Greenbelt is an independent Christian charity working to express love, creativity and justice in the arts and contemporary culture in the light of the Christian gospel.
- Greenbelt Mission Statement
No it's not a festival celebrating a patch of land, which is not to be developed upon. Nor is it a flexible green band meant for keeping up trousers. The Greenbelt Festival is in fact the largest Christian arts and music festival in the world. It takes place annually from Friday night to Monday night during the last Bank Holiday weekend in August on Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK.
This annual Christian shindig evolved out of the non-conformist fringes of the church in the early 1970s and, since then, has evolved into a progressive, liberal arts festival, where workshops on protest politics and issues of social justice are just as important as acts of worship.
- The Guardian – 21 August, 2004.
The Greenbelt festival has seen various changes in its lifetime. It began in 1974 on Prospect Farm in Suffolk, but since 1999 has taken place on Cheltenham Racecourse. Initially, the festival was attended by 2,000 people, but this number has since grown to more than 20,000. It has changed from being a youth event to a family event as its early followers have grown up and now bring along their families. Furthermore, the festival has gone from being simply a Christian event to encompassing the arts and reflecting on the world around us through seminars.
There are a lot of people giving talks and holding discussion groups in the different marquees scattered around the place. I was even able to get down the front for the writer Karen Armstrong, one of my female icons of the past few years.
- Bill Drummond
Seminars are on issues such as the environment, literature, fair trade and blogging, to name but a few. Many of these are interlinked with other activities on site such as The Tank, a place to relax with a cup of Fairtrade Coffee or such like, while your mobile, gameboy, laptop or other personal technological gadget gets charged up. Email accounts can also be viewed in The Tank and technological workshops1 run everyday. In 2005, the Greenbelt Festival aligned with Live 8 and Make Poverty History, with various talks made around the subject including one from ex-Blue Peter presenter Diane Louise-Jordan. The Archbishop of Canterbury2, Anita Roddick, Peter Tatchell, Bill Drummond and Billy Bragg have all made speeches in the past. This year (2006) there were talks on Northern Ireland and what effect last year's Make Poverty History campaign really has had on the Third World.
Talking of which, Greenbelt, the Christians' answer to Glastonbury, wants to screen my film, Top Spot. This pleases me a lot. It's a young people's festival, so lots of young people will get to see my film. The main reason for my art is to communicate.
- Tracy Emin
There is also a film tent on the race course that shows a variety of films. A couple of films shown in 2006 were Born Again, Velcrow Ripper's ScaredSacred and Fritz Gets Rich by Eddie White and James Calvert. Nick Park gave a talk before his film The Curse of the Were Rabbit was shown on the big screen. Other attractions included a clay city created during the festival in addition to busking, street theatre, comedy performances and plays such as Godspell.
I would urge those with an interest in music to open their minds and dip into Greenbelt next year. It really is a very friendly festival for all ages, and the religious aspects are distinctly non-threatening.
- Stephen Lambe
Every year the festival attracts the biggest names of Christian music, whether they play classical, pop, rock or other genres of music from all over the world. Some highlights have been the appearance of U2, Cliff Richard, Bruce Cockburn, Steve Taylor, Daniel Amos, Over the Rhine, Iona, Amy Grant, Miles Cain, Lamb, dfg, Lambchop, Goldie, Jamelia, After the Fire, Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, The Polyphonic Spree, The Proclaimers3, Daniel Bedingfield and Delirious?.
Take a pop festival, add sunshine + peace, shake vigorously, pause for breath, inject spiritual insight, dance until two, watch sunrise; laugh at sleep. Skateboard, dye hair, expand in worship then juggle.
- Greenbelt organisers
There are also places to worship on site, such as the 24-hour prayer tent and events where people can worship also take place there. A wide variety of stalls on site such as food stalls, music stalls and book stalls cater for the masses that flock to the festival and the children are kept amused by things such as inflatables and a club for children. Everything that appears at the Greenbelt festival is mentioned in the festival programme, which features a map of the Racecourse and a timetable of when things are on4. However, if people do not enjoy reading then they can always listen to Greenbelt's very own radio station, which keeps people informed about what's going on around them and let them catch up on any talks people may have missed.
