Sheffield Green Fair 2012: Stiltwalking, bellydancing and environmental issues

Jason Leman helping Verity Saich (3) to stiltwalk.
Jason Leman helping Verity Saich (3) to stiltwalk.

“WE aim for this to be a good sunny day out – hopefully,” said Jen Barnard, sheltering from the latest June/April shower in a yurt.

Small children with painted faces were playing nearby. Belly dancers and stiltwalkers mingled outside.

Sue Fee twirling ribbons, watched by Karim Taskin (8).

Sue Fee twirling ribbons, watched by Karim Taskin (8).

“We hope to raise awareness but it’s also a day to socialise and have fun.”

At 27 years old, Sheffield’s Green Fair is as old as the country’s Green Party, and in recent years the fair moved to St Mary’s Church in Bramall Lane, where almost 1,000 people turned up last Saturday, despite the poor weather.

The fair raises funds for the Green Party and hosts organisations working on ‘green’ issues, ranging from conservation, home composting, Greenpeace, vegan and allied traditional green groups, to local business organisations such as the Save Portland Works campaign.

Green councillor Rob Murphy pointed out that his party is not just about traditional environmental issues but about promoting local businesses and jobs. The economy may take precedence for many people at present but he felt that there was still a role for the Green Party.

“We can say what other parties aren’t prepared to say and we can stand up for local people rather than bow down to big business,” he said.

Political fundraising via bellydancing classes, head massages and hula hooping might be unusual for parties funded by wealthy donors or trade unions, it was noted, but needs must for the Greens.

Rob was pleased with the party’s showing at the latest council elections as the Greens continued to hold seats after eight years on the council but he was aware that the political climate had changed at the town hall after the years when the party had effectively held the balance of power while the council was split.

“Labour will now be in power for another generation but people understand why we’re there. We won’t fade away, we’re an alternative to the other parties.”

He said that plenty of councillors agreed with many of the Green Party’s arguments, but “don’t dare say anything”.

What’s missing at present, he said, is a “long-term vision for Sheffield. They’re doing the cuts by salami slicing so there’ll be less of everything altogether but they could be looking at doing things in a different way. Sometimes you’ve got to do things that seem unpopular at the moment but are for the long-term good.”

Some priorities for the Green Party would be tackling public transport, opening up more of the stalled retail quarter to small local business on short-term leases, rolling out the 20mph residential speed limit to the whole city rather than small areas at a time, and reducing the wages of the council’s top executives.

Although traditional environmental issues are not in the news as much at present, jobs and the economy are the big challenge for all parties, and Greens say these issues could be tackled by politicians insisting on large-scale investment in renewable energy and public transport.

“If you haven’t got a job and haven’t got enough for food for your kids, that’s a bigger priority than how much it’s raining outside,” said Rob.

“It’s complicated. The evidence for climate change is overwhelming, the summers are wetter, the fact that it’s raining like this is part of the wider picture, it has a connection to why you can’t feed your kids.”

The sun came out again and the sheltering crowds came out of the tents, yurts and church and got back to their juggling, campaigning and stilt-walking.