Monday, July 27, 2009

More insight into closure of the Big Green

Further insight into the Big Green Gathering being cancelled due to 'Police intervention"

The Big Green Gathering, a fixture in the alternative calendar, was
due to return after two years this week. 15–20,000 people were
expected to turn up on Wednesday (29th) to the site near Cheddar,
Somerset, for Europe’s largest green event - a five-day festival
promoting sustainability and renewable energy, with everything from
allotments to alternative media. Hundreds of staff and volunteers are
already on site, and its cancellation comes just days before gates
were due to open. Organisers, most of whom work for nothing, are
gutted. One told"SchNEWS" below:"> SchNEWS “We are so disappointed not to be having
this year’s gathering – it means so much to so many people”.A
last-minute injunction by Mendip Dis-trict Council, supported by Avon
and Somer-set Police, put the ki-bosh on the entire event - citing the
potential for ‘crime and disorder’ and safety concerns. This was
despite the fact that the festival had actually been granted a licence
on the 30th of June. According to Avon and Somerset police’s website
“[We] went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure this event
took place.” This is of course utter bollocks.The injunction was due
to be heard in the High Court in London on Monday (27th). However,
before that could happen the BGG organisers surrendered the festival
licence on Sunday morning. As soon as this was done a police commander
at the meeting was overheard saying into his radio “Operation
Fortress is go”. Police have already set up roadblocks and promised
to turn festival-goers back. Chief Inspector Paul Richards, festival
liaison, later confi rmed to one of the festival organisers that
“This is political”, adding that the decision had been made over
his head at county level. One of SchNEWS’ sources on site said that
the police were frank about the fact that the closure had been planned
for two weeks. “This was a blatant act of political sabotage – the
Big Green Gathering is now completely bankrupt, they knew that we were
going to be closed down and yet they carried on allowing us to spend
money hand over fi st on infrastructure”.The BGG collapsed fi
nancially in 2007 under the weight of increased security costs. The
new licensing act added an extra £120k to their costs, leaving them
with a loss of £80k. Security accounted for a third of their overall
overheads and the road marshalling bill rose from £5k to over £23k.
In spite of these setbacks, they managed to scrape them-selves back
off the fl oor with shareholder cash and some potentially dubious
corporate involvement. Every effort had been made by the gathering’s
organisers to accommodate the increasingly niggling demands of police
and licensing authorities. The procedure lasted over six months –
just check out
for the minutes of meetings held between organisers and the
authorities. Demands included a steel fence, watchtowers and perimeter
patrols, having the horsedrawn fi eld inside a ‘secure com-pound’
and wristbands for twelve undercover police. At a multi-agency meeting
on Thursday, police took those wristbands in order to maintain the
pretence that the festival stood a chance of going ahead. A catalogue
of other obstacles were also continually placed in the organiser’s
path.All of the businesses associated with the BGG came under
scrutiny, licensing authorities contacted South West ambulances, the
Fire Brigade and the fencing contractors and asked them to get payment
up front from the BGG. Needless to say this caused huge problems.
Under the terms of the Licensing Act 2005, police can insist on
certain security fi rms being used by organisers. This of course leads
to a totally unhealthy hand-in-glove re-lationship, open to abuse.
Stuart Security were forced on the BGG by police, and on Wednes-day
last week, they suddenly announced that they wanted 60% of their fee
up front. Even though the BGG scraped the cash together, the company
still wanted out. So the BGG hired another fi rm – against police
wishes. The fact that Stuart Security rely on police approval for
lucrative contracts at Glastonbury Festival, the Royal Bath & West
Show, WOMAD, Reading Festival, and Glade Festival has, of course, no
bearing on the matter.

