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, Climate Camp and Extinction Rebellion.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. (See Rob Evans’ in The Guardian: Questions over role of police spy)
A link between Kennedy and and the BGG cancellation has not 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.
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 regains its place at the heart of the movement for social, economic and environmental justice, inviting groups and campaigns such as Reclaim The Power, Radical Routes, Corporate Watch, South West Against Nuclear, Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), Refugee Community Kitchen and the Real Junk Food Project to the festival to share ideas and skills.
In 2017 we’re awarded the Greenest Festival accolade at the UK Festival Awards.
2018-2019: In the wake of a devastating but not unexpected IPCC report showing we have only 12 years to act before climate catastrophe, and amidst growing awareness of the impact of plastic waste on oceans and biodiversity, The Green Gathering launches waste-reduction campaigns (Don’t Be A Mug – Bring Your Own! and #PlasticFreePeriods), and curates the Solution Zone at the Extinction Rebellion Spring Uprising Festival in Bristol, bringing a micro version of The Green Gathering to an indoor, urban environment. By showcasing positive solutions and sharing skills, we aim to provide hope, inspiration and practical tools in this time of Climate Emergency.
In 2019 and 2020 the International Greener Festival Award for Power goes to GG, in recognition of our 100% commitment to renewables and pioneering role in inspiring other events to move towards sustainable solutions for energy generation.
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, nearly four 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, City To Sea, Reclaim The Power and others of like mind.
The Green Gathering is a place to relax, make friends and listen to music – but it’s also so much more than that.
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.
It’s a festival beyond hedonism, where you can party your heart out; then wake up and work out how to make the world a better place, with your new mates from the night before. A festival with an impact that lasts far longer than a weekend…