Twenty-three years ago, I left the North West to study at the University of Bradford. I was a bit apprehensive about leaving my family and friends for the big(ish) city, but I soon settled in and made friends with a great group of girls from halls. One day we hopped on the train to Saltaire. And I was hooked.
Just 10 minutes out of Bradford city centre lay a world of cobbled streets and majestic mills, and we had a great day exploring the village and drinking cheap wine in the park.
By the mid-noughties, my university girls had moved on, but I stayed, and each year I’d head to the Caroline Street car park with some friends and tinnies from the Co-op to watch a band or two as part of Saltaire Festival before we all headed back to our respective parts of Bradford.
How things have changed in 2017. I’m now a resident in the village and have seen the festival grow to encapsulate all that is great about Saltaire: its history, its heritage, its residents and its future. The days of the car park are long gone, and Saltaire Festival is a 10-day celebration of the World Heritage Site with events, activities, entertainment, food and drink in venues up and down the village.
Last year, I also saw it from the other side. I attended the open meeting at the start of the year when villagers and friends of the festival alike went along to see how they could help it survive. It was running low on people and funding and the future of the festival relied on more financial and human support.
I joined the communications team – one of the three main teams that make up the festival back room, alongside the events team and the volunteer team. The board of directors and three teams meet all year round and had already made a start on work, none of which is paid. There was a new website to build, a new brand to launch, social media to plan and it was all very exciting. Before we knew it, the website was live, social media was buzzing, the festival launch event took place and the end of summer was marked by yet another memorable festival.
For such a small village, Saltaire has a festival that punches above its weight, and the whole thing is a volunteer-led small charity, which began life back in 2003, when it was set up to commemorate 150 years since Sir Titus Salt created Saltaire.
Last year saw over 35,000 people being welcomed to the village to enjoy over 100 (mainly free) events and activities. The glorious weather helped the festivities along, and a packed programme of events provided something for everyone and ensured that young and old were entertained, fed and even educated throughout.
But why have a festival when there is already so much going on elsewhere? It goes back to the festival’s ethos, which is to be a celebration of the arts, the community and the village’s unique history.
So, what next? It’s that time of year when we’re looking for more people to join our team of volunteers, make some new friends and help secure the future of the festival for years to come.
We’re on the lookout for new commercial sponsors (remember those 35,000 visitors). Each year the festival costs £50,000 to run and there is no guaranteed funding. This money ensures that most events are free so that as many people as possible can enjoy the festival each year.
We also need enthusiastic people to help with the organisation and running of the festival: the finances, fundraising, communications and events. We welcome new board members – something amazing to add to your CV, as well as feeling part of the community. We’re starting now and we’d love you to get involved.
There’s another open meeting on 5 January at the Hop pub in Saltaire, where you can come and meet the teams and find out more. Why not make it a new year resolution?
You can email the festival at email@example.com. Feel free to contact me directly for a chat via twitter – @planetclaire – and see the festival website: www.saltairefestival.co.uk.