In the pub with…Claire O’Neill

A Greener Festival’s Claire O’Neill spends an evening in Brixton’s Trinity Arms with Emma Hudson to talk about making sustainability a business proposition and playing a flying Mary Poppins in the London 2012 Opening Ceremony.

Ten years ago, I was going to a lot of parties in the woods that were completely unlicensed and unofficial. You’d have to call up a number on your way down to find out where it was and if it was still going on. It was at these parties where I first saw solar panels charging power and the café had all organic food and fair trade. After or during the event, people would be sorting out their own rubbish or recycling, and there was composting that the cafés were doing. And these were unofficial parties where nobody paid, just a free party. That was the environment that I came up in.

Through my degree I started doing more management and work experience at big festivals. I thought, ‘God, this is so different. How can you get the message of what’s happening on those really underground events over to the mainstream events that actually have more of an impact and permeate more of society?’ There was no way that going in from a hippie angle would make the slightest drop in the ocean, but maybe if it came from more of a business perspective, then people were more likely to pay attention.

I knew the areas where improvements could be made, and then looked at events like The Green Gathering, the Green Futures Field at Glastonbury, and all of these communities that had been doing this for a long time, and made a list of criteria, which then became the A Greener Festival website.

I think because for a period of time, sustainability was seen as a nice addition, so that’s almost a reason to decouple a lot of the ideas from being ‘green’. It could, in some psychological way, actually be a good thing. For example, using the new generators could have savings for festivals of anything from 4,000 to 30-40,000 euros, depending on the scale of the event. And that is a massive chunk of cash. That’s being ‘green’ – but it’s not the reason organisers are doing it.

I’ve heard people say about festivals, “It’s about having fun; I shouldn’t be told to clean up.” That’s fair enough, but to couple having fun with doing something that’s long-term detrimental to the environment is really wrong. I had illegal amounts of fun at parties in the woods, and we totally sorted the place out – we wouldn’t dream of just leaving it trashed, and we were having a wild time. Having fun doesn’t mean being wasteful.

I was one of the Mary Poppins in the Opening Ceremony. The rings would lift off the ground and come to our eye height, and the helicopter with Bond and “The Queen” would come just over our heads. Then we’d get picked up by the back of our pants and flown over to defeat Voldemort. It was incredible. We had our Mary Poppins outfits on, looking over at thousands of people, and a giant puppet shooting fireworks out of its wand, with the noise of the crowds – and just looking across and seeing your mate next to you with you.

I was at Glastonbury spinning on the G-spin on the Arcadia spider up on of the cranes. To be there, spinning around, with thousands of people screaming and watching and seeing the driver’s mad grin as he spinned faster and faster – it was a very different vibe from the Olympics but equally just as mind-blowing.

A Greener Festival has relaunched its awards scheme. Apply at www.agreenerfestival.com.

This feature originally appeared in the March issue of Access All Areas.

 

 

 

 

  • Roger Cole

    Well said-good stuff Claire XX