A family friendly festival with originality at its core.
The Good Life Experience takes place at Hawarden Estate, Flintshire, North East Wales, from 16-18 September. This is an event with therapeutic qualities – good food, a focus on well-being and the gifts of the outdoors. You can expect a low impact and sustainably responsible event, with locally sourced entertainment, foods and artisan beers. Co-founder Charlie Gladstone talks to Open Air.
Describe your event
Our aim for The Good Life Experience is to create a feel-good festival with a difference. It draws the best of literature festivals, music festivals and food festivals into one outside event: it’s all about passion and discovery. We wanted to include a strong aspect of craft, by which we mean not hippy, woolly jumper crafts but exciting, charismatic, modern people making things. This year we have 40 makers: blacksmiths, potters, boat builders, weavers, mosaic makers, printers, axe specialists and more. We’re combining contemporary and heritage, hoping visitors engage, in a modern way, with objects that have been around for thousands of years. All of our makers run hands-on activities. We want to give visitors the chance to invest some time and effort to make something. Almost all of these activities are included in the ticket price, but if people are taking away something substantial like a canoe paddle there may be a charge. This part of the festival has been the most startling aspect of our success.
How many people do you attract?
There are four founders and we are about to enter our third year. In the first year we had 1,800 guests, 4,500 the next year and we are optimistic about growing further this year and making the whole thing more financially viable.
What is The Goodlife Experience’s history and when/how was it conceived?
In a post-2008 world, when everything came crashing down, we all felt the need to enrich our lives in ways other than working, shopping and staring at our ‘phones. That would mean more family time and more engagement with our hands, food, music and books. We wanted our festival to be an experience, not just something to look at; a festival of original ideas and activities, not a mimic of any other event held in the UK. The founders have a robust knowledge of the areas and aspects to include. For example, Cerys Matthews (leader singer of alternative rock band Catatonia) is hugely helpful on the music side.
My wife and I had lived in the Highlands for 20 years. We loved the wild and remoteness for our children to grow up in. The whole family was keen on excitement, danger and the outdoors. That echoes in our festival where we try to create a family friendly environment. It’s a place where the children are allowed to run a bit wild – an accidental philosophy of the festival! They can climb trees and hay bales, roll down slopes, take tea in a café solely for children, staffed by children, and enjoy all the fun of a 1930’s fairground.
What about the necessary permissions?
It’s never simple. The answer is that the permissions and licenses are evolving every time we grow and change; we are still involved with planning specialists now. We hope that we are gaining more credibility with the local councils as we grow. They are reticent and wary, even if we’re not a rave with 4,000 raucous young people! You have to be on the ball and make sure everything you do is ticking all the boxes because you won’t succeed without the support of the council.
How have you planned the layout of the event and what structures do you use?
All the activities are held under cover which differentiates us from many other festivals. The bigger tents – our biggest is the biggest you can get hold of – are all traditional canvas. There’s much looking at a plan, moving things to accommodate people, changing the layout to suit different purposes and, of course, allowing for hills and flat areas. We change the layout every year so it’s fresh and fun to explore. We create nooks and crannies which visitors can think only they have discovered and that they can enjoy with their friends and family. Expectations are high, unrealistically so, as huge festivals with massive budgets like Glastonbury are held as a benchmark.
How did you research and source your marquees, stage, bars, etc?
My sister is the full-time site manager so she does much of the leg work. However, it’s really a combination of building things ourselves and, like all business decisions, we kind of follow a lead: one arises and we follow it and that leads to something else. There’s a lot of “I know a guy who does that!”
What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
This year five or six household name chefs are coming. They’re not charging anything as they enjoy the experience and know we don’t have that much money! You need to be very persuasive and believe in what you’re talking about and selling. Everyone needs to benefit from working together whether financially, in kind or in future earnings. We’ve been lucky in our bookings and have some good friends and contacts as a result. We have a speaker’s tent where anyone – historians, politicians, authors, adventurers – can talk on any subject. If we feel someone is interesting then we reckon they will be interesting to others. We don’t have VIP areas, Green Rooms or backstage areas: performers have to mingle!
What provisions do you make for power, lights, sound and toilet facilities?
For loos and showers we try to do the best we can within the budget. As inveterate festival goers our experience helps us to judge. We buy in the power and lighting from people we have used in the past – that’s one less headache!
How do you publicise the event?
We don’t spend on advertising. We’ve received some very good press – Sky News, Jeremy Vine’s radio show, the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine, The Telegraph – which has been really helpful. However, social media and Instagram are, without question, our strongest publicity aids. With social media it’s the level of engagement that is important, not numbers of followers.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
The land belongs to us and we care about it. We do everything we can: well managed land will always recover.
What challenges have you faced?
Inevitably the biggest challenge is financial. It can take years to make an event financially viable, stable and profitable. We’ve also faced logistical challenges. For example, how to get hundreds of people into a space when they all arrive at the same time. Preparation is the answer.
What advice could you give to someone entering the outdoor event industry?
No business is easy: success depends on whether you’re ready to work hard. Although exciting, being an entrepreneur is a brutal way of living! Yes, it’s a lifestyle choice yet, if we can make it succeed then we’ve created a business in just a few years. Am I completely exhausted after? Absolutely! Do I wish for a simpler life? No, thank you.
- Tents: Posh Frocks & Wellies – 01829 751 979 / www.poshfrocksandwellies.co.uk
- Lighting: Event Equipment – 01829 289 888 / www.eventequipmentltd.co.uk
- Heat and Power: Event Equipment (see above)
- Sound and Stage: Event Equipment (see above)
- Catering: Quickhire – 0151 632 6945 / www.quickhire.co.uk
- Flooring: Event Equipment (see above)
- Ground Protection: Davis Trackhire – 01698 352751 / www.davistrackhire.com
- WCs / Washrooms: Blue Loos Event Hire – 01829 250677 / www.blueloos.com
- Insurance: Music Insurance Brokers (MIB) – 020 7287 5054 / www.musicinsurance.net