Robin Lane, Alison Coe … And Starting Up a Successful Vegan Festival

Article based on The London Vegan Festival Comes of Age by Lee Hall, Friends of Animals magazine Autumn 2004 and London Vegan Festival 2014 review at

While annual health food fairs and green festivals are becoming popular events in major cities, some activists have moved a step beyond.

It was 1996, at the annual general meeting of The Vegan Society, when Chris Sutoris and Robin Lane proposed Britain’s first annual Vegan Festival. The Festival debuted in 1998, with over 1,000 attendees. The London Vegan Festival soon became so popular that by 2004 the event was moved into a multi-building venue, Kensington Town Hall, in London’s busiest shopping district. By 2004, the event was drawing 1,500 people, filling the hall from morning to evening.

Today, most talks and workshops are filled to capacity; in the main hall, where all types of vegan food and drink abound, attendees weave in and out of the crowd, actually jostling a bit to move at all.

Contributing sponsors of the festival have long including Veggies, a catering group known for its remarkable veggieburgers and gourmet desserts. The Vegan Society has also been a faithful sponsor all the years of the festival.

Preparation takes most of the year, but current facilitators Robin Lane and Alison Coe — also the long-time co-ordinators of the London-based Campaign Against Leather and Fur (CALF) — say the work is well worth it. After all, anyone who works at an animal sanctuary would be greatly impressed by one person who has directly spared so many lives as each vegan does.

When Lane and Coe first got involved, neither had any knowledge of co-ordinating a large event. Yet they are succeeding wonderfully. Each year, returning visitors can be heard saying they’re vegan due to past editions of the London Vegan Festival, and back to enjoy being in the community. The festival has inspired a newer annual festival in Bristol and other cities in Britain, in Sweden and beyond.

Non-vegetarians (and their families) are, of course, warmly welcomed at these events, which usually include vegan food tastings and nutrition workshops, drumjams and art workshops, strolling magicians, poetry readings, and lessons in circus skills. One might find a workshop presented as part of a mission to open a fair trade café, fresh drinks at a juice bar, vegan beers and wines, or an aromatic massage booth. The hall of educational tables each year features scores of groups, focusing on anything from raw cuisine to nonhuman rights to networks for vegan runners. Some of the groups bring chefs and prepare fresh meals to order.

There are also talks on animal rights. Friends of Animals and Vegan Means annually present workshops addressing various topics: corporate influence on animal activists, religion and animal rights, the custom of breeding animals as pets, and extinctions in an animal-rights framework.

A Better Chance for Earth

The number of animals on farms around the globe has risen fivefold since 1950. These animals now outnumber humans several times over. Farmers are using up the Amazon jungle — once home to leopards, parrots and deer — to produce soy beans destined for cattle feed. Much of Australia has been converted from a thriving biocommunity to industrial farms. With farm animals already consuming half the world’s grain, much of humanity faces hunger.

Many people have responded by embracing a mainly vegetarian diet, but continue to eat milk, cheese, or eggs. All of these products are environmentally destructive, and also rely heavily on grain production. Chickens reared for egg production are notoriously maltreated — and usually killed if they are identified as male. The exploitation of dairy cows is inextricably linked to veal production. With fish, the scenario follows the same pattern. Fish are known to feel pain and try to escape it; no surprises there, for it’s a survival response. At the same time, anglers and commercial fish sales are devastating marine ecosystems. It is becoming increasingly clear that pure vegetarianism, or veganism, is a necessary key to animal well-being and human survival.

So it means the world that in 2004 Patrick Browne of the Vegan Organic Trust (who was at that time working on an M.A. degree at Lancaster University in the subject of Values and the Environment) told festival goers of an approaching milestone: Farmers who learn the vegan-organic method (no manure for fertility; no blood or bone meal) could, for the first time, apply to have their produce specially certified. It was the debut of the Vegan Organic “stockfree” symbol. The vegan-organic farming method addresses climate change, air and water pollution, the spread of disease, and instability of communities throughout the world, and shows the way to a humanity free of violence to other animals.

A great thing about this festival, you can see, is its dedication to principles. One does not see corporate sponsors that sell animal flesh, as the festival is dedicated to bringing vegetarianism to its logical conclusion, as the early vegan Donald Watson would have said it.

Story by Lee Hall. Website design and photo archive by Caroline McAleese of Vegan Campaigns.