FORWARDS: The festival doing things differently

FORWARDS: The festival doing things differently

FORWARDS: The festival doing things differently

Chris Hoare

During the first weekend of September thousands gathered on Clifton Downs, Bristol for the second year of FORWARDS Festival, a music festival that's approaching things a bit differently.

Attendees come for the music - with this years headliners including Aphex Twin, Arlo Parks, RAYE, and Erykah Badu - and stay for the alternative approach to the way festivals are run. It's no secret that festival season can cause disruption to both the environment and local community. With this in mind, FORWARDS brainstormed a new approach to music festivals, one where attendees are left feeling with better conscience and something to think about.

If you haven't attended FORWARDS, you may be wondering what it is that they are doing so differently. Well the big focus from Team Love, the Bristol based organisation behind the festival, is community. It's at the heart of every aspect of the festival. From welfare and sensory tents, to community focused catering by Team Canteen CIC, and of course THE INFORMATION Stage where cultural and community icons give talks on topics from racism to the housing crisis.

Team Love, an independent organisation specialising in professional festival and event production, have been responsible for cultivating and designing large-scale events for the last 10 years - such as Love Saves The Day, and Waterworks, and now FORWARDS.

Team Love director Dave Harvey spoke to me about FORWARDS and how they are using the opportunity to reach out and get local community involved, especially those in underrepresented communities.

"Fundamentally, there is not enough diversity in the festival industry. So we set up the social initiative Big Team CIC, as a way to open up opportunities for young people who have traditionally been excluded from the festival and creative industries," he shared. This ethos inspired programmes such as Capture FORWARDS, "a paid development programme that supports young emerging photographers to gain experience working with the on-site media team at FORWARDS." Walking around the festival this year, attendees were able to see the work of those photographers that had taken part in the programme in 2022. Harvey also shared that the first group of trainees all have employment within the industry now.

But community doesn't begin and end with the festival industry. Hospitality collective Team Canteen CIC supports the local hospitality industry in Bristol to champion sustainability, inclusion, and reducing food insecurity, and provided the catering for FORWARDS. Not only did Team Canteen provide all backstage catering - which I was lucky enough to try - they also had a pop-up cafe on-site to raise both funds and awareness for their mission.

Sitting down with Shona Graham, the Operations Director for Team Canteen, we got to discuss Team Canteen some more and talk about, how events like FORWARDS are championing community-focused approaches to food and events. "We believe that everyone should have nutritious food that can help them have a happier and healthier life," Graham told me, sharing that often food banks provide food that cannot make a meal, is low in nutrition, or requires appliances that use energy - something many are avoiding during the cost of living crisis. "Everybody deserves to have that in their life."

Chef Josh Eggleton who runs Team Canteen echoed Graham's comments, telling me that he believes "it is a human-right for everyone to have access to healthy and nutritious food. Because of this, we try to make use of the natural resources in our businesses to help bring this to people in an easy and accessible way."

Graham added that Team Canteen want to help the organisations already out there with the food side of things, rather than replacing groups that are already doing what needs to be done. She shared stories of delivering hot meals to children who needed it, as well as helping provide meals to homeless people during Covid-19.

Stressing the importance of community, both Graham and Eggleton told me how crucial it is not only to their work, but to society as a whole. "Team Canteen CIC links hospitality and events with community via 'responsible capitalism'," Eggleton told me. " We provide a service whilst putting emphasis on giving back - not only to the communities around us but to our staff and everyone involved in the projects, to truly make a difference."

Graham also let it be known that she was not unaware that festivals weren't the best thing to do for the planet, at least in the traditional sense. "But if you can collectively bring people together to learn something, and to really think about some bigger issues than just what's happening here [at FORWARDS], then it's valuable."

Near the end of our conversation, Graham summed up Team Canteen's, and FORWARDS', mission to me perfectly: "We want to look after people."

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