Wilderness: the festival that makes you feel better 

How this year’s Wilderness organisers are putting wellness front and centre to curate a festival to leave you feeling refreshed: mind, body and soul

“You shouldn’t ever leave a festival needing a holiday,” smiles Imogen Oppe, Senior Wellbeing Programmer at Wilderness Festival, chatting via Zoom in Goldie’s ‘Yogangster’ jumper. “I’ve been in the industry for 15 years, and as I’ve gotten older, that has become more and more important to me. There are plenty of other festivals where you can just let rip and go mental, but Wilderness is somewhere I’ve always felt you can sit by the lake read a book under a tree.”

As well as hosting a full line-up of music, theatre, food and spoken word, this year’s Wilderness festival is extending its already established Wellbeing programme at The Sanctuary. If you want to watch Underworld, Jungle and Years & Years top the mainstage, you can, but if you want to learn some yoga, schedule a reiki session or take a crystal sound bath, that’s fine too. 

Hosting an extensive line-up of wellness classes, talks, therapies and workshops for experts and beginners alike, Wilderness is setting itself apart from most other UK festivals by offering music fans the opportunity to also feel like guests at an outdoor health retreat – a complete relaxation package holiday that also happens to have some of the world’s best bands as entertainment. 

With a few months to go until Wilderness opens on 4 August, Imogen Oppe tells us what it takes to curate the feelgood hit of the summer.

What are you most excited about people experiencing this year?

Historically, The Sanctuary has kind of been known as ‘that place over there where people do lots of yoga’. Historically, too, everything has been ticketed. And what we’ve invested in this year is The Shala stage, which is this live stage where we have the Jon Hopkins experience happening on the Sunday evening. 

Jon Hopkins is billed on the poster as an “immersive sound experience”. What can we expect?  

So he’s doing a playback of his new album, Music For Psychedelic Therapy, which was kind of composed to accompany healing energies, and we’re playing it back in spatial audio using a 7.2 surround sound system, inside a dome. John is there playing piano too, so it’s a pretty special experience.

There’s a lot of other experiences this year that use sound and music in this way too – how important is that to you? 

It’s everything really, especially in a festival environment. A lot of people are here because they love music, and there’s no reason that the two can’t be married. I’ve partnered with a studio called House Of Wisdom, and they specialise in things like gong, crystal bowls and shamanic drums, so there’s a lot of that going on. The Sharla stage is inside a geo dome too, so these events are going to be quite intimate performances. 

There are a lot of exciting new wellness developments this year at Wilderness – has this expansion been on the cards for a while now?

I’ve been producing The Sanctuary for six years, and it’s my heart and soul. I absolutely love it. But I’ve just always thought that it was a shame to have everything ticketed, so that it was only really available to people who knew that it was something they wanted to do. What I love about festivals, and what I think we do at Wilderness particularly well, is the kind of things that you didn’t realise that you needed, or that you didn’t know that you were going to enjoy, or that you’ve not experienced before. And I think wellness really needs to be at the forefront of that. You shouldn’t leave a festival feeling depleted, you should leave feeling taken care of. And that’s what this space is kind of is built for. 

So you’re hoping people might wander in who might not have heard of the wellness area before? 

Absolutely. Obviously we have other venues across the site which are still more expertly taught classes. Like a headstand masterclass, for example, for people who really live within their bodies. But it was also incredibly important to me to have somewhere accessible to everybody. We’ve got the antidote to [late-night dance area] The Valley, I suppose. It’s sort of Room 2 vibes, so we have evenings of ambient DJs that are all curated to come from a direction of meditation or healing. It’s binaural beats, that do something to you, so you have an experience as well as listening to music and enjoying yourself.

Yoga, in particular, is something that can seem a little intimidating to people who might not have tried it before. Are you hoping people might give it a go anyway?

People always talk about Aerial Yoga, and they always talk about Paddleboard Yoga, which are amazing, don’t get me wrong, especially at the site that we have them, but we also have things like a live stage which does yoga in the morning for everybody. So if you’re not a yogi or, in my case a yogangster!, you can just give it a try and see what you think. 

There are hundreds of wellbeing festivals out there for people who were really into it. And there are some people who really don’t gel with yoga and that’s absolutely fine, but that’s not all that wellbeing is. And I think that we can get kind of wrapped up in that, and thinking that The Sanctuary is just that place where yogi’s go. And that’s not what it is at all. It’s a space for you to feel cared for and looked after, away from the madness, which I think is incredibly important. 

What other highlights from the wellness line-up are you looking forward to? 

It’s all so close to my heart! Somebody who’s doing a lot of amazing stuff at the moment is Anoushka Florence from The Goddess Space. She’s doing two outdoor women’s circles, one specifically for mothers, and then she’s also doing a talk on mindful space which I think is really exciting. Then from a yoga and movement perspective we have East Of Eden, who are a studio in Walthamstow that I’ve partnered with to bring some really grounding and beautiful slow flow masterclasses. We have Nave doing a lecture series – she’s a sexual health teacher from Ibiza and she runs these big open conversations on the kind of transitions that women go through. She’s also holding a talk on the decision to be child free, which I think is a really important conversation at the moment.

It’s great to see classes like The Art Of Self-Care For Teens too – as I’m guessing teenagers might have stayed away from The Sanctuary in the past? 

Yeah it’s always awkward being a teenager at a festival, as it’s so easy to feel like you’re caught between two different audiences. Pippa Richardson runs Self Care For Teens and it’s just fantastic. Wilderness has some great workshops for teenagers, with things like music production workshops, but Pippa looks at things from more of a wellbeing perspective. So she does a lot of journaling and creative writing. 

I’m really impressed to see that you hold Anonymous meetings too – as that really must open Wilderness up to people who look at festivals as very challenging environments?

It’s something I don’t think a lot of other festivals really cater for. They’re Anonymous meetings as a whole, so whether or not you are a member of the fellowship group Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, or any of them, these are spaces that are accessible to everybody – held on the Friday and Saturday at 6pm. Festivals can be really triggering for some people, and it’s as much for the crew as it is for the audience, you know? There’s a lot of people that work within this industry that are struggling with addictions, and there’s just no reason that you should feel that you’re not being cared for. A festival is a celebration, and it’s a huge part of people’s lives, so we have a responsibility, I think, to make sure that everyone is being looked after.

Tickets for Wilderness 2022 are available here

Wilderness Festival Line-up Poster 2022