Fields of action: How Greenpeace got involved with the Glastonbury Festival

IT all started with a letter…

In 1991, Michael Eavis wrote to the environmental charity Greenpeace, asking if they would care to get involved with the Glastonbury Festival.

The rest, as they say, is history – or, more importantly, is still helping to influence the future of our planet.

Greenpeace, which is itself approaching its 50th year, has been a stalwart partner of the event ever since that letter arrived.

Bob Wilson had only recently joined the charity in 1991, but has been involved with the charity’s work at the festival since it began.

“Michael thought that the Cold War was beginning to end and wanted something (a cause) that was global,” said Bob, who is the Greenpeace events manager.

“The word ‘environmental’ was just beginning to be heard. People were just becoming aware of the problem, so he invited Greenpeace to come along.”

But Bob suspects the relevance of the charity was not the only thing in Greenpeace’s favour.

“One of the things in his mind was that, in those days, it never sold out,” he explained.

“He liked the fact that Greenpeace supporters, they like the countryside, the farm, the festival.”

And so began a presence at Worthy Farm which remains to this day.

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“We were there to help out at the ticket booth initially and our supporters were people who believed in everything about the festival.

“The importance of defending nature has always been there. It has always been part of it. And that is what we do.

“There are some wonderful stories of people (working at the ticket booths) running around the site with shopping trolleys full of cash and things like that.”

From there, the charity found that it too could capitalise on the shared values of those attending the festival and the organisation.

“We spotted an opportunity really, and set up a sort of shop, selling merchandise, which went quite well,” he said.

“It really helped, as we are not funded by business, or big organisations, and cash was a huge problem in the early days.”

As the charity’s presence grew, Bob and is team were determined to keep things fresh each and every year, coming up with new, innovative attractions to help spread the Greenpeace word.

“The next thing I did was to put up a technodome,” Bob said. “We played music and had a light show inside it, so you could only watch it from the outside.”

But it did not always go down well…

“I remember we got complaints, because people were against ‘all that’. It was a bit different,” he said.

“I got criticised by Arabella Churchill (granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill and founder of the Theatre and Kidzfield who ran the Theatre and Circus Field until she passed away in 2007), I remember.

“It was like being called to the headteacher’s office, but I knew a lot of people in the room and it was fine.

“I think, what I spotted was everyone in different areas getting a little bit competitive, keeping what they’re doing secret and things, and I think she thought I was stealing her audience.

“But it was all fine and was funny really.

“After that, Michael asked if we would like a field and we ended up there (what is now the Greenpeace field, near the Green Fields and Green Kids area).

“It was the jazz field originally, it had a stage there they had built using bits of wood and I got into it and converted it into a ship – the virtual Rainbow Warrior, an amazing ship, with sails.

“When we first went, we camped in the Theatre and Circus camping area.

“Then, in those years, all night long people were trying to get over the fence. You could hear it all night long and then they would get over and land on our tents.

“It did get a bit wild, a bit dangerous with fences coming down, we went through all that – and then the transformation.

“Everyone was a bit resentful of the changes but people feel much safer there now and that’s really important.”

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INSTALLATION: A Greenpeace dome at Glastonbury 2009. PICTURE: Paul Jones

He said the Greenpeace Field was intended to be more than just somewhere to overload festival goers with information.

“It was always, from the very beginning, a field of action and activity because that’s the spirit of Greenpeace,” he said.

“We try to hold one of our campaigns that will resonate with people going.

“We’re also aware it’s their leisure time, so we don’t want to shock them with lots of facts that will make them really depressed, and instead try to highlight solutions – here’s what we can do.

“My job is to capture people’s imaginations and to send them away with a memory – to remember the time they spent with us and perhaps do something, be it signing petitions, whatever, but to do something.

“It’s important we do that.

“That’s our main reason to be there, to send people away with a message.”

And the festival, though retaining that home-grown feel, requires a lot of work behind the scenes to keep it running smoothly and safely.

“When you to some of the meetings of people like myself, area managers, artists etc, you see just how much work goes into it.

“They are all passionate about what they are doing, have been doing it for years, and are passing it on to their children to keep it going.

“Then, there is the emergency services planning. When you see that, you realise there is a vast amount of work, years of experience and huge expertise to make it happen.

“‘Expect the unexpected’, a police officer once said to me, and they really do.”

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MESSAGE: From Greenpeace to Glastonbury goers. PICTURE: Paul Jones

From humble beginnings Greenpeace has become a fixture at Glastonbury, something in place all year round.

“Environmentally, we spend the year, if needed, giving advice and help when we can.

“We are always pushing for them to go further and they are always responsive to that.

“Glastonbury is the only festival with a conscience – and that’s down to Michael and Emily and the team around them.”

Greenpeace takes 500 people to Glastonbury each year, from volunteers to artists, caterers and more.

“Glastonbury is the biggest thing we go to,” Bob said.

“We have our biggest number of supporters there and we met meet people who are already supporters, there’s a community feeling there as well as meeting someone for the first time, removing that image of us all being sandle-wearing people saving whales – which hangs around.

“And we’re looking for people to sign up, of course, and it’s a great place to do that.

“We do a lot of work.

“It’s really hard work, but it is really worth doing.

“It’s become a year-long thing really, behind the scenes.”

But what of the future – has the Glastonbury Festival brought about real change?

“People don’t quite realise how much repression there was around before that (the late 60s, early 70s, when Glastonbury was first held).

“It was art, fashion… A lot of breakthroughs happened at that time – and we are going through it again.

“And my great hope is that this generation is so much more aware than their parents.

“We could go way back – we lost a generation really, and it shows.

“But the kids I work with, I just love it. And we’re seeing the school strikes, it gives me hope because there’s so much being done in their name that shouldn’t be.

“There was a lost generation, we lost a lot, but they’re beginning to come back.”

And what about Bob, who attended the first ever festival in 1970, will he ever retire from Glastonbury?

“I’m a bit like Michael really, who said ‘why would I ever retire when I love it?,’ he added.

“We try to change every year. Greenpeace is working towards change all the time, so we make it very clear we’re going to change it every year.”

“It’s a vocation, it’s not a job.

“We’ve become a festival within a festival and it’s become a big responsibility and I think Glastonbury recognises that as well, that we contribute quite a lot.”

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OLD FRIENDS: Bob Wilson, left, with Michael Eavis


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