Last year, we organised our first festival in the run-up to the General Election. The aim was to get local people talking about the political and social issues of the day through a variety of keynote speeches, workshops, panel discussions and arts events across Sheffield. Opus and Now Then mobilised its networks of like-minded people, […]

Last year, we organised our first festival in the run-up to the General Election. The aim was to get local people talking about the political and social issues of the day through a variety of keynote speeches, workshops, panel discussions and arts events across Sheffield. Opus and Now Then mobilised its networks of like-minded people, from campaign groups to proactive individuals, to promote and host over 40 events during March and April 2015, and the response was greater than we could have imagined.

We estimate that well over 1,000 people came down to Festival of Debate events in total, some of which were run by Opus, some of which were run by partner organisations, and some of which were made possible by a variety of feet on the ground (thank you, committed volunteers). It went by in a flash, and we were left with the overwhelming feeling that this project had a home in the city.

While it was great to see hundreds of people coming to see Owen Jones, Shami Chakrabarti and George Monbiot speak during the festival, all of which had some really engaging Q&A sessions, those smaller events of between 20 and 50 people felt really engaging, thought provoking and inclusive. At some of them, the audience more or less took over the discussion – the kind of interaction and debate that we really hoped would take seed during the festival.

Lots of people told us that they struggled to make it down to everything they wanted to, so this year we’re planning spring and autumn seasons for the festival, covering March to April and September to November respectively. This way, with 2-3 events per week during those periods, we hope we can create an impression of a city constantly in discussion.

While we don’t have a General Election on the horizon, on a national level we do have an EU referendum in the works, and on a local level there will be an ‘all-out’ Council election in May (all councillors up for election, rather than the usual third) and a wide-ranging devolution package for the Sheffield City Region before the year is up, not to mention ongoing public concerns about austerity, climate change and the refugee crisis. The festival will certainly not lack for topics. The key we believe, as ever, is through informed discussion and debate, finding what works best for ourselves as individuals and as a society.

We will be formally launching the Festival of Debate 2016 spring programme next month, but we can give you a sneak preview of some highlights. Finer details are yet to be confirmed and may be subject to change, but hopefully this will give you a flavour.

Julian Assange will take part in an ‘in conversation’ event via video link on Thursday 12 May, discussing Wikileaks and the vital work it does supporting whistleblowers and holding power to account across the globe.

Professor David Nutt will speak on Wednesday 18 May about how drug legislation restricts and impedes on medical research in the UK.

New Economics Foundation will host a workshop which is open to members of the public, exploring the foundations and assumptions of modern economics and encouraging new ways of thinking about the economy. UK Parliament Outreach will also put on workshops looking at how people can better engage with Parliament and its processes.

Active citizen and Now Then writer Nigel Slack will also host two events – one looking at the current Devolution Deal and what it means for the Sheffield City Region, and one looking at the implications of the upcoming ‘all-out’ Council election and changes to ward boundaries.

The festival’s spring season will comprise around 30 events, all of which will be listed in the festival brochure, distributed across the city from the beginning of March. If you want to volunteer your time to make the festival happen, have ideas for events that you could host, or just want to give us your feedback, please get in touch.

hello@festivalofdebate.com
@FestOfDebate

Photo by Nathan Gibson

The Festival of Debate Team