This section has some questions you should ask yourself before setting out to organise a festival and includes some examples of why other walking festivals came to be. It also sets out why it is important you think about this right at the start.
If you’re thinking about starting a walking festival…
It’s essential to be clear from the outset about why you want to organise a walking festival. This will give focus and direction to your festival and the people running it and, it will enable partners to understand what the festival will achieve and therefore whether or not they want to get involved. It will also help with other decisions such as when to run your festival, how long it should be, what kinds of walks should you have, etc.
Walking festivals come in different shapes and sizes, and that’s partly because they are trying to achieve different aims. Some have more than one aim. Most commonly, walking festivals are organised in order to:
- Attract visitors to a destination during quiet periods (economic)
- Raise the profile of a place as a walking destination (tourism)
- Encourage people to get out walking (health and wellbeing)
- Raise awareness and understanding of an area or its cultural or natural heritage (interpretation)
- Bring different groups in a community together, or support different community groups and their projects (community cohesion)
If you already have a walking festival, you might like to improve it by…
- Moving your festival towards financial sustainability
- Increasing the number of visitors to support local businesses
- Developing your festival to meet the changing expectations of participants
Think carefully, though, before you start to ‘fix something that isn’t broken’. Making your festival bigger or different in some way won’t necessarily make it better. Think carefully too about accepting external support – this comes with conditions. Make sure any additional conditions imposed by funders fit with your aims and other things like the ‘feel’ of your festival and how you run it. Make sure your team and your partners are happy with any changes that might be necessary.
Whether you are thinking about a new festival or an existing one, you will need to develop and change to keep your festival fresh and to meet changing expectations. This will be quite a commitment and you should be sure that your organisation or your community is able and prepared to take this on. This toolkit will give you some ideas and examples of things that have worked well elsewhere that might also work for you.
Starting a Festival
- Why start a festival?
- What are the aims? What would the positive impacts be?
- Would there be any negative impacts?
- Do local people and businesses support a festival?
- Do we have the capacity to organise a festival?
- Could we sustain the organising of a festival every year?
- Who might help us?
Developing an Existing Festival
- Why do you want to change your festival?
- Will changing it achieve your aims better?
- Do you have the capacity to change?
Case study examples
Four years ago, the Cotswold village of Winchcomb was in economic decline. Visitor numbers were falling and shops were closing leading to a downward spiral. The Winchcombe Walking Festival was set up to reverse the trend, by attracting visitors to Winchcombe and by providing a platform for publicity to raise awareness of Winchcombe as a base for walking. Just four years on, the festival is a great success, walkers come to Winchcomb year round and businesses in the village are thriving.
The Islands of Barrow and Furness Peninsula Walking Festival organisers put their longevity down to flexibility and the ability to adapt to meet changing public sector policy. The festival has done this several times and continues to do so to secure funding. It has also shrunk to a core staff that concentrates on collating walk information from community groups and on promotion (leaflet, website, social media and a small amount of local advertising).
Mendip Rocks aims to raise understanding of the geology of the Mendip Hills and the resulting landscapes, biodiversity and human heritage that arises from it. In 2014, the fourth year the festival has run, 24 guided-walks, family activity sessions and guided quarry tours attracted over 1,100 people.
Walking festivals are more likely to be sustainable if they are valued by the local community, businesses and agencies, so think about the need for a festival strategically.
What are the challenges your village, town or area faces? Could a walking festival help to address these? If so, how?
Talk to other walkers and people who might think the same way as you. Try to identify any possible negative impacts and consider these in deciding whether or not to go ahead.
Conduct a survey of local businesses and/or local residents to gauge opinion and to identify possible aims, themes, good dates to hold the festival and to give you guidance on other aspects