2017 ‘Festival in a Factory’ Best Yet!

Thanks to the kind and generous support of the Bertarelli Foundation, the fourth Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival took place from 8-10 June 2017 and has been an enormous success adn will return in 2018 (sign up here for news). More than 2,500 people enjoyed events including discussions about great lives, history, heritage, the environment, literary heroes, politics, entertainment and family fun.

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What Our Audiences Say: Another marvellous Festival. Great authors, audiences and venue. Terrific involvement with local children. Those authors and visitors will surely go away singing the praises of the Festival – what a boost to the image of the City. Many congratulations – Eric

Opening the Festival to a packed house, Emma Bridgewater and Matthew Rice presented three young people with specially designed trophies for their successful winning entries in the Stoke High schools Creative Writing Competition, judged by Emma.

Our launch event and opening headliner Sir Tim Smit – visionary creator of the Eden Project – urged the audience to kill negativity, break the rules and live life outside of boxes and dream big.  Festival trustee and Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum Tristram Hunt shared behind the scenes secrets from the museum’s outstanding collections which led smoothly into a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion session with Loyd Grossman (president of the Arts Society and the Royal Parks) on the value of heritage in a post-truth world. Our poetry panel “Out of Staffordshire” with the county  laureate Bert Flitcroft and young poet laureate Isabel Horsley plus visiting poet John Lancaster and chaired by the Poetry Exchange’s John Prebble was a moving and engaging tribute to this creative county. Guests were then treated to a wonderfully entertaining, humorous and musical evening with erudite comedian Alexander Armstrong who rounded off day one signing a tremendous blues rendition on piano.

Festival Friday was a day of illuminating specialist talks with world experts in their field. Former Government speech writer and journalist Julian Glover very kindly held a special event with pupils and students from across Stoke-on-Trent at the VIth Form College about following careers in journalism and policits. Taking place as it did on the morning after the surprising election result, it was a great opportunity for young people to get expert analysis and put some challenging questions to him. Back at the Factory, Julian’s masterly biography of Britain’s greatest engineer Thomas Telford fascinated our well -informed audience. Poets Liz Berry and Mark Huband led another emotional and uplifing session of readings introduced by John Prebble.

Oxford power couple Paula Byrne and Jonathan Bate hosted two special sessions where they interviewed each other about their respective fields in biography and Shakespearean scholarship which were wonderfully engaging and extremely well received. Later in the day acclaimed landscape designers Isobel and Julian Bannerman talked with Emma about their work designing some of Britain’s most famed landscapes including at Highgrove for The Prince of Wales.  A very full house was then entertained with some smooth Strictly moves courtesy of former Chancellor Ed Balls who was grilled about topics including political and family life by former Fleet street journalist Anne Robinson. Emma Bridgewater closed the day with an emotional and revealing in-conversation event with journalist Rowan Pelling about the effect of family loss, wild adventures and familial bonds.

Festival Family Day kicked off on Saturday with a packed magazine making session for children followed by amazing theatrical storytelling of the Just So Stories, a huge entertaining Horrid Henry TV event and a chance for children to meet real life children’s author Susan Moore (who once worked at the SkyWalker ranch!) Children who attend the monthly Sparks Young Writers Group at the Factory asked some brilliant questions. In the courtyard visitors could take up a poetic prescription from the Emergency Poet in her vintage ambulance and enjoy the amazing talents of the guitarist and fiddler who entertained the crowds.

The afternoon session began with former ‘voice of Radio 4’ Charlotte Green who generated gales of laughter with tales from her broadcasting life. Great friends of the Factory Sue Perkins and Anna Richardson spent much of the afternoon chatting with delighted visitors in the factory café before their sell out event which was the hit of the Festival. Over in the Eastwood Room events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Arnold Bennett and fascinating conversations about food philosophy with food writer Bee Wilson provided something for everyone. Britain’s busiest (and surprisingly not exhausted) political editor Michael Crick gave us forensic analysis of the election result and political situation before we took time to celebrate the city’s strong and hopeful bid to become UK City of Culture 2021. There wasn’t a seat left in the house for the Festival finale with the award-winning adaptor of Poldark, Debbie Horsfield who treated us to a sneak preview of the new series which we followed with a celebration of pasties and cider in the café afterwards for everyone there. And suddenly we had reached the end of a remarkable, enlightening and wonderful Festival.

But the Festival would be nothing without the amazing and friendly input of a wonderful team that includes the New Vic Theatre our Box Office partners who also poured endless free cups of tea and coffee for visitors, the brilliant and unfailingly cheerful volunteer stewards, the faultless Hilton Studios who ensure perfect technical support plus the hard working and knowledgeable EB team too who all pulled out the stops.

Feedback from audiences has been tremendous, a flavour of which is given below:

Marianne: I just wanted to say thank you for a wonderful three days!    I went to as many talks as I could – everyone different, and everyone so very good.   It must be the friendliest literary festival anywhere – I sat with people I didn’t know and we chatted as if we had known each other, and in the café people were sitting with people they didn’t know and getting on like a house on fire.    After the pasties and cider (delicious!) we were saying ‘see you same time, same place next year’!    I am smiling as I write!    Thank you to everyone involved.

Lesley & Graham: Many thanks for a really enjoyable selection of festival speakers. Of our visits, all were very enjoyable: not a duff hour anywhere. The Festival seems to be going from strength to strength, and quite right too

Eddie: Getting movers and shakers like Crick on our side may offend Jeff but it is surely good for the image and future development of the city’s cultural life.

Pam: I attended the talk given by Tristram Hunt and not only enjoyed it immensely but loved the location and general ” ethos”. Thank you for such a warm welcome