Camp Bestival – a long blog post

It’s Sunday evening and I’m just back from a weekend away in Lancaster, seeing friends. I’ve a huge pile of ironing to do for the week, bedclothes to change and some general tidying to achieve before I can relax with Guy Garvey on 6 Music. I have, however, chosen now to tell you about Camp Bestival, where I spent last weekend campaigning with Oxfam.

I’ve been to festivals before but always as a paying member of the public. I volunteered for Oxfam in a fit of despondency at work last March. I was tired and depressed and sick of hearing how much good we were doing with our work. I just couldn’t see it myself. So I volunteered for Oxfam as a campaigner.

All I knew of Camp Bestival before I got there was that it was a family festival. But someone told me that there were 24,000 people attending and 15,000 of them were children. I don’t know if that’s true but it certainly felt true. And, while the twenty-something me would have screamed and run away, the thirty-something me discovered something.

I don’t have much to do with children on a regular basis. I don’t have any myself yet, my family and friends with children don’t really live near me and I don’t often encounter them at work. So I’m pretty certain I’m stating what other people already know but it was only at Camp Bestival that I realised how few positive images and portrayals of children there are in modern Britain. Perhaps it was because there were so many of them that I couldn’t help notice that they have the capacity to be really kind, thoughtful and funny. We should celebrate this more. Miserable bloody country.

Anyway, we were charged with talking to people and collecting signatures to support Oxfam’s new campaign (GROW) – the quality of the conversation was more important than the quantity of signatures. Each group of 3 campaigners had a large hand placard and a bucket of green paint and were to tell people to “Get their hands dirty” as a sign of support for the campaign. Of course, in a festival of 15,000 children anyone appearing with green poster paint soon gets mobbed. Green hands, green faces, green legs, green paint everywhere. We finished the first day a little despondent having hardly spoken to anyone except to reassure them that the paint would wash off. Oxfam’s new creche service, open near you.

Saturday and a change of plan. No paint except at the tent which would be set out like a campaign stall. We would walk and talk. And it worked! People recognised us from the paint and it gave us an “in” to start a conversation.

I haven’t done any campaigning before, for Oxfam or anyone, and was pretty nervous. But my fellow group members were a bit nervous too so it was either plunge in or we wouldn’t get anything done. In an effort to remember some facts about the campaign I’d brought the 74 page GROW report with me and read up a bit (I’ll be honest, I didn’t finish it…) The nice thing about talking for Oxfam is that the focus on quality of conversation means you can engage and challenge people’s arguments, which is something I’m not allowed to do at work. This is where, once full of confidence, I can excel. So while my fellow volunteers talked to other people in a group, I took on the chap who stated that famines were the best way of controlling the population and that perhaps we should think about enforced sterilisation.

By the end of the festival our small group felt we’d really developed, we’d had some great convewrsations plus we’d collected a lot of signatures. We’d had a man exclaim “But that’s really exciting!” when we told him of the campaign, we’d had little girls run up to us with green paint on their faces to tell us that “We’re supporting you!” But my enduring memory of the festival was, walking up through the public campsite and seeing 3/4 small children run towards us, looking overjoyed to see us, just wanting to high five our big hand placard.

I’m off to campaign again at Summer Sundae this week and it will be very different. But I’ll carry the mental picture of those children with me in case anyone else wants to argue eugenics.

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