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Festival of Debate Launched: Sheffield festival announces over 60 events

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Festival of Debate 2018

The lineup for the fifth edition of Sheffield's Festival of Debate has been announced, with speakers including George Monbiot, Ash Sarkar and Roger McGough.

The festival, which runs from April to June, aims to provoke a conversation about important political, social and economic issues. It is the biggest festival of its kind in the UK.

"In recent years, we have witnessed our democratic structures and systems of government stretched beyond breaking point," said festival programmer Sam Walby.

"While it's easy to see this fragmented battleground as frightening and without hope, it's also a fantastic time to be exploring many of these issues, because once the dust settles, we will need new ideas more than ever."

The festival is coordinated by Opus Independents, who also publish Now Then.

Writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch talks about "the everyday racism that plagues British society" on 13 May, while Vote Leave whistleblower Shahmir Sanni discusses online campaigning and its effect on democracy on 24 April.

We hope Festival of Debate 2019 goes some way towards encouraging discussion, open-mindedness and active citizenship in Sheffield

Other events include a look back at the life of Barnsley-born campaigner Harry Leslie Smith by his son John, and a talk on "how to be right" by LBC radio host and social media star James O'Brien.

Sponsors for the festival include Sheffield College and Barnsley Digital Media Centre, with Abbeydale Brewery supplying a one-off festival beer called 'We Need To Talk'.

The festival is teaming up with groups including the renters' union ACORN and the Sheffield Climate Alliance to host events looking at housing, the environment and social justice.

On 16 May, writers George Monbiot and George Marshall discuss "how to break the silence on environmental collapse", while broadcaster Paul Mason will launch a "radical defence of the human being" on 29 May inspired by his new book 'Clear Bright Future'.

Some of the events will shed light on issues that aren't often talked about in the mainstream media.

On 11 May 'Mad Pride' will look at changing how we talk about mental health, while Chella Quint will reveal "the good, the bad and the bloody" in 'Adventures in Menstruating' on 10 May.

Closing the festival on 01 June will be a "day of action" at Millennium Gallery, around the theme of Living Together.

This will conclude with a Question Time-style event featuring outgoing Lord Mayor Magid and Novara Media's Ash Sarkar as panellists.

Events at previous editions of the festival have led to the launch of new groups in the city, including UBI Lab Sheffield who are working towards a trial of Universal Basic Income.

"We hope Festival of Debate 2019 goes some way towards encouraging discussion, open-mindedness and active citizenship in Sheffield," said Walby.

Sam Gregory

Festival of Debate runs from 19 April to 01 June. The full programme is available at

by Sam Walby (he/him), Sam Gregory (he/him), Chella Quint

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