Although I have been to the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival on a few occasions over the years I have always done so just as a day trip on the Sunday. So I was pleased to be able to go along for the whole weekend for the first time and to enjoy a very relaxed, well organised and fun festival.
I travelled down to Dorset on the Friday morning with a friend and we pitched camp, bought supplies and settled in. The festival is still very small scale and occupies one large field, with the main stage (only used on the Sunday) being in front of the Martyrs’ Museum. The only exception to this was the field across the road, exclusively for the members of one large general union, with its ominous watchtower hovering over a cluster of tents. Apparently this saves the members of that union from having to pay the camping and parking and entrance fees that everyone else contributes to. It’s worth remembering that the Festival continues to run at a loss.
In any case it only costs £15 to camp, £5 to park and £30 per adult/£5 per child for the whole weekend which is considerably cheaper than any other festival I’ve been to (apart from Waltham Forest Council’s festivals which I believe we as Council Tax payers pay for – but that’s another story….).
The festival itself has loads of music, comedy, poetry and debates – all of course of a left leaning. But don’t allow that to deter you as the music is all of the highest quality, and I’m not just saying that because one of the music venues is run by Steve White, a local firefighter and front man of Steve White and The Protest Family – check them out. The acoustic tent played host to a dozen or more acts including some that had just come off the Marquee stage and some that were just about to play on it.
We also sat in on the UNISON South West Region debate on Ethical Care with guest speaker Heather Wakefield, head of Local Government for UNISON. Whilst we heard why the Ethical Care Campaign is so badly needed we didn’t really get any enlightenment on how to maximise its impact and implementation. This is one of our priorities back in Waltham Forest.
On the Sunday, and yet another hot, bright and breezy day, we carried the Branch Banner up the street and we carried it back again. There was an excellent turn out of union branches and banners with bands and dancers to keep us company. Unfortunately we missed Billy Bragg’s set as work beckoned the following day; however we did see him relaxing on the hillside with his family.
I can only but recommend the Festival – especially when the weather was so kind. It’s child friendly and dog friendly too! The showers were even better than the one in my house. See you there next year.