Glastonbury morale boost as festival returns after two years

Hannah Bennett had a bit of a moment when she drove up to the Field of Avalon. “I felt very emotional and tearful,” said Bennett, who sells hippy and fair trade clothing at her Rainbow Rebel stall. “It means so much to be back and meet the people I haven’t seen for three years. It feels normal and lovely, almost as if Covid didn’t really happen.”

After being cancelled in 2020 and 2021, the Glastonbury festival is very much back on. The bands, the performers, the celebrities, the fans are on their way, providing a huge boost – both to morale and to finances – in this corner of south-west England.

“Financially it means a lot,” said Bennett, who won the sustainable trader award last time the festival was staged in 2019. “It’s a large slice of annual gross takings for a lot of people here.” Squeezed between a crumpet-maker and a purveyor of bongo drums and ukuleles, Bennett reckons her knee-length patchwork summer dresses will be well received. “They look good and they’re practical for long-drop toilets.”

Over at the theatre and circus fields, Charlotte Grant, who has been attending Glastonbury since 2003, when she was 16, said it was like coming home. “It feels a very long time since I’ve seen everyone, and at the same time it feels like we never left.”

Grant runs the Hedgerow Drinks Bar and has just perfected a new green smoothie created out of foraged dandelion leaves. She has filled the festival gap by selling cordials and lollipops from a canal boat. “But it’s so good to have the festivals back and Glastonbury really kicks it all off.”

Away from the site, in Glastonbury town, Ali Lobb, the owner of the Mocha Berry cafe, said she was “knackered” already. “It’s been so busy but we mustn’t complain,” she said. The cafe fills in the weeks leading up to the festival with workers – stage hands, riggers, water supply experts and myriad others. “It’s been very cheerful, all lovely and positive.”

David Ralph, the chief executive of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, estimated that the onsite and offsite spend at and around the festival totted up to about £50m each. Around a sixth of the total amount spent by tourists and visitors in the Mendip district council area this year will be at the festival and its worth as a loud, colourful advert for the south-west is incalculable.

“It puts Somerset and the south-west on the map,” said Ralph. “Glastonbury reminds people of what the south-west has to offer not just to visitors but to businesses. The international profile from Glastonbury really helps.”

Steve Henderson, a butcher and town councillor. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Ralph, who will be at the festival on Saturday for an official visit (but hopes to take in a bit of folk music), said Glastonbury was very good at using local suppliers and experts.

These include companies like EM Print and Signs, a Glastonbury concern that produces items ranging from banners to vehicle passes for the festival. “We’ve been very, very busy,” said director Martin Linter. “The festival feels bigger than ever.”

Like many locals, Linter volunteers as a steward and then gets the chance to watch some acts. He is looking forward to the Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream. “But actually it’s better to stumble around and see what you find.”

The hotels, campsites and pubs around Glastonbury are heaving. Local people are renting homes out near the site for thousands of pounds a night. The return of the festival is good news for charities, not only the giants such as Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid that the festival works with, but local ones and sports and social clubs that are allowed to fundraise at the event.

Steve Henderson, a Glastonbury town councillor and a butcher, said he was delighted the festival was roaring back into life. “It’s good to have it back. It’s such part of the makeup of the area.”

There are some concerns. Paul Lund, a town council stalwart, said he thought some people would worry about the traffic, bound to be worse because of the rail strike, and Covid. “Infections are going up and some people will be concerned about that.”

One of the busiest people in town is Paul Norton, of Tor Town Taxis. “The rail strike has meant the rush has started sooner, everybody is desperately trying to get here,” he said. “I’m rushed off my feet, which after the last two years is absolutely brilliant.”

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