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What's it like letting people run a massive festival in your back garden?

Ballinlough Castle is the site of Body & Soul this year.
Jun 20th 2015, 1:30 PM 30,644 28

Body and Soul Music Festivals Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

‘It is a challenge. You are dealing with people who’ve paid money, good money to come away for the weekend. Festivals are all about reckless abandonment and that’s why I love going to festivals. I wanted to see things done a little better.’ – Clare Byrne, sustainability manager for Body & Soul

THIS WEEKEND, THE Nugent family’s back garden will be thronged with people.

10,000 people, to be exact. The owners of the 17th century Ballinlough Castle in Co Westmeath, they have handed over their lands to the music festival Body & Soul every year since 2010, entrusting Avril Stanley and her team with the task.

It’s not an insignificant one – along with the thousands of punters, Body & Soul brings stages to cram with artists and performers, hot tubs and a holistic area, music, food and more to the site.

To Alice Nugent, husband Nick and family, Ballinlough Castle is their home. To thousands of revellers this weekend, it’s a site to have a laugh for three days.

Where it all began

Body and Soul Music Festivals Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

The partnership with Body & Soul came about after John Reynolds held a number of festivals on site. Avril Stanley had an area within the festivals, and got to know the Nugents. In 2010, she branched out on her own for Body & Soul.

“[We] knew we could trust her with the home and land,” said Alice Nugent.

Body and Soul’s sustainability manager is Clare Byrne, and it’s her fourth year in charge of the strategy to make sure the festival treads lightly on the Nugent family’s land, and the planet.

The draw of hosting a festival in the home, for the Nugents, was making the site work for its income.

“When you live in a big old house and you have to sustain it yourself, you have got to look at ways of doing that,” said Nugent.

ballinlough castle Source: Ballinlough Castle

“The place has to produce some money to ensure its survival for the next generation.”

Some of the land is a small farm, with horses, and the rest is a golf course.

Body & Soul has grown organically, which Nugent said makes it “easier to learn from things that go wrong, or haven’t worked, rather than doing serious damage”.

99% of the people who come here are great, and for us that’s been a really positive experience.

“From our point of view, it’s nice to have – we are very lucky, we live in a beautiful place, it’s nice to have people [visit],” said Nugent, recalling an anecdote where one punter just didn’t want to leave one of John Reynolds’ festivals.

“They said ‘why would we want to leave? It’s beautiful’. I get that. It’s nice for us to get to share.”


Body and Soul Solstice Gatherings Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Every year, there’s the worry about the weather – particularly after a savage downpour in 2012.

“If the weather is good it makes it very easy for everybody,” said Nugent, explaining how the festival crew are constantly checking forecasts and planning for rain.

This year, there are more indoor areas for if the heavens do open.

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“We’re very conscious of the fact there are 10,000 people essentially landing in someone’s back garden,” added Byrne.

At Body & Soul, the sustainability aspect is part of its core ethos.

Stanley was inspired by Burning Man, which itself has a strong eco aspect. The Nugents “share the same value and vision” as Body & Soul, said Byrne.

The job means communication, and planning: lots and lots of planning. It includes looking at how you move people around the site, recycling, waste, vendors, artists, stages, campsite, performers and art.

Benefits beyond the stage

Body and Soul Solstice Gatherings Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

The festival doesn’t just benefit the family, said Nugent:

It’s been really good for the place and really good for the area. It’s bringing in different people, it brings in business - it’s good for the community to have something like this.

This year the festival teamed up with children from local primary schools to plant native trees on site.

It’s important to the Nugents to keep people in the local community happy. “We are always very adamant that people didn’t just come in, do their stuff and go out again without any care for the people we live beside.”

The family get to enjoy the “weird and wonderful stuff” that the festival offers. “We always have our Spotify playlist for the year. So it opens your mind. It’s been great for my kids as well, really opened their mind to a lot of creativity.”

It has also had a very personal impact on the family. The year the first Body & Soul was put on at Ballinlough Castle, their six-year-old daughter Katie died following an illness.

The family – who set up the Katie Nugent Fund in her honour – struck up a relationship with Christy Collard, who built the stage. That led to a project in Crumlin’s Children’s Hospital, with Collard helping them do up the garden for St John’s Ward.

“That’s been a special thing for us, and helped us through a very difficult time,” said Nugent.

Us & You

Body and Soul Solstice Gatherings Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Body & Soul’s sustainability strategy is called “Us and You”, which includes an Us and You campsite that aims to have zero impact on the land (this has gone from 200 to 2,500 capacity), but also looks at minimising waste, engaging people through competitions, encouraging people to take the bus to the festival, green VIP competitions, encouraging car pooling, giving a ‘green trader’ award, and getting contributions from sponsors.

“Ultimately what we’re trying to do is bring everyone on the sustainably journey as we can’t reach our goals if we can’t do that,” said Byrne.

We’re asking people to be responsible festival citizens, and behave as if they are having a party in their back yard.

It’s not an insignificant challenge: thousands of revellers out for a good time for three days in a place that they don’t own. It must be hard to encourage them to care about recycling that empty beer can, but Body & Soul believes it’s possible.

“Most people recycle at home,” said Byrne. “We’ve been reviewing our waste management to make sure we have the right things so that people can recognise the right colour coding.”

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She acknowledges this “is really difficult when people are having fun and it’s late at night”, and says that campsite waste is probably “one of the most difficult things to deal with”.

She’s most proud of the fact they have increased their recycling by 22% over the last few years.

Byrne says every year is a learning experience: “You sit down and you look at what worked and what didn’t work and how you improve things going forward.”

We make sure that site is returned the way we found it. This year, we have more bins. And we are giving out a few thousand cigarette ashtrays – people don’t really understand how toxic cigarette butts are. It’s the little things like that that we are improving.

Nick Cave in concert - Manchester Nick Cave Source: Katja Ogrin

For the Nugents, the festival certainly has its high points. One of them was meeting Nick Cave, who was brought to the house for dinner.

“He was wowed by the house,” said Alice Nugent. “That was my most rock and roll moment.”

The family’s youngest child is three, and though the house is sometimes used for guests like Nick Cave, the Nugents emphasise that, grand and all as it is, it’s still their family abode.

If she’s screaming and she’s going to bed, that’s just the way it is. They have to accept that it’s our home.

Read: Headliners, hot tubs, births & rebirths: 12 hours in the life of a music festival>

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Aoife Barry


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