Vegfest moves to South Bristol as we talk to founder Tim Barford
VegFest is now a national event, but it started in Bristol. It used to be held on the Harbourside, but now it's moved to South Bristol, at Ashton Gate stadium from May 26-27. The Voice's Beccy Golding talks to Tim Barford, founder of Vegfest [more in the June Voice, delivered from May 24]
VegFest is now a national event, but it started in Bristol. It used to be held on the Harbourside, but now it's moved to South Bristol, at Ashton Gate stadium from May 26-27.
The Voice's Beccy Golding talks to Tim Barford, founder of Vegfest [more in the June Voice, delivered from May 24]
Tim Barford is 55, has been vegan for 34 years, and vegetarian since 1981. Originally choosing the veggie option in order to upset his mum and dad, Tim went vegan at the height of Live Aid and has remained vegan ever since.
Tim organises Europe’s biggest vegan events VegfestUK including shows at Bristol (now in its 16th year), Brighton (in its 11th year) & London Olympia (now in its 6th year). Tim also runs his own award-winning hemp company Yaoh, having helped start the UK’s first hemp company back in 1991.
A former rave promoter and traveller, Tim has won a number of awards, including the award for Best Vegan Advocate in 2014 at the Viva! 20th Anniversary Ceremony.
Tim said: “I came to Bristol in the early 80s – I was a traveller at the time and Bristol was a friendly port of call.
“The first Vegfest was in 2003 – it was a good excuse for a party. We hired the Watershed and had 40 stalls and 1,200 visitors.” And there was a gig in the evening – Bez from the Happy Mondays played.
“We’re doing local bands again this year. We’ve teamed up with Ujima Radio. 30 local bands contacted the station and were whittled down to 10 great acts.” They’ll be on the Ujima Live Acts stage, located at the Ashton Road end of the outdoor Fan Village (running all day on both days).
“Vegfest Bristol has been on every year since. Brighton started in 2009, and we’re on our sixth year in London.” Bristol’s event has always been held in the Harbourside area.
This year is different – Bristol City Council decided to raise the rent for the Harbourside site, which is council-owned "– and it was non-negotiable, with a very hostile approach from the council,” said Tim. The council is trying to raise funds from use of its public spaces to counter the shortfall in Government grants. According to the Bristol Post the rent hike demanded was a 150 per cent increase in just a year.
Tim said: “And the amount of paperwork for outdoor events has escalated. Improvements have been made [in the council’s approach] since, but we’re not working with them now.”
Ashton Gate stadium is the new venue and Tim is delighted. “It’s a multi-million pound stadium with a first-rate visitor experience – it’s modern, clean, and the standard of comfort is very good.”
Talking of food, there will be plenty, of course. Ashton Gate's own in-house Heineken Lounge will be serving 3-course a la carte vegan meals, and there’ll also be a vegan pizzeria. Three indoor concourses and the outdoor Fan Village will have loads of stalls selling globally-inspired goodies, drinks and street food.
Plant-based food is not all ‘clean’, Tim tells me. “There’s plenty of ‘dirty’ vegan food available – deep-fried, full of sugar or fat – that’s all there too! Veganism doesn’t have to be better for your health – but even if it’s dirty it’s better for the planet and animals.”
Tim explains the difference between plant-based and vegan. In a plant-based diet “you might eat some animal products – maybe a bit of egg, or you might not check alcohol - you might wear leather or bet on the grand national, you might not check if products have been tested on animals – but it’s still better for your health and the environment. Veganism is a way of life – it’s an approach which excludes the use of all animals – no wool, silk, leather, or in toiletries. Plant-based is somewhere between vegetarianism and veganism. They are all good choices with lots of benefits. But veganism is the best, of course!” he chuckles.
“If you’re new to plant-based food, this is a good opportunity to find out more. Vegfest welcomes everybody. We recognise everyone goes at their own pace. If you go vegan overnight – fantastic – or go plant-based in steps. Everyone leaves with a good view of veganism. It’s not extreme – it’s just not using animals.”
There’s more on offer than food, with a range of talks – “it doesn’t matter where you’re at – there are some for new-comers and ones that might be challenging for long-term vegans – to re-examine your position.”
And there’s comedy – (15 comedians over the two days - worth the ticket price in itself!), including Sunday’s not-to-miss headliner Andrew O’Neil (who was brilliant at Zion’s Comedy Depot last year) and Saturday night’s Jamie De Souza (also great at Zion). Adele Cliff and Kahn Johnson are Tim’s picks of new up-and-coming comedians he supports through the event. Tim is open and warm with a big personality, he laughs a lot, often at himself. “There’s nothing like vegans taking the mickey out of vegans!” he laughs.
Music acts include Judge Jules headlining on the Dance stage, Don Letts on the Ujima Live Acts stage and King Cassidy in the Blues Lounge.
What’s Tim excited about? “I’ll be hosting Q&As on my couch with Bristol MPs Kerry McCarthy and Thangam Debbonaire (both vegans) on Saturday, and on Sunday with Darren Jones MP and Dale Vince from Ecotricity - I knew him when he was on the [peace] convoy.” Another highlight will be Christopher-Sebastian McJetters: “He speaks from a queer black vegan perspective – he’s really radical, and fascinating.”
Fittingly for the stadium, sports are well-represented and, proving that vegans can be strong and healthy, the bill includes boxers, power lifters, triathletes, the World’s Strongest Man 2013, and basketball player Daniel Edozie of the Bristol Flyers. “There’s an interest from Bristol City players. Famously, footballers Jermain Defoe, David Hay and Sergio Agüero are vegans, as is Lewis Hamilton, and Serena and Venus Williams both have plant-based diets. For sports people it’s all about recovery times – that’s what Bristol City players should be looking at.”