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Festival of Debate announces 2021 programme with over 40 live-streamed events

A series of live-streamed events throughout May and June will explore issues ranging from sustainable food to social care, from rebuilding our city centres to taking action on the climate crisis.

Festival of Debate 2019 1 credit Dora Damian
Dora Damien

The Festival of Debate, the UK's biggest non-partisan politics festival, has revealed its programme for 2021.

Over 40 live-streamed events will take place in May and June, covering topics as diverse as sustainable food, Universal Basic Income and the future of city centres in post-pandemic Britain.

Highlights include radical economist and author of Another Now Yanis Varoufakis, outspoken Labour MP David Lammy, and writer on immigration and asylum Maya Goodfellow.

"Covid-19 has impacted our communities in so many ways we don't yet understand, but it has also highlighted the inequalities in our society that have always existed," said festival programmer Joe Kriss.

"Moments of crisis create the possibility of change. We must take this opportunity to bring people together to discuss the kind of society we want to live in."

Yanis Varoufakis credit Chris Saunders

Yanis Varoufakis

Chris Saunders

On 13 May, Handforth Parish Council star Jackie Weaver will host a Question Time-style debate with local MPs, activists and commentators from South Yorkshire and beyond.

Journalist Sathnam Sanghera joins Desiree Reynolds on 4 May to discuss his book Empireland, which argues that the Empire is crucial to understanding modern Britain.

Other events feature former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, the Green Party's Natalie Bennett, veteran Sheffield politician David Blunkett and openDemocracy writer Peter Geoghegan.

All events will be on a pay-as-you-feel basis, and will be available through the festival's brand-new website.

As well as headline speakers, this year's festival includes dozens of community-led events exploring social and political issues in detail.

These include events exploring climate breakdown in partnership with South Yorkshire Climate Alliance, and an event looking at the impact the pandemic has had on mental health with Sheffield Flourish.

Jackie weaver

Jackie Weaver

“Every year Festival of Debate gives us a space where we can talk about the things that really matter to us, partner with other organisations and get people thinking," said Jo Eckersley of Sheffield Flourish.

"It’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on why we do what we do, and sometimes to question the status quo."

As well as talks and panel discussions, the programme includes workshops, film screenings and a series of short videos produced with the festival's partners.

On 7 May former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis will discuss his new book Another Now, which imagines a parallel timeline to our own where the financial crisis of 2008 led to a fairer economic system.

In partnership with Sheffield-based asylum organisation ASSIST on 12 May, Hostile Environment author Maya Goodfellow will examine the UK's history of anti-immigration policy under both Labour and Conservative governments.

One of the largest festivals of its kind in the UK, Festival of Debate is co-ordinated by not-for-profit social enterprise Opus Independents, which also publishes Now Then magazine.

Founded in the run-up to the 2015 general election, the festival aims to combat political apathy by ensuring its events are led by the issues, rather than by party politics.

“Sheffield has a great tradition of nation-leading public debate and activism, from the Sheffield Female Political Association, the first suffrage society in the UK, through to Edward Carpenter and on to the City of Sanctuary," said Green Party peer Natalie Bennett.

"The Festival of Debate continues that great tradition."

Learn more

The full Festival of Debate 2021 programme is live now. The festival begins on 4 May.

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