Arts / Education / Playwriting / Reading / Writing

Hexham Book Festival 2021

I feel incredibly lucky to have this festival on my doorstep. It is world class.

Hexham Book Festival took place 2-11 July 2021, including the first ever Gillian Dickinson Children’s Book Festival which ran 5-9 July 2021 for schools, and 9-11 July 2021 for the general public.

5,359 tickets were sold for the 10-day festival, as well as many events (particularly for families) running as drop-in over the weekend of 9-11 July. We estimate the total number of people who attended or took part in some Hexham Book Festival activities – including schools – to be around 6,500.

Hexham Book Festival was successful in securing funding for a new Children’s Book Festival, and a new post of Children’s Programmer, due to take place in April/May 2020. The 2020 festival was programmed and went on sale in early February 2020. On 23 March 2020, the UK went into lockdown, and all public events were banned. All events for Hexham Book Festival and Children’s Book Festival 2020 were cancelled, and all tickets refunded.

In January 2021, and with the assistance of Arts Council England Covid Recovery Funding, Hexham Book Festival planned a festival for July 2021. By February 2021, the “roadmap” of restrictions lifting had been published by the UK Government, stating that the earliest that all restrictions would be removed would be Monday 21 June. Hexham Book Festival and Children’s Book Festival were programmed and delivery planned on this basis, but as tickets went on sale on 1 May, capacities were set for social distancing levels only, with a view to increasing capacity if/when restrictions were lifted. On 14 June 2021 it was announced that Covid-19 restrictions as they stood would remain in place until Monday 19 July at the earliest, thus meaning Hexham Book Festival 2021 would be going ahead under said restrictions.

Sharon West was appointed as Young People’s Programmer in autumn 2019, initially on a 2-year part-time basis. After the fully-programmed Young People’s Festival in April 2020 was cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdown, the post was extended into 2022. Sharon led on the programming, marketing, social media and delivery planning for the Hexham Children’s Book Festival which ran in July 2021.

Creation of a Children's and Young People's Festival which includes author talks, workshops, and creative activity for children and families took place 5-11 July (schools) and 9-11 July (families), and was announced on 1 May with coverage on BBC Newcastle, the Newcastle Journal and Chronicle, NARC magazine and the Hexham Courant as well as across social media.

You can read the article in the Newcastle Journal and Chronicle here.

Staff worked with schools, playgroups and nurseries to invite groups of children to the Children’s Book Festival who might not normally be aware of cultural activity in their town or area. In the case of schools, authors were also taken to 11 of schools to speak and meet young people, the first time a meeting of this kind had happened for many of the children of the youngest age groups (Foundation Stage and KS1 – aged 4-7 years).

Despite a slightly reduced programme as a result of the pandemic we were able to deliver a lively and varied schedule of events for Early Years (3 to 6yrs) up to 11yrs in KS2.  Schools came either for one event or a whole day, visiting Hexham Abbey and the Sele park in between sessions.  Pre-schooler’s enjoyed a mix of storytime, book related craft and a show whilst KS1 & 2 enjoyed author talks in the Spiegeltent or Great Hall in Hexham Abbey including Vivian French, Jim Smith and Natasha Farrant. 

The Festival has continued to work with Queen’s Hall Youth Theatre on an international exchange project with young people in Latvia. The Festival plans to deliver in person exchange programme in the coming year between students from Latvia and Northumberland subject to funding.

Work produced by the Young Writers Group which has met virtually over the course of the last 18 months is available on our website and can be listened to here.

Hexham Book Festival is a well-loved and well-attended cultural event which is cherished by its core, loyal audience. Many of these people felt very comfortable, and glad, to be able to attend in July 2021, and felt safe with regards to Covid-19 precautions and measures.

The addition of a new Children’s Festival has been welcomed, and has encouraged a new, younger audience who had an overwhelmingly positive experience and is likely to attend in future years.

The following feedback has been received on the event:

“We visited today and yesterday – our first time at Hexham Book Festival - and really enjoyed the experience. We would have attended more events but they were sold out. It is fabulous to have these inspiring events locally. Sincere thanks to all involved.”

“Fantastic event, our 4yr old daughter thoroughly enjoyed The Tiger Who Came to Tea + Gigantasaurus. The Spiegeltent made the events all the more special! We wish we’d have allowed enough time for face painting.”

“We visited 4 times, twice with our young children… it was fantastic for us all.”

“I feel incredibly lucky to have this festival on my doorstep. It is world class.”

“Thoroughly enjoyed the event. Thought it was an opportunity not to be missed to meet this particular author as have always enjoyed her books. Felt very Covid safe within the environment and it’s a lovely setting/surroundings.”

“Congratulations to organisers for working so hard to get this off the ground this year. Everything worked really well for the three events we have so far been to. The people dealing with the public were excellent, helpful, patient, friendly, welcoming, polite, understanding and nothing was too much trouble. Tent was fine, even in torrential rain. Well done to everyone involved.”

“Thank you so much for a fantastic week for both adults and families!  The family atmosphere at the weekend was amazing. We loved the experience of the Spiegeltent! Great range of authors too.”

“We attended the Maisy birthday party event. The whole event was well organised and my daughter thoroughly enjoyed it. The tent was absolutely beautiful. Would highly recommend to anyone and will attend again in the future.”