So, you have established a need for a walking festival, decided on one or more aims and you have satisfied yourself that the area and your community has the capacity to accommodate a festival. How do you get up and going?
You’ll need to set up some kind of group to manage the festival and an organisation to run it. This can be an existing body – many festivals are run by Walkers are Welcome groups, some by tourism or business associations. If there is no existing group, you might have to set one up. You don’t necessarily have to be constituted, but you, or one of your partners, will have to have an address, telephone and e-mail to handle enquiries and bookings and a bank account if you are going to charge for walks and pay for things like hiring a hall as your base, hiring equipment, paying for printing, publicity, etc. So if you are not already constituted and you are not setting up a formal organisation, you will need to find a partner or partners who will do these things for you. This might be a local authority, town council, walking group, etc. Remember that you will have to pay for information and publicity before you receive any booking fees, so there will be a cash flow consideration.
Think about the skills you have already and those you need to bring in. As with any team, you are going to need ‘leaders and workers’, strategic thinkers and people who are good with detail. Make sure you give the right jobs to the right people and don’t find yourself with only one kind!
Promote your idea and ask people to get involved – talk to your local council, walking group, countryside ranger, tourism businesses. Explain the likely benefits of the festival to give potential partners a reason to become involved. Use existing communication channels – community websites, newsletters, e-mail newsletters, etc. You’ll need to allow plenty of time for this; make sure you reach a wide audience and be sure people have time to see your information and respond. You might feel that you are wasting time, but this isn’t so – time spent on consulting widely at this stage will pay off as the project develops.
Hold a meeting and invite everyone who’s interested to contribute their ideas. It’s good to do some ‘blue sky thinking’ at this stage. Be sure to record everyone’s ideas and make decisions about the way forward. Also at this stage it’s important to confirm the aim or aims of the festival so that everyone is clear about what the festival is for and why it is important.
Communicate the results – festival aims, proposals for the festival, your structure for developing the festival, to everyone who you have involved so far. Be transparent and explain why you have decided to do some things and not others. This is important for several reasons:
- It makes it easy for partners, supporters and volunteers to see why they should support you
- It helps to keep your organisation focussed
- It gives you a basis for evaluating your impacts
- It gives you a basis from which to evaluate opportunities and development proposals as they come along
However large or small your festival will be, you’ll need to find some financial resources to cover information, publicity, insurance and aspects of operating the festival. Thinking about this early can save a crisis occurring further down the line. Think about who might support you and talk to them first. Are there grants for community groups? Could you provide advertising and sponsorship opportunities for businesses and others? (See finance section here)
Do you want to make your event environmentally sustainable? If so, you could make this one of your aims and develop policies or ways of working that will minimise your environmental impacts.
It’s important to make contact with landowners at an early stage. If you are charging for your walks, you have an obligation to do this and in any case, it makes good sense to have landowners on board. Some will be keen to help and you’ll be able to identify and plan to avoid and potential problems.
You will need public liability insurance. Walking organisations, local authorities and others already have this and might be able to cover a walking festival within their existing policy. The Ramblers Association (contact details) or your local voluntary services organisation should be able to provide advice on where to obtain appropriate cover. If you are in any doubt, you should seek legal advice.
Think about how you can make your festival stand out – what will make it distinctive? For example giving it a local theme, linking to local produce, etc.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is a lot of experience out there and many festival organisers are happy to share their experience. Finally, and, probably most important – don’t forget to make it fun!
Finding a Body to Run the Festival
- If you are an exiting constituted body, how will you manage a walking festival within your existing structures (management, banking, communications, volunteers, insurance, etc?
- If not, are there suitable organisations that might help with finance, insurance, etc?
- If not, can you recruit people who are competent and prepared to take these responsibilities on?
Steps to Starting a Festival
- Speak to potential partners, supporters, stakeholders and landowners
- Publicise your idea throughout the community
- Hold an event to discuss it
- Agree what your festival will look like
- Set up your organisational structure
Case study examples
The first North Pennines Walking Festival took place in 2013. The organisers had little experience of organising events, so they asked for help. The organisers of the nearby Haltwhistle Walking Festival provided advice on how to go about organising and running the festival and Durham County Council responded with information on a series of existing walks, contact details for possible walk leaders and a number of existing forms – for example risk assessments – and systems.
4 walking festivals in southern Scotland, (Borders Walking Festival, Glenkens Walking Festival, Langholm Walking Festival and Newton Stewart Walking Festival) meet together at a day event to share experience and learn from each other. It’s a good way to network and establish contacts that you can ring or meet later to ask questions.
Ask an established festival for advice – some will see you as competition, but others will see the bigger picture and recognise the value of holding a number of festivals in close proximity at different times of the year.
Sources of further information
The Friends of the Lake District has published helpful guidance on working with ‘Farmers and landowners in event management’.
The Friends of the Lake District also produces guidance on how to make your event ‘sustainable’ in the environmental sense.