Ecumenical youth festival draws record crowds first posted 28 August 2002

 CHELTENHAM - first posted 28 August 2002 - 435 words

The Greenbelt Festival drew to a close last night having drawn capacity crowds throughout the bank holiday weekend.

Archbishop of Canterbury elect Rowan Williams, emphasising that public opinion could still halt a conflict, led calls for George Bush and Tony Blair to turn back from a war with Iraq.

More than £50,000 was raised for Christian Aid projects working with HIV/AIDS across the world and arts projects in this country ­ the biggest communion offering in Greenbelt's 29 years.

And thousands of festival-goers revelled in the diversity of the `Kiss of Life' programme as they soaked up the sun rays at Cheltenham Racecourse.

"It's been another wonderful year for the festival," Greenbelt chair Jude Levermore said.

"I believe this has been our best year yet in Cheltenham: our biggest programme and our biggest attendance. We've hit capacity and we'll be looking to increase our licence capacity next year.

"I hope we've breathed life into thousands of souls and inspired people to greater intimacy with our Creator and each other."

Some 20,000 people gathered at the racecourse this bank holiday weekend to attend Greenbelt, the annual four-day Christian carnival now approaching its 30th year.

Among the highlights this weekend have been a performance of Manuscript by the world-renowned Polish street theatre company Teatr Biuro Podrozy.

Meanwhile last night the crowds enjoyed a classical concert, featuring Patricia Rozario OBE and international soloist Steven Osbourne and concluding with a fireworks finale.

"It was an absolutely fantastic night," said Karen Napier, chair of the planning group.

"We had thousands of people of all ages watching and they wouldn't have been disappointed ­ the concert was simply stunning."

Archbishop Williams and Vicar of Dibley inspiration Joy Carroll presided over Sunday morning's communion service ­ and danced with festival-goers as the service came to an end.

Meanwhile the music line-up had something for everyone with its varied programme played out over eight stages. Tonight Delirious? tops the bill as the festival comes to a close.

And Greenbelt's main partner Christian Aid staged a candlelit vigil on Saturday night as part of their programme to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Festival goers were able to explore the charity's interactive marquee, the Don McCullen photo exhibition and wayside shrines dotted around all over the site.

"The response has been excellent," said Nicky Nicholls of Christian Aid.

"We have been trying to show people the links between the increase in HIV/AIDS and poverty and how campaigning for new trade rules actually will have an impact on the spread of this virus ­ and we think people are getting the message."

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