St Neots Festival
Neotists worked together with the community to create the first St Neots Festival. Our aims were to bring free cultural experiences to the residents of St Neots, work collaboratively with organisations, local acts and artists giving them the chance to perform on a large outdoor stage, be inclusive and provide easy access to those with physical and mental disabilities and to be as sustainable as possible.
Like many of the market towns in Cambridgeshire, St Neots lacks an arts centre or dedicated arts venue, which means residents have to travel to nearby towns and cities to get their cultural experiences. After many discussions about what we could do, which quickly spiralled to everything we soon reduced it down to what was achievable on a small budget with a volunteer-led group and our own enthusiasm.
We exceeded our expectations with an event that brought together Music, Arts, and Unexpected Delights (incidentally our strapline for the festival). Festival goers enjoyed the two stages of music with a variety of performances, including classical, comedy, rock, folk, pop, Indian dance, and live bands. In addition, we had a kids zone filled with activities and performances, a wellbeing zone that offered yoga, singing, tai chi, and sound baths, and an ARTicpate zone where visitors could participate in workshops and try their hand at basket weaving, pottery, and silent disco, among many other activities. Lastly, we had a community zone where local groups and artists showcased their talents, and projects, and chatted with their audiences.
The festival took place in the beautiful Priory Park, which had been overlooked for many years. Even some nearby residents had never visited the park before. The weather was perfect, with temperatures reaching up to 30 degrees. Visitors took advantage of the abundant trees, which provided ample shade for relaxation. There was plenty of space to enjoy the festival, as well as play a game of football or enjoy the play areas in the park.
Thanks to the help of local groups, including an amazing team of litter pickers, we were able to recycle more than 55 per cent of the waste we collected over the weekend. The park was left in a cleaner state than when we first arrived, even the following day, early morning dog walkers remarked “The park is tidier than it normally is after a Saturday night”.
Thanks to the many volunteers and environmentally-conscious initiatives, we were able to provide free water refills, a free circular bus running every 20 minutes throughout the day, extra cycle parking, ample disabled spaces, as well as a fully-inclusive changing spaces toilet and free off-site parking. The team offered a warm welcome to performers and visitors, helped people find stages and zones, and even provided free sun cream due to the hot weather.
Our own unexpected delight was the collaboration we took on with a local resident who wanted to measure the interest in bringing back the St Neots Carnival. We worked with him to combine our two events and so the St Neots Festival Parade headed our line-up. Over 800 residents took part which spanned nearly 1km in length, walking a route around the park ending just before the main stage and starting the festival. All those community groups and their families were so excited to be part of the event and then to be able to be there for the start of the festival that it gave it a joyous festival atmosphere from the start.
Our team collaborated with the residents of St Neots to ensure that everything we offered was a result of their input and catered to their needs. Our aim was to create a space that belonged to them, a public park that was free to access and attend, with events that were open to everyone, regardless of their financial situation. We were mindful that some families and individuals may face financial constraints, so we made a conscious decision to avoid any activities that required payment, as these were already available elsewhere in the town.
Our town currently lacks a diverse range of cultural experiences without requiring travel. However, after attending the festival, we were delighted to witness people’s enthusiasm for the new experiences they encountered. Families were thrilled to attend the event together and reconnect with old friends. The festival was well-organized and left a positive impression on the town, which fostered a sense of trust. Therefore, the community is eager for more cultural events in the future. We are determined to explore the possibility of offering even more unexpected experiences.