Penny Kemp (1949-2021)

June 18, 2021

It is with massive sadness that we learnt our dear friend and colleague Penny Kemp, who ran the Speakers Forum in the Green Futures Field, passed away on 12th June 2021 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. She had her loving family and friends around her and our hearts go out to them in their grief.

Early Festival Beginnings

For nearly four decades we worked together, shared ups and downs and plotted to create a blueprint for a better, greener world for all. Her work with a developing Green (Ecology) Party all those years ago was nothing but inspirational. When our local Green Party was being formed, Penny was the first person to turn to for advice . It was a joy to hear her words of encouragement, especially at a time when anyone with the remotest of green ideas was seen as a crank, almost existing on the edge of society.

It wasn’t long before our worlds began to coincide. We were simultaneously building a new kind of public event. With the Maidstone and Kingston Green Fair both falling on the same Bank Holiday. We didn’t know it but along with creative protests and gatherings at the same time, those events were to serve as embryos for a whole change in attitudes towards live events, influencing the emergence of off grid and green festivals,( The Green Gathering and Green Fields at Glastonbury included). Now many of these early green principles are firmly in the mainstream events industry.

During the early nineties Penny was always willing to share her field in Kent for weird and wonderful ideas and events. Culminating until recently with the hugely popular Small World Festival. Again based on green and earth magic principles.One happy memory of the early days was Penny opening and using the first compost toilet on her land, emerging form the canvas curtain to a rapturous applause from the gathered crowd.

Speakers Forum, Glastonbury Festival

Running the Speakers Forum was perfect for Penny. She embraced it with open arms. Her work with the Green Party Executive gave her access to a host of personalities, many as personal friends. Always aware of the bigger picture Penny made a point of choosing people with different viewpoints, inviting speakers from all sides of the political and social divide. Always with an environmental focus and always with a good spirit.. Much of the success of the forum is not just based on inspirational topics or exploring the issues of the day (whether they be human rights or the ongoing climate crisis) but the lasting friendships and camaraderie, with unusual bedfellows sitting around the campfire backstage, discussing topics well into the night.

Under her watch Penny developed a fantastic team. Insisting the space be welcoming and homely for speakers and the public alike. So everybody could connect and relax. Where else can you rub shoulders with famous media personalities and politicians under one beautiful (pink) canvas roof.

Sir David King, Tony Benn, Ruby Wax, Justin Rowlatt, Billy Bragg, Vince Cable, Ed Milliband, Jonathan Cainer, Mark Thomas, Polly Higgins, Ko Aung, Dr. Muang Zarni, Jenny Jones, John McDonald, Caroline Lucas, John Sauven, Molly Scott Cato, Gail Bradbrook are among the very many who have graced the wooden benches at the forum and drank fresh apple juice at the Brixton Tea Party Cafe. Not to mention Michael and Emily Eavis with their regular Q and A session every Festival Sunday.

The last few years at Glastonbury were particularly hard and by 2019 it was obvious Penny was quite ill. The gradual onset of the disease was both debilitating and frustrating for Penny as her speech was affected. For a woman of many opinions it was difficult for her to be understood but understood she was . Along with being highly respected and loved.She insisted on being there and luckily had the support of her dedicated and wonderful friends. Making the burden just that little bit easier. The Speakers Forum , Green Futures and Glastonbury Festival were a great love for her.

We shall miss you for sure.

Jean Vidler & Sam Hermitage

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