Storytelling: Developing a county-wide Festival


‘A little magic can take you a long way’ – said our famous past storytelling resident, Roald Dahl.

In 2022/3 (tbc) Buckinghamshire Culture aims to create magic for our residents through a county-wide Storytelling Festival that offers opportunities to experience and participate in storytelling; firing imaginations and creativity through immersive and engaging events and activities.  This Festival will go beyond the traditional literary festival, bringing together a diverse mix of participatory, immersive and experimental activity and events.  We want to embrace a broad range of arts, music and performance, as well as exploring gaming and technology as ways to unlock creativity and tell stories. 

This is a big idea and a big project, and to do it well, we need to spend some time researching and testing out what works, and building an exciting and inclusive vision and programme for the flagship Festival.  To get there, we intend to deliver a pilot Micro Festival in Summer 2021, taking place in locations across Bucks and involving a broad range of partners.  Below is an overview of the plans for 2021.

Storytelling: developing a county-wide Festival

Over lockdown we have been developing the idea of the Storytelling Festival.  This arose from conversations at the workshops and project shaping sessions we held back in 2019 and is strongly supported by Buckinghamshire Council.  The Storytelling concept will combine a broad range of arts, culture, heritage, digital and technology to provide participatory and immersive experiences.

Our pilot Micro Festival in 2021, will focus on Story Collecting.  We are seeking funding for this now and everything outlined below is funding dependent.  The idea will be to share and collect stories of Bucks residents through creative and participatory activity over a Micro Festival period (26th June – 25th July 2021), which will embrace Whizzfizzfest.  The content and stories that we uncover through the activity in 2021 will be used to develop the large-scale future Storytelling Festival for the county.  For the pilot Micro Festival in 2021 we will work with local and external creatives and cultural organisations to deliver story collecting and creative activity in locations across Bucks, as well as an analogue, mass participatory opportunity (digital and analogue) encouraging people of all ages and abilities to respond.

We will know if we have secured funding by January 2021, and if successful, in Spring next year we hope to launch several call outs for artists, organisations, businesses and groups across Bucks to get involved. 

If the funding is successful, we will be approaching locations – town centres and public spaces – across Bucks to host creative activity.  There will also be several opportunities for partners to get involved (including shops, community spaces, businesses etc). 

Story Collecting Micro Festival 2021 Delivery (funding dependent)

The pilot Story Collecting Micro Festival will take place between 26th June and 25th July 2021.  It will embrace WhizzFizzFest, taking place over that first weekend and finish with a long Open Weekend of participatory creative activity.  It has been designed to be inclusive and accessible, with activity taking place outdoors to maximise engagement and help to mitigate Covid-19 concerns/meet guidelines.

Planned Festival headlines include:

  • WhizzFizzFest to include Story Collecting activity, 26th June, Aylesbury
  • Three commissioned artists/arts organisations with a community engagement ethos to deliver Story Collecting activity across Bucks, 26th June – 25th July, locations tbc.  Activities are:
  • Project Phakama will deliver a targeted commission aimed at engaging people of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds in story sharing through events, creative writing, poetry and creation of new trails.
  • Story Collecting themed activity delivered by organisations and creatives across Bucks, 26th June – 25th July, locations tbc.  We will invite organisations and individuals across Bucks to put forward public facing events/exhibitions/talks/walks etc that link to the theme of Story Collecting.
  • Open Weekend delivered by organisations, businesses, schools, community groups across Bucks, 22nd-25th July, locations tbc.  We will invite organisations and groups to put forward activities that engage as many people as possible in participatory creative activity – encouraging them to have a go, or try something new. 
  • Story Postcards activity delivered in partnership with Libraries and Bucks New University, 26th June – 25th July, across Bucks.  Residents will be encouraged to contribute a story of a time they remember being happy in Bucks to add to our ‘story library’ and forming mini-exhibitions in Libraries and online.
  • Pitch strand will begin before the Micro Festival and will offer Research and Development grants to 5 creatives to develop new work inspired my Storytelling.
  • Consultation, research and development of the bigger, county-wide Storytelling Festival will take place over Summer, including research into how best to break down barriers to engagement and participation for those that might not usually engage with culture.

Opportunities To Get Involved

Alongside many opportunities to participate in and experience the Festival activities, or to contribute a story to our ‘story library’, there are several ways for businesses, organisations and groups to get involved:

  • Micro Festival Commissions: we will be approaching town centres across Bucks to host creative activities delivered by professional artists/organisations in outdoor spaces.  These activities are designed to engage people of all ages and backgrounds.
  • Open Weekend: for Businesses, community groups, shops, schools, cultural organisations etc – we will be looking for organisations and groups of all kinds to provide a free activity linked to Storytelling or Story Collecting, which encourages people to have a go at something creative.  This will be marketed as part of the Micro Festival and intends to offer lots of people opportunities to engage with creativity across Bucks.  Call out to be launched Spring 2021.
  • Story Collecting Micro Festival activity: for anyone that wants to run a Story Collecting event/activity/talk/walk as part of our Festival.  Activities can be free or paid for.  Activities that we include will be marketed as part of the Micro Festival – presenting a county-wide festival.  Criteria and call out will be launched in Spring 2021. We will also be offering a limited number of seed-funding grants to enable organisations to leverage additional funding for their Story Collecting activity.  Further information will be available in Spring 2021 (funding dependent).
  • Pitch: for creatives, artists, cultural organisations, creative industries – our Pitch opportunity will offer up to 5 Bucks-based artists/creatives/collectives to apply for a modest Research and Development grant to develop an artistic idea inspired by the theme of Storytelling and uncovering hidden stories.  During the Micro Festival in 2021 we will host a Pitch event, where the 5 creatives will perform/present/pitch their developed ideas to an invited audience in the hope of gaining further investment!

Strategic Context

The Storytelling Festival context directly supports the new Buckinghamshire Cultural Strategy, contributing the strategic outcomes of: ‘equality of access to cultural activities and opportunities’, ‘improved health and wellbeing of our population’ and ‘re-vitalised heritage and transformed places.’ 

Our key partner, Buckinghamshire Council, is extremely supportive of this project and working closely with us to shape and build the concept and research and development phase.  This work supports plans for the county’s recovery from Covid-19 – enhancing wellbeing, quality of life and public realm agendas, as well as providing something fun and positive after a very difficult period. 

It is hoped that the festival will both help build, and become part of, the Buckinghamshire DNA and identity, hopefully becoming a biennial festival.  Activity will be programmed across Buckinghamshire, making use of our market towns, villages – encouraging people to return to high streets and centres and increasing dwell time.  Additionally, we will work with our partners in tourism to ensure that we maximise potential for the visitor economy during the Festival period. 

A key theme of this work is around identity and place-making and through sharing, telling and taking part in storytelling, we aim to tell the story for Buckinghamshire and its people.