The people's farm

7th July 2000 at 01:00
The Government could learn a lot from Glastonbury, writes Victoria Neumark

Yasmin is enjoying herself. "I really like it here," she says. "At school, you get the piss taken out of you for being different, but here you can be different; everyone is different." For young people like Yasmin, Glastonbury 2000 was a chance not only to listen to their favourite musicians but also to relax and just be themselves.

While Yasmin returns to her Year 10 classes in north London, 500 workers on Worthy Farm will be spending the next few weeks restoring the Glastonbury site to rich, green pasture. They will gather and recycle litter, dismantle roads, fences and more than 2,000 toilets and bring home the 314 cows which have been staying, temporarily, at a "mootel" on a neighbouring farm. Eventually, when the recovery cycle is almost complete, muck spreaders will fertilise the 400-acre farm with the contents of the toilets - 500,000 gallons of aerated and treated sewage.

Sceptics might debate whether festivals are safe places for young people to congregate in midsummer; some question whether they should even be allowed, especially when A-level exams aren't over. And what about the crime, violence, sex and drugs?

As a mother of three, there for the second time with my teenage children, I can reply that crime, sex, drugs are everywhere in our society and Glastonbury is no different. But the festival feels safe, and its vibrant atmosphere encourages young minds to feel and act positive. As Michael Eavis, dairy farmer, unsuccessful Labour candidate (for mid-Somerset) at the last general election, and founder and organiser of the festival, puts it: "We believe the event helps to bring out the better side of human nature. Pop and politics go hand in hand. People under 21 have a lot more of a conscience; they haven't become corrupt, twisted and perverse yet."

Just take a wander along the temporary streets of the tented city. Here is the man carrying his 10ft wooden cross to "make people aware of what Jesus suffered for them". Here is the earnest 17-year-old boy with his sign reading "Free hugs", being hugged by three people at once. And, as indie band Muse play, see young boys jumping down from crowd-surfing, shaking water from their heads with huge grins, saying, "That was just the best thing!" Move further out from the central, heaving markets that surround the two main stages - known to Glastonbury-goers, with heavy irony, as "Babylon" - and you find yourself in the Cinema field where giggling teenagers cheer on Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 2 while a boy runs past yelling, "Sexually transmitted diseases! Two for the price of one!" A wild-eyed crusty with pink dreadlocks lurches past, shouting, "What are you doing here? This is a farm! Do you think it's a festival?" People laugh. It feels a lot safer than our town centre on a Saturday night.

Although music saturates the site, it is far from the only ingredient. There are live performances by stars of all ages and musical styles (this year, Travis, the Chemical Brothers, David Bowie, Willie Nelson and, believe it or not, Rolf Harris), but there are also fields and fields full of circus and cabaret acts, dance, theatre and poetry. If you want to sew a Buddhist mandala, walk through a sound sculpture or try your hand at permaculture gardening, you can. "It's not a money machine, like other festivals," says Tom, aged 17. "The edible sculpture was cool," adds Robert, 15, "and the dragon was wicked."

This dragon, recycled from pine hedge-cuttings and approved by health and safety officials ("Do not climb on this dragon - it is fierce", reads a disregarded notice) was built by Azel Engineering. Rob, who works for Azel, is a real Glastonbury character. "I used to run a transport depot for white goods," he says. "Then I came to Glastonbury in 1989 and it changed my life. I discovered it was better to be a creator than a consumer."

Glastonbury has many such legends. Take the burning of the wicker man, a tradition which began, says Michael Eavis, when "17 enthusiastic kids in a Black Maria" drove up offering to build a wicker man and set light to it. "People drive up to the door (at Worthy Farm) offering extraordinary things and I usually say yes," says Mr Eavis, who is continually adding such oddities as ballroom dancing, piano lounges and Burmese tea rooms to the annual attractions. As Tom says: "It feels organic here; not like a gig, like part of something."

