We Discover the Roots of Nottingham Green Festival as They Celebrate Their 30th Birthday

Photos: Alan Lodge
Interview: Adam Pickering
Friday 08 September 2023
reading time: min, words

Nottingham Green Festival are celebrating their thirtieth outing this year (they started in 1991, but it’s a big birthday of sorts). Patrick Smith AKA VeggiesPat and Moby Farrands have been involved respectively since before, and near to its 1991 beginnings. We find out the roots of this pioneering fiesta, and why it’s so perennially popular.

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How did you first get involved in Nottingham Green Festival (NGF)?
Pat: Veggies Catering Campaign was formed in 1984 and immediately got involved with the Peace Festival, which predated and later became the NGF. In 2015 the original organisers retired and there was no event that year. I went down anyway, and did a free food stall on the Arboretum, then somebody else from our community centre, Linda Masters, organised a community meeting about how to save this iconic event.
Moby: I got involved with trying to start a community based alternative to banking when post offices were closing in Radford, and banks were closing all over the place. I was in a small group setting up a Radford Credit Union - a type of community bank that does affordable loans and ethical savings, and we started doing stalls on the NGF site from about 1994. I used to bring my kids along, and now my grandchildren come along to it. So I was very, very distressed when it didn't happen in 2014. I'm a friend of Lindas, and I persuaded the Partnership Council - the charity I was working for at the time - to allow me to take a few meetings to help get it started. What was wonderful was how quickly a new group came together after one year with it missing.

Who were the original founders of the festival? What was their vision?
Well the Peace Festival goes back to the 1970s. This was before my time in Nottingham, but my understanding is that it was the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) at the heart of it. Doreen Gower was one of the people I’d see, then Jeremy Jago and John Truscott were very much heading things up in the later stages. As well as being involved with the CND and Greenpeace, John was interested in Central American solidarity, and his particular stall sold friendship bracelets to raise funds for street kids in Guatemala. So there is that breadth of vision of what peace and green meant, and that’s something we’ve stayed true to.
Moby: I would say it links rather to the word shalom - peace and wholeness, which takes for granted that these things are integral to how the environment is.

Yes, you do have a wide range of groups at the festival, and some overtly political - you could argue not all of them necessarily come under the green umbrella…
Pat: Why do we have people like CND and the (Nottinghamshire) Refugee Forum? Because there's no environment on a dead planet, there's no nature on the planet if we don't tackle the spread of nuclear weapons and war. Many people in other countries and other communities are gonna be suffering the effects of climate change faster than we will. So we have groups like Global Justice who are pointing out that it's our responsibility in the West, to make some amends for our causing a lot of these concerns in the first place. We have that sense of global responsibility, it’s that broad definition of green - we're all in it together. It’s one planet, one world, and we’ve all gotta stick together.

I’m very proud to say I’m involved in organising what’s now the UK's biggest one day, free, urban green festival

How has NGF developed over the years?
Moby: I think that John and Jeremy were working very, very hard in the last few years of their tenure. As happens sometimes with groups, the number of activists involved reduced down and the whole sense of being a cooperative had got lost, and they were incredibly stressed and overburdened by it all. So one of the things we did was introduce a constitution and say this needs to be a cooperative. We’re not a registered one, but work on that basis. And people really did sign up for that, and that was really good. People challenge us if we don't work as cooperators when we're doing this old thing, and I think that matters enormously.
Pat: Because of all the pressure of it being organised by just the two people, it was basically a lineup on the bandstand and a row of stores along the footpath when we took it on. That was all that could be managed. When the new organising collective took on board, we opened up the whole northern grass bank to have family activities and a whole new range of stores. There’s now a speakers forum, what we call the Knowledge Garden, which was lacking before. I get to go around a lot of lovely events, and I’m very proud to say I’m involved in organising what’s now the UK's biggest one day, free, urban green festival. Lots of qualifications there, but it is, it is what it is. 

You’ve recently had a bit of a logo revamp, what’s the thinking behind it?
Moby: The original design was based on the one that had been there since 1991, Tash [AKA photographer Alan Lodge] revamped it, but he kept the basic design. Right from the beginning people were making comments that it looked like a dead tree... This year we've actually got a lot more younger people involved. So they transformed the logo, there was lots of voting on it, and I think we're all very happy with this little seedling. So we’re starting again at thirty, we've got a little seedling with beautiful roots. The very thing we did promise to Jeremy and John was that we were going to make sure it was going to last for longer, and keep on with the younger generation coming in. I'm getting on a bit, but others in our group are in their twenties and thirties. 

With your thirtieth festival around the corner, what do you think’s behind the event’s longevity?
Moby: Well we realised really early on that the important thing is that we have a music festival, we have a food festival, we have fun. We have a policy that activities and educational stuff that's there for the children has to be free, and we also have a free coffee stall. The idea is that, if they bring their own sandwiches, families can have a really fun, free day. We’ve put in extra rules about not evangelising or following up with people too. It’s about positivism, because there’s a real risk that with all the issues around climate change, people get fatalistic and say “there's no point, we're all doomed”. So we've got no objection if people come to enjoy the music and some good food, and then pick up a bit about learning to ride a bike, these little things. And we couldn't manage it without all our volunteers. They’re fantastic.

Nottingham Green Festival takes places at the Arboretum park on Sunday 10 September

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