THE Greenbelt Festival is moving from Cheltenham, it was
announced on Wednesday. From next year, its new home is going to be
Boughton House, near Kettering, in Northamptonshire.
Greenbelt, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this August,
has been at Cheltenham Racecourse for the past 15 years. The
festival was heavily in debt when it moved there, and the venue
helped to transform its fortunes. Older people, families with young
children, and the less intrepid were attracted to a site that
combined open spaces with carpeted seminar rooms, Tarmac walkways,
and indoor lavatories.
But the racecourse is undergoing a large rebuilding programme,
costing £45 million, which will make the site unusable by Greenbelt
for the next two years.
When it moves to Boughton next August, Greenbelt will be
retracing its steps. Founded in Suffolk, the festival spent most of
its adolescence in Northamptonshire, at Odell, Castle Ashby, and
Deene Park. The new site is more accessible than Cheltenham, within
a two-hour journey for 80 per cent of the English population, and
ten minutes' drive from Kettering Station.
Boughton House is owned by the Duke of Buccleuch, one of the
largest landowners in the country. It has been described as "the
English Versailles". The gardens and park were designed in the 18th
century by Charles Bridgeman.
The house, rebuilt by Ralph, 1st Duke of Montagu, after his
spell as ambassador to the court of Louis XIV, is not being used by
Greenbelt. When Montagu's granddaughter married the Duke of
Buccleugh, the family's interest in Boughton waned, and it escaped
Greenbelt will be the largest-scale festival that the estate has
staged. Recent events have included a musical evening to inaugurate
the new harpsichord, a meeting of the Aston Martin Owners Club, and
the world première of the opera Mansfield Park.
The move means that Greenbelt is returning to a greenfield site,
and will need to construct all the infrastructure needed for the
festival. One anxiety will be whether its organisers can persuade
those less enamoured of camping to make the move. But Greenbelt's
creative director, Paul Northup, said: "We're not going back to the
bad old days. The technology for putting on a festival has moved on
massively, and, as the storm of 2012 showed, even at Cheltenham we
were not immune to the weather."
The gardens at Boughton were well-drained, and Greenbelt would
be investing in trackways, marquee flooring, and various "glamping"
options, he said. Also, they had identified 600 hotel rooms within
a 15-minute drive, and unknown numbers of B&Bs.
The 15 years at Cheltenham had made it part of the festival's
DNA, Mr Northup said, and that made it hard to leave. But he was
excited at the beauty of the new site, and the welcome from the
trust that ran the estate, he said. "It's a place for a brilliant
family festival. There is room there for it to grow in whatever way
it wants. I think Greenbelt at Boughton can be expansive,
imaginative, and playful."
A statement on the Greenbelt website said on Wednesday: "Our
hope is that this move to a more rural location will remind us all
of what is most important in life: not the stuff we have, but the
spaces we make together, and the relationships we build, and the
way we live together in those spaces."
Sales of tickets for the 2014 festival were suspended during
negotiations for the move. They will resume in January.
The Church Times is Greenbelt's media partner.