The last issue at stake was road closures. Mendip District Council had
insisted on road closures as part of the licensing requirements. A
festival organiser contacted the highways agency to process this
fairly routine request. The decision was passed to junior manage-ment
who reportedly came under intense pressure not to grant the closure.
As the road closures were not secured, the council were able to claim
that the BGG was in breach of licence. A nice little legal stitch-up
that according to one QC meant the BGG stood fuck-all chance of fi
ghting the injunction. Of course, now that “Operation Fortress” is
in full swing, there are road-blocks throughout the area. The BGG is
itself a limited company and could have fought the injunction -
risking no more than bankruptcy - but in a nasty twist two individuals
were also named, meaning that should proceedings have gone ahead
against the festival then Mendip Council would have had a claim on
their assets to settle court costs. Police also threatened to place
the farmer on the injunction, risking his entire livelihood.Anyone who
has ever been to the Big Green will know that the atmosphere is more
like a village fete than any of the mainstream events. There is
virtually no aggro. It’s more about chai and gong-massages than
Stella and fi sticuffs. All power is 12V solar and the amplifi cation
is correspondingly quiet. Music stops at midnight. Compare that to the
24 hr Technomuntfucks that go on with state blessing across the
country. Of course it would be cynical to suggest that the BGG
represents an alternative that the authorities fear. It’s a gathering
place for eco-activists, where the likes of Plane Stupid and No-
Borders hang out and exchange ideas while trying to avoid being button-
holed by 9-11 truthers. It’s clear now that the state views events
like the Big Green in the same light as Climate Camp and the anti-G20
protests. The BGG saga is showing that there may no longer be any
‘safe’ legal spaces for us to gather. The third way of quasi-legal
free-ish festivals is looking like a dead-end.

It’s clear that the Big Green has been singled out – and any
gathering promoting those values or trying to organise in a grass-
roots way will probably suffer the same fate once they get to a
certain size. As corpo-rate-branded Glasto has become a fi xture on
the mainstream calendar, like Ascot or Wimbledon, many have turned
towards smaller more ‘grass-roots’ festivals. Niche festivals have
bloomed across the British landscape. No matter what your bent, be it
faerie wings or S&M, there’s probably a muddy weekend in a fi eld
for you. Of course this isn’t the fi rst time that Britain’s had a
thriving festival scene. See previous SchNEWS’ for how the free
festival scene came under ruthless attack from the forces of Babylon
(or just skin up for an old hippy and listen to them bang on about the
glories of the White Goddess Fayre or Torpedo Town). Some have tried
to go down the quasi-THE HIPPY, HIPPY SHAKEDOWN continued...BIG GREEN
GATHERING SHUT DOWNlegal route, such as Strawberry Fair and even
Glastonbury, until the aptly named Mean Fiddler intervened in 2002.
Unfortunately the corporate dollar is never far behind. Witness how
Glastonbury went from a fence-jump-ing free-for-all where the festival
organisers built the infrastructure, but the fl y-pitchers, buskers
and random naked lunatics made it a real festie rather than a fenced
in, heavily policed corporate theme park.The Big Green was an
exceptional fes-tival, which managed to leap through the legal process
while being crew-heavy and retaining a lot of the free-festival
atmosphere (Not all of course - we still had to put up with plod
wandering around site). It was a unique gathering place for fringe
movements, from eco-activists to crop-circle nutters. We’re not just
banging on about festivals being free because we miss the good ‘ol
days – there’s a huge difference between being a punter who has a
whole experience laid on for them (e.g. Glasto’s themed areas with
helpful stewards pointing you in the direction of the consumer
delights), and being part of a fes-tival/free party where everyone’s
responsible for the entertainment, and even infrastructure like
welfare. A crowd that feels it owns an event behaves differently to
one that feels it has paid to have an experience. The fact that
undercover police now feel free to operate and arrest people, without
any back-up, for cannabis use or nudity (See SchNEWS 684 and 603) at
festivals has a lot do with the sheep-like behaviour of punters - a
mentality that our masters are keen to see enforced.In the SchNEWS
offi ce we’re hearing rumours that people aren’t going to be put
off – alternative sites are being looked at and people are heading to
the West Country anyway.

In the words of one participant “Things are
just getting interesting”. Time for the Big Black Barney?


Marina said...

We're heading west anyway as we arranged family business in the area. But then we move on....

To the Isle of Wight. To show solidarity to the Vestas workers who are in court this week.

Vestival anyone. Let's festy like it's 1970...

Anonymous said...

The BGG has had money issues in past years, this one is no different. At the end of the day if you don’t pay people especially with a poor track record what do you expect.
As I understand it there were many organisations which were not paid up front, or agreements not formalised. In some case we are talking thousands why shouldn’t they be paid up front.
The grounds for stopping the festival given are all issues which should have been dealt with a long time ago by BBG, who claim to be experienced at this.
The expectations placed on the festival are the same across the UK, organising road closures, medical cover, security these are standard thing.
If the council were planning to go to the high court there must have been a strong case, otherwise BGG would have contested it. BGG state their legal team felt they had no option, which speak volumes.
It’s too easy to come up with conspiracies. At the end of the day if they are serious about the cause maybe they should be serious about organising the event.