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Greenbelt Festival: Boughton House hosts event's 50th year

Gordon Brown speaks on stage with his palms outstretched.
The former prime minister, Gordon Brown, spoke at Greenbelt about poverty

The Greenbelt Festival celebrated its 50th year with 12,000 visitors over the August bank holiday weekend.

The event took place at Boughton House near Kettering, Northamptonshire.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown, singer Laura Mvula and comedian Milton Jones were among this year's guests.

Creative director Paul Northup said the festival was "looking sustainable in a very difficult sector" and said its new pricing structure to help people on low incomes had proved a success.

From humble beginnings on a farm in Suffolk, the "arts, faith and justice" festival has grown to include more than 20 venues from small, intimate spaces to an imposing main stage.

Among the events on offer were talks and debates on subjects as varied as radical funerals to the history of drag.

Muslim woman in headscarf holds a copy of her book "Sex Bomb"
Sadia Azmat discussed Muslim women and sex at Greenbelt

Comedian Sadia Azmat staged a show that explored the misconceptions people have about Muslim women and sex.

She said: "People have such a fixed impression of us, that we're repressed, or subservient or submissive.

"I have a choice. I chose to have a boyfriend. People [think] all our life decisions are made for us and I'm here to say that's not true."

Climate change was also on the agenda, with a session run by young campaigners asking the question: "What would Jesus eat?"

Gordon Brown, prime minister from 2007 to 2010, was billed at a venue known as "The Pagoda" and paid tribute to the festival before doing a speech on poverty.

He said: "It is your achievement and your success, and your hard work and experience that make me say, 'Let us redouble our efforts to make the next fifty years of Greenbelt even more successful.'"

A crowd of people sitting on the grass outside a marquee
Some talks at "The Pagoda" attracted large crowds

The attendance at Greenbelt peaked at about 20,000 in 2010 and it has struggled financially over the years, but organisers have tried to find ways to attract new audiences and make sure the event stays relevant.

This year, it offered a three-tier pricing structure, with people on low incomes benefiting from a "supported" ticket, while those who could afford to do so were invited to pay more than the regular price for a "supporter" ticket.

"Way more people than we anticipated opted for the high-value ticket," said Mr Northup.

"What they're saying is, 'We love Greenbelt and we want to pay a little bit extra so that everyone can come.'"

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