This is a picture of me in Jerusalem in May,
where I was doing some facilitation work with a team from the UN
Relief and Works Agency, which provides services for Palestinians
in refugee camps in the region.
I went to Bethlehem, for the first time in over
ten years, to visit an inspiring organisation called the Holy Land
Trust, which Greenbelt supports and which was organising its
inaugural Bet Lahem live festival in June.
I was shocked and angry to see at first-hand the
eight-metre wall that now cuts Bethlehem off from
Jerusalem, and the economic, social, and cultural hardship
it has caused. Many streets that were bustling on previous visits
are now ghost streets.
I've been CEO of Greenbelt for just seven weeks
now. The job involves leadership and management of the
staff team, strategic development of the organisation, business
development and financial oversight, working with the board of
trustees, and generally ensuring the organisation runs
It's a very significant time in the life of
Greenbelt. This year's festival is our 40th. It will be a
creative celebration of Greenbelt's journey to here, and its vision
for the future - and a great birthday party, of course.
I hope that Greenbelters will increasingly take the
spirit of Greenbelt back to their communities, so that we
can build a movement and be far more than a great festival. We've
already begun this journey with various events we are hosting or
collaborating on throughout the year.
My first experience of Greenbelt was about 20 years
ago, when I was in my teens. Greenbelt had moved to Deene
Park in Northamptonshire. I attended with friends and my older
I loved the atmosphere. We saw The Proclaimers
and Midnight Oil, and spent a fair amount of time in the Tiny Tea
Tent. Otherwise, I must confess that my resounding memories are of
running out of money, and hitching a friendly ride to the coach
station at the end of the festival with my friend.
I think we need to focus more on young people and young
adults. There are a lot of loyal attendees who have grown
up through the festival - some of them for 40 years - but to have
longevity, we need to appeal to more young people to get them
Also, people see Greenbelt as a one-off fix to give them
nourishment and inspiration; but we'd like to make it
happen all year round. There's a real freedom and creativity in the
festival, and people are free to be themselves in this quite
magical space created by the staff and volunteers. But I think
there are opportunities to develop an online community where people
can get inspiration and ideas year-round, and to create
smaller-scale events which mirror that creativity and bravery found
at the festival.
Every year is so unique. I often choose a
different theme for myself each year. Sometimes it's literature,
other times dipping my toe into diverse expressions of worship. At
other times, I enjoy the music, or just spend time with friends
soaking up the atmosphere. My highlights from recent years include
Billy Bragg, Herbaliser, Kate Rusby, and Courtney Pine (who is
returning this year), Nitin Sawhney, Shlomo, and the Austin Francis
Connection (also returning this year), Pádraig Ó'Tuama and his
mesmerising poetry, spiritual direction and Ignatian meditation in
Soul Space, hearing Jim Wallis speak (he's back this year, too),
and learning to Lindy-hop.
I went to various Christian festivals when I was
younger, but for me Greenbelt is completely unique. What
has always appealed is the diversity of beliefs and traditions, and
the brave and exploratory nature of the talks programme.
Before, I was working as director of a management
consultancy, TCM (Train. Consult. Mediate.), which
specialises in mediation and in helping varied organisations to
handle conflict more constructively. We trained and coached
managers and leaders in conflict resolution, as well as in wider
leadership skills. TCM has a staff team of around 20, and my role
involved managing the operations and the people, as well as
developing products, quality assurance, sales, and
Before that, I worked in campaigns, on a
variety of social-justice issues, in particular the arms trade.
Alongside this, I did various volunteering roles, including
community mediation in Hackney, where I live.
I grew up just outside London, but my mum is
from Northern Ireland and my dad is from India; so I have always
had an interest in the world, social justice, and conflict issues.
I'm a middle child, and I think this may have started me on a path
to becoming a mediator. I remember hours spent rescuing stray
animals or even injured insects.
My parents were both Catholics, and I always
went to church with them till I was ten. We started going to a
house church through my teens; I went to a Baptist church at
university; came back to Hackney and went to the URC church because
it was local to me; and attended an evening congregation called
fEAST (very creative, small congregation, focused on justice and
community and eating together).
My husband had always been an Anglican; so we
started going to St John-at-Hackney, and I now feel a real affinity
with the Anglican Church.
I really love being able to go to sing Taizé
songs, and then celebrate at a L'Arche community event,
and then pop in and see the Franciscans, and go to a Moot
meditation, when I'm at Greenbelt. My first real job after
university was for SPEAK, a campaign and prayer network focused on
students and young adults. I'm a bit old for them now. We used to
put on creative services at Greenbelt: prayer and liturgy with some
kind of campaign action.
I definitely feel more drawn to contemplative prayer
than I used to, and have hopefully learned a bit from
Ignatian spirituality. I'm definitely an off-the-scale extravert,
but know contemplation and retreats do me a huge amount of
From an early age, I aspired to be an artist,
and spent most of my time reading, drawing, and doing crafts. While
I decided to give up studying art at 18, and focused on English
literature instead, I have continued, albeit sporadically, to draw
and paint, with a particular love for life drawing.
I tend to see the opportunities in situations;
so I am not someone who, often feels regret for what has passed.
One regret I do have is that I am now in my mid-30s, about to have
a baby, and have not yet learnt to dance the Argentinian tango.
I've been really influenced by Anabaptist thinking and
theology, in terms of commitment to peace, justice, and
integrity. I first trained as a mediator with Bridge Builders,
which is a Mennonite organisation, and found inspiration in Wood
Green Mennonite Church. They have a real focus on living in a
community, and commitment to working through conflict openly, which
most churches don't get right.
Training with them shaped my outlook and my working life
in so many ways. They helped me shift from being an often
angry campaigner to a less judgemental campaigner, willing to
listen to those who oppress, as well as to their victims.
It is difficult to name a favourite place, but
among my favourites are the Old City of Jerusalem and the bustling
souks, and the Amalfi Coast, where I spent my honeymoon. But it's
hard to compete with a spring day walking through bluebells in a
wood in Kent, the garden of England.
One of my favourite books has to be The Great
Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I love the art, music
and literature of the '20s and '30s. It is hard to find a more
beautiful and poignant tale of love and longing.
One of my favourite books of the Bible has to be
Isaiah, and chapter 58 in particular. The "true fast" of
breaking the chains of oppression inspired me as a student to
become a campaigner.
I'm happiest when I'm spending time with
friends, neighbours, or family, often in east London. An
ideal weekend would involve a lazy stroll round a local market, a
picnic on my beloved Hackney Downs, and a pint or three in one of
my local pubs.
If I had to be locked in a church with someone, I'd
choose Henri Nouwen. I've always loved the L'Arche
movement, and The Wounded Healer has been a source of
inspiration for me. A lot of my work has been around mediation and
non-violence, and there's something powerful in his writing about
being a non-judgemental presence for people in their woundedness.
You can't always change everything, but listening is sometimes
Beccie D'Cunha was talking to Terence Handley