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Yestival Blog

Early morning Saturday 17th June we set off to get to ‘Yestival’ a storytelling festival in Lincolnshire run by inspiring couple Dave and Ems Cornthwaite. Held at the Big Sky Hideaway, Yestival is part of their ‘Say Yes More’ initiative and saw the gathering of the ‘Yes Tribe’ community and friends to hear tales of adventure, overcoming adversity & saying “YES” more to make life more memorable.

We were a little apprehensive as we were on the speaking line up, giving a talk about why Cultivating Change started and the background to how it all came about. We had never done anything like this or been to a festival like this, so we were unsure what to expect; we were nervously excited.

We knew Dave and Ems from the Big Sky Hideaway, as they were one of our very first applicants for seed donations when we started Cultivating Change in 2020. We visited them when they first moved to the Big Sky site, to help a little with planning their garden and was really inspired by their enthusiasm and plans for the site and community they were wanting to create.

As soon as we arrived, we could feel the positive atmosphere; we could hear laughter, cheers and clapping coming from various venues as the morning’s talks were coming to an end. This definitely helped to make us feel more relaxed!

Not only was going to a storytelling festival and speaking at one a huge first for us, so was camping! We were shown to our bell tent, our home for the night. I was particularly nervous, as I’d not camped since long before all my back operations and wasn’t sure how my body would respond. Once we’d settled in, unpacked we headed to the main barn to listen to the ‘pitches’ for the next talks, not really believing we would be doing this ourselves in just a couple of hours!

The pitches themselves were filled with extraordinary adventures and personal journeys and we did feel a little intimidated; doubting ourselves and wondering if anyone would want to listen to our tale of how and why Cultivating Change came about. Once the pitches were done everyone headed to the talk they wanted to listen to, and so did we, heading to the ‘Tepee’ which was where we would later be talking! We loved the relaxed atmosphere and felt really inspired by the story of adventure we heard. Imposter Syndrome reared its ugly head a bit though, how could our story inspire others, and we knew we were NOT funny!!

We then headed to another talk on the top deck of the double-decker ‘Yes Bus’ and were really moved by the very personal story we heard, realising everyone’s story would be different and move people in different ways. We started to feel very at home at Yestival and knew that however difficult it would be, this was the right place to share personal parts of the Cultivating Change story for the first time.

After a delicious and nutritious lunch, it was our turn to pitch, which was terrifying. We couldn’t help wondering whether anyone would come to listen to us, but they did!

We were speaking in the ‘Tepee’ which was a cosy space and we nestled into the big speakers armchair and began to tell the story about how and why Cultivating Change started. Our story involves many factors and we saw these factors as pieces of our jigsaw, all coming together at the right time to get us to where we are now. These included friendship, poor physical and mental health, education, biophilic connection with nature and seeds… in our talk we shared in a lot more detail than we had before about some factors, particularly mental health.

I have always worried about the stigma surrounding mental health and always brushed over some key details of my own personal experience; having been brought up to not talk about mental health, and instead feel shame, I worried whether I would be negatively judged for my honesty. But in order to break the stigma surround mental health, and so that change can happen I knew I needed to be brave and talk about it openly, especially as my own experiences have shaped what Cultivating Change is. Despite being terrifying, talking about it was positive, mental health must not be shoved under the carpet, as too many lives have been lost by the stigma.

Thankfully the first talk went well, we had some lovely feedback, and we were so happy when people came up to us afterwards to share their own stories of poor physical and mental health and how either they already had experience of gardening and growing your own helping or how they saw how it could be a good thing for them to try. Despite positive feedback we knew we could do better and felt a little annoyed with ourselves for being so nervous, stumbling on our words a bit and not getting our message across as well as we had wanted. We had a debrief and knew what to do for the next day’s talk to make it even better.

With the first talk out of the way, we were able to spend the rest of the day happily meeting new friends, hearing their stories and having loads of fun. ‘Yestival’ has such a buzz of acceptance, genuine interest, community and friendship. The storytelling went into the evening, and Saturday evening was a night we will never forget. The whole of the ‘Yestival’ tribe congregated in the main barn for an evening on inspiring talks, emotional commitments and games! The bravery of people standing up and telling their personal stories and anecdotes and their courage and strength to get through often tough times and come out the other side stronger really hit home. It really confirmed to us that setting up Cultivating Change was the right path for us to be on personally, as well as a foundation for us to communicate our ethos and values and try to influence change and encourage everyone to get gardening and growing to therapeutically support physical and mental health!

A highlight of the evening was everyone, all 100+ of us, playing an epic game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ and singing silly songs, as well as the chance to talk more to the brilliant people we met during the day. We went back to our tent joy buckets full, happy and looking forward to the day ahead…

What a start to our Sunday we had… an early morning yoga session in the Alpaca field, while they wandered amongst us. A completely unique experience and provided an excellent opportunity to regroup, reflect and prepare for the day ahead.

Our second talk of Yestival was really special. We both felt so much more relaxed and found it easier to tell our stories from the heart. We shared even more about the trauma we had personally experienced during periods of poor mental health and felt it was a really ‘safe space’ to share more. We feel so passionately about the need for more ‘nature-based’ therapy to work alongside medical treatment and being able to talk about why is really important to us. Again, more people came up to us at the end with their own experiences, ways they felt they could help, collaborate or contribute to what we are doing, and we went away from the talk feeling really positive and so inspired.

We felt so lucky to be somewhere so uplifting and be surrounded by such caring and kind people. All around the festival were inspirational quotes, one that summed up our experience was “strangers are just friends waiting to happen!” If only more people in society could see life like this. Another favourite was “If you are ever stuck between two decisions choose the one that makes the best story” It made us feel that life is meant to be up and down, and without those fluctuations we would not have anything to learn from, share and inspire.

We both said everyone should go to ‘Yestival’ and we cannot wait to return!

Thanks Dave and Ems! You have created a truly special event! x

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