The Power of the Festival of Thrift

The Festival of Thrift has come a long way since we first conceived the idea around 8 years ago. It's now run by a brilliant local team with our role as directors to offer guidance, advice and enthusiasm. It's important that as a team we keep measuring the impact of the festival - economically, socially, culturally and on a human level, so we commission research on this every year. Below you'll find a summary of where we're at - what needs to be done, and what an event like this can achieve.


How we got to where we are


Our organisation has developed over the last 6 years, from an original idea by Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway and John Orchard to develop the UK’s first large-scale festival promoting sustainable, socially responsible living, and creative, resilient communities. They appointed Stella Hall as Festival Director to launch the Festival of Thrift in 2013 and it has run for two days in September annually since 2013 first in Darlington and from 2016 in Redcar & Cleveland.  We set up a Community Interest Company in 2015 to boost infrastructure and organisational capacity and improve governance.  All our delivery focuses in Tees Valley and we intend to continue the Festival there, but expanding what we deliver.


To deliver our vision, we deliberately located the Festival of Thrift in an area of significant deprivation and low cultural engagement to deliver maximum impact in local communities, help regenerate the local areas, boost cultural engagement, community pride and promote these areas as great places in which to live, work, visit and invest.  We have delivered three festivals at Kirkleatham in Redcar, with great feedback and reviews from local people, artists, partners and national media.


Running over three days in September each year, the Festival:

  • Focuses on upcycling, recycling, making, growing, volunteering, skills building, learning and saving money with an emphasis on creativity, encouraging people to think and act more sustainably and giving them the inspiration and tools to do so
  • Involves a mix of professional and emerging artists, community driven projects, skills and learning activities
  • Showcases the skills and creativity of the region’s artists and craftspeople through a programme of presentations, commissions and workshops, inspiring people of all ages to learn old ways and find new ways to be creative and live more sustainably  in their everyday lives

Over six years the Festival has attracted some  250,000-visitors and is recognized as playing a pivotal role in the social, cultural and economic regeneration of Tees Valley. It has become the UK flagship event of ethical and low impact living  and one of the UK’s mots impactful FREE events .It won the Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture, the North East Tourism Event of the Year 2015 and has won Best Event Tees Valley in each location. This year’s festival in Redcar & Cleveland attracted 35,000 visitors, generated a net economic impact of over £1m   with visitor expenditure supporting the equivalent of 14 FTE jobs. We involved 120 artists, supported 320 education, training and participation sessions, engaged 80 volunteers, ran 300 workshops/demonstrations and engaged 140 sustainable traders and makers.  We believe we can have a much broader social and cultural impact in future.


We have now become established as one of a small number of key events in the Tees Valley events calendar and are included in the sub-regional tourism and culture strategy.  We have fed in to Tees Valley’s Strategic Economic Plan and Devolution Deal, which recognizes the important part culture can play in the social and economic regeneration of the area and are the first cultural organization to be supported by the LEP, Tees Valley Combined Authority.  Culture and Place are now priorities in both the local Visitor Destination Strategy and Tees Valley’s Strategic Economic Plan. Festival of Thrift is recognized as a key cultural asset, contributing to the visitor economy, changing external perceptions, showing the area an attractive place to live, work, visit and invest in, promoting the low carbon economy and maximizing the art, cultural, heritage and natural assets of the area. 


Big opportunities for Redcar 

We believe that we have a unique opportunity to use the Festival of Thrift, its ethos, approach and connections to develop a year-round strand of activity which will have a positive impact on both communities and cultural infrastructure in Redcar & Cleveland and Tees Valley.  The Festival can act as both a catalyst, as well as culmination and celebration of connected and creative community activities around sustainable living.   The rise of culture and creativity as a means to support social and economic regeneration has been recognised, with the important and essential element of sustainability embedded throughout the approach and activities.


Chairman of the Tees Valley Combined Authority, Mayor David Budd, said: “The Festival of Thrift and its growing success is a key part of the cultural renaissance in the area… engaging people with creativity around such an important agenda as living sustainably is critical in a region which is leading the world in low carbon technology.” The Tees Valley has now gained the confidence to bid for City of Culture 2025.