Getting into the Festival
Getting into the festival is by ticket only, unless people are volunteering. Tickets come in two varieties - day and weekend - and range in price according to age and whether people are accompanied by their family. There are also offers available: for instance, if the person wishing to attend has a GL post code or is a church leader or youth leader attending the festival for the first time and can prove it, they can get in at a discounted price. The event can be paid for online (where booking is free), over the phone and at the office. ID is required in order to book cheaper tickets for OAPs, church leaders, students, single parents or for those on benefit.
Just like Glastonbury Festival, where people have fun and make money for charities, the Greenbelt festival makes for a memorable event and raises money for Christian Aid. Greenbelt is also in partnership with CMS, YMCA, ICC, Traidcraft, Ecclesiastical Insurance, Church Times, DFID and the Church Urban Fund and in 2005 made people aware of the Make Poverty History campaign, the World Trade Organisation in Hong Kong and Trade Justice Movement.
Getting to the Festival
If you are lucky, as we have been, the journeys fly by, deep in conversation (or quiet as the mood takes you) and, best of all, lots of laughs.
- Lynn from Liftshare
To make the most of the Greenbelt Festival experience and be fully refreshed in body, mind and spirit, don't rush to and from the event. Take Friday and Tuesday off and use them wisely as travelling days. Arrive early on Friday around midday, so that you can set up your tent in an uncrowded field with minimal fuss. Then go and explore neighbouring Cheltenham Town before returning to the racecourse to see the start of the festival at 5pm. That way, it's less likely that traffic jams will get in the way and putting up the tent in the dark won't be your only option.
Getting to Cheltenham by car can be easy5 and there is ample car-parking space at the racecourse. On arrival and departure, cars are allowed in the camping areas to unload and pack up tents, but must be returned to the car-parking areas at other times. Guides are available to help people on and off the site and with parking located next to the Centaur building. Having your car so close can be useful for storing valuables away, listening to the Greenbelt radio station, keeping things like a fresh set of clothes dry in case the tent is waterlogged and enabling people to pop into town to grab a few essentials if the urge arises. Okay, so the car is not the greenest mode of transport, but fear not: liftshare options are also available.
The train station for Cheltenham is on the opposite side of the town to the racecourse. So there is a fair way to walk to the festival, but taxis are readily available at the train station. If planning to take the train the National Rail can help.
The bus station (Royal Well) is located next to a taxi rank in the middle of town. There are also buses running to and from the town centre to different places around the country as well as the racecourse. If the bus is fanciful check out the National Express.
Cheltenham Spa was specifically designed in its 18th and 19th Century heyday as a pleasure and health resort for wealthy visitors - the legacy of which is an exceptional range of quality accommodation, restaurants and entertainment.
- Visit Cheltenham
From camping, caravanning and teepees on the racecourse, to hotels, university accommodation and the houses of friends or relatives in or near Cheltenham, there is no shortage of where you may be able to sleep at night.
Many people argue that camping is part of the experience of being at a festival and it means when the evening entertainment is over there's not very far to walk to get to bed. Most people tend to come early on the Friday and set up their tents while it is still daylight and then the festival village is opened in the afternoon, with the opening ceremony in the evening. Likewise, although the festival closes on Monday night, most people camp on Monday night and leave on Tuesday morning.
There are five different camping areas on site which are General, Early Curfew, Youth, Disabled and Disabled with Groups. Pitching a tent in any of these areas is on a first come first serve basis, except if camping in the Disabled or Disabled with Groups areas where the access co-ordinator needs to be notified of those who desire to camp there.
The Site and its Facilities
What I have found really refreshing about Greenbelt is that people are just doing what they do. They're not trying to condemn you for being who you are – I'm very grateful about that!
- Kurt Wagner
The Greenbelt Festival has become a festival that caters for everybody6. The organiser's desire is for everyone to be safe and healthy, enjoy their time at the festival and return next year. To do this they have put a variety of facilities in place such as toilets, running cold water points and showers7, created space for food stalls8 and placed facilities to warm milk and prepare food on site, as well as making it accessible to all. There is even a creche for 0 to 10-year-olds, The Mix9 for 10 to 14-year-olds and a club for 14 to 18-year-olds.