The UK government's Department for International Development (DfID) has formally withdrawn as a partner of the Greenbelt festival. The news follows a decision by the new coalition government to slash DFiD's budget for promoting awareness of development issues.
Greenbelt, which draws thousands of people to Cheltenham over the August bank holiday weekend every year, is a Christian event exploring faith, justice and the arts.
DfID's withdrawal leaves Christian Aid and the Methodist Church as the festival's two major partners. Greenbelt's organisers this week reported record ticket sales, despite calls for a boycott from a socially conservative Christian group.
Greenbelt's director, Gawain Hewitt, told Ekklesia that he considered DfID's decision to be “extremely regrettable”.
He said, “It is our belief that development work is not solely about work in developing countries; it is also about changing attitudes and behaviour in developed countries”.
A formal partnership between Greenbelt Festivals and DfID has existed since 2006. DfID's grants have helped to raise awareness of development issues amongst festival-goers.
A Greenbelt spokesperson said that the partnership has provided DfID with a “highly effective platform” to engage faith communities in the work of global development.
Hewitt added that Greenbelt had been “at the forefront” of work to change attitudes towards development, especially amongst faith communities and influential church leaders.
“We have educated and mobilised thousands of people to act on issues such as climate change and trade justice,” he explained, “While that work will continue, it will be on a different scale to that previously possible through grants awarded by DfID”.
Despite the news, Greenbelt's organisers say they are very encouraged by record ticket sales.
The level of sales suggests that there has been little response to a call by Anglican Mainstream, a socially conservative Christian group, to boycott Greenbelt. The Methodist Church came on board as a Greenbelt partner after the call for a boycott had been made.
Anglican Mainstream drew criticism for arguing that Greenbelt has been “gayified”. They are particularly angry that the speakers this year will include the gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has worked with Christians on a number of justice and peace issues.
But Greenbelt's supporters point out that the festival draws thousands of Christians from a diversity of traditions, both conservative and liberal, as well as a smaller number of non-Christian participants.