gathering and Climate Camp.
Early 1980’s: a ‘Green Collective’ holds Green Gatherings at Worthy Farm, home of Glastonbury festival. These gatherings are initially convened as a place for members of the brand new Ecology Party to share ideas about how to put people and planet before profit and so transform British politics.
The Ecology Party becomes the Green Party and moves into more formal settings (Caroline Lucas’ arrest at Balcombe anti-fracking camp in August 2014 could perhaps be seen as a return to the grassroots). Green Collective members become involved in Glastonbury’s iconic Green Fields, while smaller, independent Green Gatherings continue to occur on other sites.
1984-1985: the Green Gathering convenes at Molesworth, the UK’s second proposed cruise missile site (after Greenham Common). Some of the crew remain on the Molesworth site after the Gathering, establishing a peace camp there. Like-minded others, including travellers brutally evicted from Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, join the camp, which becomes known as the Rainbow Fields Village and is itself evicted – in the UK’s biggest ever peacetime military operation – early in 1985. Members of the Green Collective and Rainbow Village join the ‘Peace Convoy‘, and are beaten by police during the infamous Battle of the Beanfield, as they head towards Stonehenge to prepare for the midsummer Stonehenge Free Festival. (This was not so much a ‘battle’ as a one-sided attack by police on the convoy; after a torturous legal case, Wiltshire police were found guilty of assault, criminal damage and wrongful arrests.)
1985-1993: under a government determined to stamp out ‘new age travellers’, it becomes almost impossible to hold a sizeable festival. However, small Green Gatherings of a few hundred people continue beneath the radar.
In 1993 the Big Green Gathering Company is formed, to focus the energy of these gatherings and provide a solid footing from which to hold pioneering, renewably-powered, ecologically-oriented events.
1994-2009: the Big Green Gathering attracts almost 2000 people in its first year, many of whom become shareholders in the company. For over a decade the event goes from strength to strength, 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 BGG gains notoriety in 2009 when it is threatened with an injunction and cancelled just days before the gates are due to open.
2010: police spy Mark Kennedy is outed. We learn that this undercover cop was embedded in the BGG set-up crew in 2009, posing as a member of a climate change action group.
A link between Kennedy and and the BGG cancellation has not yet been proven; however, it seems almost certain that putting a stop to the festival was a political act, at least partially orchestrated to prevent Climate Camp activists raising funds and gaining additional supporters at the Gathering. The Pitchford Undercover Policing Inquiry may yet reveal answers.
Kennedy would’ve known exactly how important BGG was to the climate movement, as he was involved in running the Last Chance Saloon, a bar dedicated to fundraising for Climate Camp. Cancellation at such a late stage meant that the BGG Company had already paid thousands of £s for fencing, trackways, toilets and licensing costs, and was left penniless. (See Rob Evans’ in The Guardian: Questions over role of police spy)
The cost to the green economy of this cancellation has been estimated at £2 million. Many small ethical businesses and campaign groups were bankrupted or had their activities severely curtailed.
Devastated yet resilient, the Green Gathering community meets for a weekend camp in autumn 2010 and decides to open itself up to new members, set up a Community Interest Company, and begin putting on Green events once again.
2011-2013: Three years of tough yet successful rebuilding and renewing follow, during which we settle into our stunning new site near Chepstow and register a charity with an education-for-sustainability remit.
2014-2017: The Green Gathering regained its place at the heart of the movement for social, economic and environmental justice and sustainability, alongside groups and campaigns such as Reclaim The Power, Radical Routes, DPAC, Refugee Community Kitchen and the the Real Junk Food Project… and received the Greenest Festival accolade at the UK Festival Awards 2017.
2018-2019: The need for physical networking spaces for activists and campaigners – and places to let our hair down and relax – has never been greater.
When the Green Gatherings began, three decades ago, we hoped that by now common sense would’ve prevailed and we’d have strategies in place for conserving the commons – land, fresh water, the oceans, biodiversity and energy – and would be managing our resources sustainably. Until that happens, we’ll be agitating for change alongside Extinction Rebellion and others of like mind.
It’s a community and an education. It’s about providing food, energy, health and shelter without degrading the planet. It’s about future families.