A look back at our Glastonbury 2011

Now that we have all had time to recover from our adventure to Glastonbury, put the tents away, get a few decent nights’ sleep and just about remove the dirt from under our fingernails, it seems an appropriate time for a look back at how our presence at the festival was felt and where we go from here.

It was a hectic beginning, packing up vans, collecting various paraphanalia and people along the way, and arriving on site to pitch the tents and get organised. But we made it. Just to get to this point took superhuman efforts from so many people that didn’t come with us, huge thanks to everyone – individuals and local businesses – who gave their time, goods and services for free.

As the festival approached, the lovely boys from the Marquees of India constructed our beautiful marquee (heavily discounted) and we all got busy unloading the mountains of stuff necessary for the week ahead. Holly Murray, our wonderful creative director, our band of eager Leftfield volunteers (mostly from the BMA office) and some early BMA litterpickers got to work immediately continuing with the fantastic work they had started in Brighton two months before. Out came the plastic bag flowers and the mother and child sculpture, the skull and the five smaller sculptures ready to be dressed for our Bhopali Sculpture Garden. Despite the downpours and a bleak outlook sitewise, Glastonbury Festival’s Phil Miller was able to send a crew down to us to put posts in and construct our garden gateway, headed with the beautiful signage from the front of the 25th anniversary Bhopal Bus last seen in the summer of 2010 visiting schools in Walthamstow.

Holly in the Bhopali Sculpture Garden

Roz and Jason, our in-house film crew, settled in almost immediately and did an absolutely cracking job of documenting the BMA’s presence at Glastonbury; they organised some brilliant interviews with lots of interesting people. Watch this space in the near future for their up and coming short film.

Roz and Jason get to work

Malcolm, (BMA) was kept busy handing out our natural hand sanitiser that he single-handedly produced (thought there may have been some coercion of offspring involved). It came in useful for a lot of people, especially as the week progressed, the mud got deeper and the toilets overflowed. The hand sanitiser was a perfect opportunity to engage people in a bit of conversation about Bhopal, and it made our message pretty clear with a bold statement on the label reading Dow, Clean-up Bhopal.  Most agreed it smelled great and felt good on your skin, and people were interested in both the manufacturing process and the principles behind the toxic-free product.

Our main message at Glastonbury 2011

The BMA had 80 litterpickers volunteering for us at Glastonbury this year, an immense result – many of whom made their way down to find us in the Leftfield and, even though they’d put the hours in in the morning, got involved in making the sculptures and chatting to festival-goers in the afternoon or rested on our mounds of cushions – the idea always was to make our marquee and sculpture garden their home from home at the festival, great to meet you!

Having a record number of litterpicker volunteers was possible thanks to Fiona Case, who recruits the recycling team at Glastonbury every year and has supported the Bhopal Medical Appeal since it the very first appeal in The Guardian in 1993. Fiona’s and her family’s ongoing support and interest in our work at Glastonbury and the clinics we fund in Bhopal really meant so much to all of us at the festival; her home-baked buns that she hand delivered to our tent were also hugely appreciated.

The litterpickers’ work was cut out for them once the festival got going. We were flabbergasted by the amount of rubbish that was generated in both the campsites and the stage areas, yet the litterpickers remained positive despite being incredibly tired. The 6am starts and long shifts on the Pyramid Stage area couldn’t have been much fun. Again, huge thanks to everyone who participated. Your efforts DO make a huge difference and the nearly £10,000 that you generated will go a long way towards building the new Sambhavna satellite clinics in the worst-affected areas of Bhopal.

Over the weekend our Bhopali Sculpture Garden really came together. Holly’s and Becky’s partnership of ideas resulted in creations that chimed wonderfully with the tone of the Bhopal Medical Appeal’s communications and what we hoped to achieve from the festival: Holly’s creative genius, motivating spirit and big smiles were key to the workshops being so successful, equally Adrian and Liz’s behind the scenes input meant that opportunities to communicate – day and night – were maximised.

Everyone worked incredibly hard on getting the sculptures ready and though we were all a bit over recycled plastic bottles and staplers by the end of the weekend, we felt an enormous sense of achievement seeing the completed sculptures outside our marquee. People popped in from all walks of life and at all times of the day and night to check out our work; it was great for them to be able to participate in our workshops and contribute to the sculptures.

The chai and chat corner and the workshops were wonderfully hosted by BMA volunteers: Harriet, Jade, Charlotte, Annie, Tazz and Annabelle (and you Lorraine! Becky – ed).  They did a brilliant job all week and without them we never would have been able to pull off the event. The sculptures were eye-catching,  radiated positivity and colour, symbolising the Bhopalis and their struggle. We couldn’t have wished for more. I have a feeling we might not have seen the last of them, let’s wait and see. . .

What a team!

At night our sculpture garden was transformed into a dance floor as we strobed our skull and the coloured uplighters inside the sculptures came into their own. People came to dance, to chat or just to check out the 8-foot mother and child figure that could be spotted from the other side of the Leftfield, and invariably they stuck around to find out exactly what our intentions were. It was the perfect opportunity for people who would otherwise be oblivious to become aware of the issues in Bhopal, and it was interesting to meet people from such varied backgrounds and listen to their responses to the situation. Hopefully a significant proportion of those we met will continue to stay updated on the Bhopal Medical Appeal, the Sambhavna Clinic and the Chingari Children’s Rehabilitation Centre – we had a lot of offers of volunteers for both the Brighton office and the clinics in Bhopal.

The positivity emitting from our marquee and sculpture garden, and our location among lots of political activism meant there was a great vibe around our presence in the Leftfield and thankfully no one seemed to feel like we were the usual charity chuggers! Thanks to Dick, Billy and Sarah for hosting us in the only place to be.

Bhopali Sculpture Garden by day, dance tent by night!

We made some great contacts at Glastonbury who have pledged to support us in myriad ways. Peter, Colin and Becky (BMA) worked relentlessly to spread the word and make the Bhopal Medical Appeal known to as many people as possible at Glastonbury, forging some great new relationships and cementing older ones. We had some brilliant publicity including interviews on Worthy FM, Steve Chandra Savale from Asian Dub Foundation wearing a BMA t-shirt on stage (I may have mentioned that before!) and a photo shoot on the Pyramid Stage thanks to the lovely Moose.

As the weekend drew to a close, the sun appeared and there were more surprises in store. The Pilton Ambling Band stopped by our sculpture garden and performed for us, not to mention being great sports by wearing Bhopal bandanas and giving a message on camera to Dow Chemical, plus we had some super fun dance classes with Charlotte, a professional Bollywood dancer who had her work cut out for her as awkward limbs flailed around in an attempt to copy her moves! Cheers Charlotte, you are a legend.

The Pilton Ambling Band support the BMA

We left on Monday, exhausted, over the mud and the rain and the tents and the toilets but generally extremely pleased with our presence over the weekend. I think all agree that the event was an incredible success and we couldn’t have asked for a better team of people to come together and make it happen as it did. Organising our presence there was quite an undertaking and though it may not have been obvious by her calm exterior, Becky poured a huge amount of work into coordinating the mostly voluntary team to produce the event both at Glastonbury and long before the festival began, ensuring that it all ran as smoothly as it did.

Without the generosity of Michael Eavis we wouldn’t have been there at all and we are indebted to him for his support of the Bhopal Medical Appeal. We are proud to have him as our patron and glad to have been able to be part of the amazing event that was Glastonbury 2011, mud and all!

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.