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Greenbelt to move from Cheltenham to a duke’s garden

15 November 2013

"The English Versailles":the grounds at Boughton House

"The English Versailles":the grounds at Boughton House

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 Victorian renovations.

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.

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