Festival of Thrift relocated from Darlington to Redcar & Cleveland, on the invitation of the local authority in 2016, as one of a range of responses to counteract the closure of SSI Steelworks, change perceptions of the area and increase community resilience, pride and connectedness. The SSI Task Force (1 year on Report, Sept 2016) said the closure “had a devastating effect on workers, their families and the wider communities. Overnight, 170 years of steelmaking came to an end, resulting in mass unemployment, financial hardship and a shared sense of grief at the loss of our heritage”.  Significant efforts have sought to mitigate the effects, but “lives and communities have been changed forever and there is a huge amount of work to be done to support the community and rebuild the economy”. 


Redcar & Cleveland’s multiple deprivation has endured for decades, now exacerbated by mass redundancies from SSI and the supply chain collapse, the key national deprivation indicators show:

·         Unemployment (16-64 yrs.) at Jan 2017 rising to 4.1%, higher than NE (3.4%) and England (1.9%)

·         Youth unemployment (18-24 yrs.) at Jan 2017 was 6.7%, much higher than England (2.6%) and NE (4.5%)

·         Young People Not in Education, Employment and Training (7.6% in 2015) was the highest in Tees Valley (6.4%), much higher than England (4.2%)

·         Index of Multiple Deprivation 2015 – Redcar & Cleveland ranks 78 (of 326 local authorities), with 33 LSOAs in the 10% most deprived nationally and Kirkleatham (festival site ward) in the top 5% most deprived wards


We have been working very closely with the local authority to identify and address needs and as such the proposal and the Festival addresses many ambitions in the Council’s Shaping our Future programme (2016), which is based on widespread Community Co-production sessions with local people and council staff.  Together we have agreed that we can help meet priorities of delivering social value and community ownership, well as identified needs of opportunities for training and skills development, supporting growth of local voluntary and community sector, encouraging community led activities, greater local ownership, resilience and local problem solving, as well as improving recycling and using resources better.  We are working closely with the Council’s Director of Place to help them realise their vision, by using creativity, sustainable living approaches and the assets of the local community to help address these issues. Our engagement with the authority has led to the recruitment of a new role of Head of Culture and Tourism.


Community and partner feedback in 2016 and a Board review in 2017 indicated a need to increase outreach for those who are rurally isolated, in areas of urban and rural deprivation and have less access to culture and to establish year-round activity to boost outreach and engagement, volunteering, learning and training opportunities, which would generate greater impact and legacy for communities. Arts Council England have encouraged Festival of Thrift in our work to support cultural infrastructure and community involvement, as part of meeting their priority of addressing a ‘cold spot’ of low cultural engagement  in line with their ‘Great Art for Everyone’ strategy.


Our own annual research and evaluation shows that we have success in supporting local communities to build confidence, skills and knowledge around how to live and work more responsibly, minimizing impact on the environment and building more resilient, sustainable and creative communities.  Feedback and evaluation from participants and partners from across the Tees Valley shows that the Festival is a catalyst for change, increasing community engagement, a sense of creative community and local pride and generating a string of legacy projects.


We asked local people about the issues and challenges in their communities are around living in more connected, sustainable and creative communities and their ideas about what would make a difference, what kinds of activities they would like to see and how Festival of Thrift could provide support.   We also asked people whether and how they might like to be involved moving forward.  There was high level of consensus in response to the survey and interviews and we have drawn out the responses from people from Redcar & Cleveland, as that is where our activities will largely be focussed. In terms of challenges, around half of respondents felt that local communities are not well connected and 78% that young and old people do not engage well together.  There was an overwhelming consensus that some people feel social isolated (95%), that some people lack confidence (99%) and that families and communities are suffering financial hardship (88%).


In terms of what skills and knowledge exist or do not exist in local communities, there is clear consensus that there are people with lots skills, but don’t have opportunities to share them.  In terms of skills gaps, over 90% felt in all cases that these existed in terms of upcycling, growing food, recycling and how to save money. 

The next Festival of Thrift is on the 14th and 15th of September 2019 in Kirkleatham, Redcar. See you there!

- August 2019 -

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