"It's evolved over time, with the passions and interests of the people involved," says Mr Eavis. From 1970, when admission was pound;1 (including free milk) for 1,000 punters, to this year's record-breaking attendance of 100,000 paying pound;87 a head (with perhaps another 40,000 getting in free over or under the fence), the festival has grown in its founder's image.

Mr Eavis is as addicted to the unconventional and idealistic as he is to music. He and his wife Jean, who died last year, were long-standing political activists. "We always felt we wanted to do something that was entwined with CND and people who are passionate about life and about their cause. It can't be pure hedonism," he says, standing in his farm kitchen. From 1981, the first year the festival made a profit, CND was the main beneficiary; for the past decade, since the Berlin Wall came down, it has been Greenpeace and Oxfam. Last year Greenpeace received pound;250,000. This year Oxfam provided 800 stewards and Mr Eavis pledged to donate pound;141,000 in return. Water Aid received pound;35,000. Festival-goers were encouraged to campaign for the cancellation of Third World debt. As Mr Eavis says: "We talk about it to the kids here all the time - how giving makes you feel a lot better and is very rewarding."

There are benefits for local schools too. PTA members from 16 local schools acted as campsite wardens this year, organising 24-hour secure lock-ups for valuables and giving advice. In return they will get donations to their schools equivalent to the minimum wage for the hours they worked. Jean Vidler organises the Greenfutures field, which features, among other things, a pedal-powered Gameboy and human figures made of mustard greens and cress. She says: "People come here to enjoy themselves but we hope a lot of them come up here and start to discover something new for themselves."

It might be someone urging you to free Tibet, sabotage the hunt or end GM experiments, or it might just be a lecture on how to grow your own sacred herb garden; as Tim, 16, says, Glastonbury "is so different from everywhere else".


As the Government launches nine regional pilots for its new Connexions youth strategy, what could it learn from an event which regularly offers young people so much?

* Idealism combined with leadership

"I feel passionately about it," says Michael Eavis. "But I do worry. It's just before the festival when I wake up, scared, at six in the morning and the crows fly up and make a hell of a din. I start worrying about the festival, the responsibility. When my wife was alive we used to give each other a cuddle and talk about it, but now I just get up and get on with it."

* Health and welfare

When personal problems do intrude - such as adults who've taken too much drink or drugs - the festival's welfare machine is ready. A 24-hour medical centre run by 300 qualified local volunteers, ranging from obstetricians to intensive care nurses, dealt with 3,500 cases this year (mostly sprained ankles). There are also counsellors, social workers, homeopaths and a team of 20 from the Samaritans.

* Safety

This year information centres answered 3,000 queries; the welfare centres dealt with 5,000 people, mostly trying to find friends. Police were highly visible (there were 1,732 reported crimes and 221 arrests).

* Mixed ages

Involving whole families dilutes all those adolescent hormones. Under-14s have been admitted free to Glastonbury since the beginning, when Michael and Jean Eavis had young children. Mr Eavis is still happy to give up several thousand spaces to non-paying children.

* Lots to do

"When they arrive they're so excited. They're not in the mood to be miserable and make trouble," says Mr Eavis. The Kidz Field mixes non-stop entertainment with an unobtrusive, caring stewardship. Tony Cordey, who runs it with his crew of 700, offers "the best free children's festival in the country". Fifty stewards supervise swingboats, trampolines, roundabouts and the helter-skelter. Face-painting, storytelling, circus and puppet performances, co-operative games (war games are banned) craft workshops and an under-fives area run from 9am until 7pm.

* Tolerance

Glastonbury promotes tolerance for all ages and personalities. Tony Cordey calls it "the human family, the theatre of life". Charlie, 16, adds: "It's the relaxed atmosphere. Nobody forces you to do things like at home, but it's all there."

* A positive attitude to young people

"Young people are at their best when they are involved and inspired," says Mr Eavis. "Anyone of any age needs mutual trust and respect. Glastonbury works well because it is inclusive and everyone is able to contribute in some way."

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