As is the way with Festival planning, the 2020 Newark Book Festival was almost ready for launch in March, with most of the programme finalised and funding secured – it was going to be an amazing year building upon what we achieved in previous years – we were all set!
On 23 March, when the UK Government announced the impending nationwide lockdown, we knew that the likelihood of a busy and bustling July Book Festival was slipping away.
As the world and humankind adjusted to this new temporary way of life, the arts and cultural sector adapted to delivering events online. We knew we had to re-imagine our Book Festival for 2020, so divided the programme into five chapters.
Our July Festival re-imagined for a 2020 audience. With artists already booked for the Festival weekend, we teamed up with Elane and Sarah from I Am In Print, who set up and hosted our headline author talks as online webinars. The programme included insightful talks with 16 authors including Kate Mosse, Poirot writer Sophie Hannah, Emily Brand, Giles Kristian and Hull Noir and we estimated that we welcomed 842 viewers to events across the weekend.
The Festival supported a number of commissions, which included a community singing and dance video performance of We Are The Champions to launch the Festival and two online storytimes with Rhubarb Theatre.
We didn’t completely give up on in-person events either, and as part of the Festival weekend we were able to host a Writing for Wellbeing workshop for a small group with writer Leanne Moden.
We had promised Edwinstone its own mini-festival in 2020, and although we couldn’t be there in person, in September we ran two online workshops, created a book-themed family trail around the town and commissioned an illustrated map.
Early Autumn saw us return to Newark with a hybrid mini-festival weekend which included the welcome return of the Literature Village featuring 44 stalls across two days plus our first ever Literary Walk with Nottingham guide Felicity Whittle exploring Newark’s literary heritage. It was heartening to be back together with audiences and bringing books and literature back to the town. We commissioned a Festival poem from Leanne Moden and for online audiences hosted an event focused on Science Fiction and one with Cathy Bramley & Rachael Lucas and two workshops for writers with Narrator Typesetting and Fosseway Writers.
Back in 2019 (read about it here) we set the foundations for the Festival’s work in schools, encouraging children to become young readers and grow their love of all things books. We really wanted to be able to continue this work in 2020, and in the Autumn launched a programme whereby local schools could experience a virtual visit from an author. Both Gareth Baker and Chris White hosted workshops for children in this way, along with others. In total we organised 17 school events with 818 school children participating.
At this time, we also gifted 50 copies of How To Be More Paddington to community groups and local heroes, started monthly Zoom get togethers for our ever-supportive Festival Friends, arranged doorstep Festival gift packages for our Festival Friends and volunteers and those in need of a random act of kindness, and produced four video mini-author interviews.
“Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and generosity dropping these goodies off for us at home. Was such a wonderful surprise and delight to receive!”
Events for Families and Children have always been an integral part of our July Festival programme, so during Lockdown Three we teamed up with I Am in Print again to present a special day of free online events for younger readers. The Imaginarium included drawing Bunnies On The Bus with Philip Ardagh, visiting new fantastical worlds with Thomas Taylor and Jenny MacLachlan, a writing workshop with LD Lapinski and story time for younger children with Frances Stickley and Rhubarb Theatre.
In Newark we also created a Where’s Barry trail – giving families a fun outdoor activity to try out when visiting the town.
“Already loving the author session this afternoon! Some very excited children here! Cannot wait to hatch a dragon and make some maps”
And that rounded off our rather extra-ordinary year, paving the way for a hybrid in-person and online Festival in July 2021.
The Festival was supported by funding from Arts Council England, Nottinghamshire County Council, BNA Foundation, Our Just Giving Fundraisers and Newark and Sherwood District Council. Festival sponsors included Tallents Solicitors, Newark College, Duncan & Toplis, Karrot Entertainment, Creative Apostrophe, Ambitions Personnel.The Festival Bookseller was The Bookcase Lowdham and online webinar partner was I Am In Print.