In my past 2 blog posts I’ve been reflecting on my favourite “firsts” of 2017 and the things I most enjoyed learning about. Both feature experiences that I gained through five great festivals. While one off events can be stimulating, I find there’s always a different energy around festivals, and I enjoy the fact that around a broad theme, they allow a range of perspectives to be explored.
1) Hay Festival
This was my first visit to the Hay Festival although it was one I’ve wanted to attend for several years. Not only was it special to me for that reason but it was the Festival’s 30th Anniversary. I’m not sure if this meant the event was at a different scale to other years, but all I can say is that it far exceeded expectations.
As a lifelong book-lover, the pure fact of being in a place where all around were people taking time out to sit and read was a marvel and a welcome opportunity to take a bit of a slower pace. On top of this, the speeches that I listened to were thought-provoking and caused me to resolve to take more “learning weekends” (which I have so far failed to do…). A particular recommendation, still on the “Hay Player” is Mark Richardson’s “We Do Things Differently” , tackling some pretty awe inspiring likely future developments in an entertaining and accessible way.
This was a true highlight of the year for me. Sub-titled “Unusual Connections for Social Change”, it’s clear where the hook was for me. The theme for the year was “belonging” but the events were broad and varied. I took part in events across 3 days and wrote a series of blogs so won’t recap here.
Now, several months on, on the shortest day of the year, the positive feelings that the Festival imbued are further cemented in my mind by the fact that it took part across probably the warmest, sunniest days of the summer and culminated in an uplifting garden party at the Calthorpe Project which seems a World away from the winter drizzle.
While I have enjoyed Open House London as a visitor in several previous years, this year I took it up a level and volunteered as a steward. I knew there would be a list of buildings I would be happy to play my role in supporting, but I was especially pleased to find that one of the organisations looking for volunteers was Nordoff Robbins, a charity with whose work I was already slightly familiar.
Their building has recently undergone a complete, bespoke refurbishment allowing them to provide their life-changing music therapy services even better than before. The small group of us who volunteered were given an almost personal tour of the building, noting the special features and offering a great opportunity to ask questions about the charity’s work. My connection with the charity has continued since and I hope will do for some time to come.
In my last post, I highlighted Service Design as one of the things I’d most enjoyed learning about in 2017. As well as the events and course I mentioned, another great opportunity to delve into the subject came with the Service Design Fringe Festival. As a Festival founded and delivered by people truly passionate about the industry and its potential, the range of events was impressive. I was unfortunately not able to attend as many as I would have liked but a definite highlight was the “Designing on the Inside” event with a panel covering a range of organisational perspectives I would have chosen myself as they cover several of my key work areas – charity, social investment and housing.
Last, but by no means least was the fabulous Art of the Possible Festival “celebrating the best of Essex”. One of the most thought-provoking discussions during the Unusual Suspects Festival was around the theme of what it means to belong. It really reinforced a feeling I’ve had for a long time of disconnection with my own local community.
In the main, I prefer to use a broad definition of community, being a sense of connection with others through a shared experience or interest. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, given that Essex has been my home for longer than I can remember, I feel I want to re-establish my awareness of the many great things that are happening locally. The Art of the Possible Festival provided a rare and perfect opportunity to do just that.
Among others, 2 of my “Top 5 firsts” – TEDx Chelmsford and RSA Ideas Chelmsford came as part of this Festival. Two months on, and I feel that there is a risk that some of the momentum and energy built during the Festival could wane but was last week really excited to learn that plans are afoot to create a Chelmsford Cultural Festival to rival Edinburgh in 2018. I’m looking forward to developments with this and also seeking other ways to build on some of the experiences from Art of the Possible as next year progresses.
So, in all, it’s been a positive and stimulating year, albeit that having packed so much in, I’m now more than ready for my Christmas break. A rare time when I am committed to indulging in some down time, to re-energise ready for what already looks to be an interesting 2018.