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Take a soulcation: Cerys Matthews' Good Life Experience makes for a perfect weekend

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Georgina Wilson-Powell

11 July 2017

Too old for all night raves? Happy to admit you like knitting? Love being outdoors but are never quite sure what to do? Cerys Matthews talks to us about why The Good Life Experience is all about celebrating crafts and the outdoors life, even if all you do is potter.

Four years ago Cerys Matthews helped to found and programme The Good Life Experience on a farm in Wales. The festival didn’t just celebrate music and the arts but also crafts and cooking, workshops and wood carving

Come 2017, The Good Life Experience’s mix of literature and inspirational talks, foodie demos and the chance to try out different skills from knitting to making guitars, feels like it's come of age. The natural balance between celebrating the great outdoors and unleashing a creative tide is an attractive one to festival goers who want an experience that runs a bit deeper than swaying off their face in a laser-filled, sweat-drenched tent.

“There’s been an absolute renaissance in handicrafts and bespoke making,” says Matthews. “It’s a natural reaction to the modern world. We’ve been bombarded with mass produced stuff and we’ve got further away from our traditions. But just like in physics, for every action, there’s an equal reaction, so the upswing in crafts is something we could predict in a way, but we didn’t see how people would come back to embracing how nourishing crafting and making are.”

For Matthews, the festival embodies the outdoorsy, crafty spirit that many people aspire to. It’s not only for people who are practical sorts who can build fires and climb trees but also for those who dabble in wanting to live a more active, natural life.

“I started the festival as an easy way to spend a weekend outside, where no matter what your age you could enjoy getting away from the modern world and meet like minded people. For me the highlight is seeing my 13 year old daughter, who is a normal London girl, with mud on her skirt having the time of her life.”

Dance in a forest at the Good Life Experience in Wales

Discover the simple beauty of being outside and amongst friends

Photography | Nenad Obradovic

Being green is at the heart of everything the festival does, from the people on its bill to the recycling and promotion of non-plastic alternatives - think bamboo not plastic plates and cutlery and no plastic bottles in sight.

“It’s really high up on our list of priorities,” says Matthews. “The natural world is everything we’re about so it’d be contradictory if we weren’t concerned with sustainability. The first year when we were a baby festival, I forgot to tell people the rubbish was recycled and the bins weren’t marked so I had to go round telling everyone.”

Good Life Experience was co-founded by Cerys Matthews

Watch out for Cerys Matthews, she'll be pottering by the Speaker's Tent

Photography | Nenad Obradovic

From root to fruit chef Tom Hunt to butchering, foraging and fermenting, food sustainability plays a big part in the festival. And this year there will be more vegan options to reflect the upswing in veganism and vegetarianism.

“Veganism and vegetarianism is a big awakening as more people are aware of things like Meat Free Mondays,” says Matthews. “But for meat-eaters, all of our meat comes from the actual farm where we hold the festival so it’s super local and fresh.”

"There are so many people from hands on makers, explorers, wildlife experts, doers and passionate people to schedule in over one weekend"

Also on the bill are the Meek Sisters, a 13 year and a 11 year old, who have been campaigning against plastic waste, Dan Burgess from Good For Nothing, who has created chapters of people all over the UK who use their skills to solve local issues, explorer Jonathan Shackleton and wildlife photographer Sue Flood.

“It’s actually quite the challenge to keep the numbers down now,” says Matthews. “There are so many people from hands on makers, explorers, wildlife experts, doers and passionate people to schedule in over one weekend.”

Good Life Experience Christian Banfield Pebble Magazine

Get up close with amazing chefs and eat food straight from the fire

Photography | Christian Banfield

So with so much going on, what's the perfect way to spend a day at The Good Life Experience?

"Most importantly I'll have woken up having slept with a clear head. I'll head to the Speaker's Tent or the Academy to hear someone talk. I love the energy you have when you just click into what someone's saying and you join the dots together. Then I'll sneak off to the Speakeasy and have vodka and cheese and listen to the waft of the clarinets playing.

I'll pop along to the Pit where they'll be cooking shellfish in rafia bags on charcoal or get a chilli hit from some of Thomasina Myers' cooking. I'll walk up the top of the hill to make sure everything's looking good and listen to people's conversations as I pass by, I love to meet people and make their experiences better. If I've had enough vodka I might hit the free fairground or head over to the Makers' Field and see Nancy from the Welsh Lavender Farm - she makes the most amazing organic lavender creams on her farm in the Brecon Beacons and then I'd slip down to the Hoedown - we've brought in musicians from North Carolina so that will be really special."

Tickets for the Good Life Experience start at £104.00 (without camping). The festival takes place from 15-17 September 2017.

Handmade at Kew info and tickets

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