A sell out arts festival for all the family complete with pillow fights and midnight feasts!
The brainchild of the team at Wild Rumpus, a social enterprise company producing large scale outdoor family arts events (most often in wild natural landscapes), Just So is three days of immersive fun with an artistic heart. We talk to Sarah Bird, director of the Festival alongside Rowan Hoban.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Just So Festival is a multi award-winning weekend camping arts festival for families. We take families on incredible adventures of the imagination, immersing them in nature as they sing, dance, play and create together. We sell out to an audience of 6,000 people annually.
Explain a bit about your venue
Just So takes place at Rode Hall, a beautiful country estate in Cheshire. The estate plays host to a really popular farmers’ market once a month and attracts huge numbers of visitors to its snowdrop and bluebell walks in the spring.
What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
We set up Just So as a not for profit event back in 2010 with the ambition of creating a festival which is all about families spending an artistic weekend together. We wanted to take the brilliant art that was happening in concert halls, museums, theatres and galleries and put it in a woodland environment where families could relax and engage with it on their own terms – no need to sit still, keep quiet or sit down.
We were also focused on producing an event that was for the family to interact with together; this was never meant to be a children’s festival it was always about the whole family.
How does the relationship work with the venue you hold the event at?
We lease the site for the period of the festival. But five years ago we also started working from a woodland on the estate, so we’re very lucky to be a part of the local community year round.
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
We have a premises license for the festival which we renew annually. I don’t think there’s been an occasion where we’ve had to compromise to satisfy the local authority, they are really just interested in the safety of the event (as are we), so it’s more of a conversation to ensure that the festival is as safe as it can be.
How have you planned the layout of the event and what structures do you use?
The festival takes place over a really large area for the size of the audience. It’s important to us that it feels exploratory and that there are spaces on site where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the festival environment and spend some down time as a family.
We have a mix of hired and purchased structures, some of our own vintage vehicles, horse boxes and army marquees as well as some classic canvas tents from Posh Frocks and Wellies.
We have two beautiful timber framed stages as well as a woodland stage which is pretty magical.
How did you research and source your marquees, flooring, bars etc?
We try to source our infrastructure locally in order to have a positive economic impact on the area as well as mitigating against our environmental impact. The aesthetic of the event is really important to us as is working with known and trusted suppliers.
What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
Our programme is a real mixture of family arts and music. We try to attend lots of other cultural events and experiences so that we can see performers and artists. We scour the UK and beyond for acts and we also produce quite a lot of the experiences in house ourselves… things like midnight feasts, pillow fights, sports days etc.
We are proud to be part of the Without Walls consortium of the UK’s leading outdoor arts festivals and organisations, bringing new outdoor shows each year to diverse audiences all over the UK.
We also manage the Northern Festivals Network – a consortium of leading greenfield festivals across the North (including bluedot, Kendal Calling, Underneath The Stars, Cloudspotting, Just So, Festival No. 6 and Head For The Hills) and we are committed together to touring world class outdoor arts programming for families to each festival every year.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
We have temporary generators for our power supply and bring in lots of light and audio. We work with a variety of contractors for this and are constantly working to try and mitigate our environmental impact.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
All tickets are sold online in advance of the event. We use The Ticketsellers for our ticketing.
Safety on site is a collective responsibility for all the staff and crew, a whole army of volunteers, and ESP our security team.
We also use Wicked Events for some of our stewarding, traffic management, parking, waste collection and streaming; they are a terrific company.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
We’re really lucky that the site is well drained and has hard standing paths throughout so we’ve never had to use temporary tracking.
How do you publicise the event?
Predominantly social media, press coverage and through media partnerships and reciprocal marketing with other cultural, heritage and tourism organisations.
What challenges have you faced?
In the last eight years of hosting the festival we have not had a single dry year without any rain. 2015 was particularly wet and we had an electrical storm which meant we had to temporarily close the main stage. 2016 was pretty torrential too. It definitely means we’re due a dry year soon!
How have you financed the event and how profitable is it?
Just So is financed through ticket sales, sponsorship, merchandise, concessions, traders and some grants and funding from trusts and foundations. The festival is a not for profit venture.
What are your plans for this year?
2018 sees us produce our most ambitious festival yet with a more innovative and exciting programme than ever. We’ve got a few new areas and some amazing visual design installations.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We host networking and artist development events from our woodland space.
Are you a member of any trade bodies or associations, and if so how has this helped your event?
Finding the right trade bodies without being members of too many is tricky when you feel like you sit across a number of sectors (greenfield music, outdoor arts, children and family arts). We are currently members of two trade bodies both of which offer great value. Independent Street Arts Network (ISAN) hosts a brilliant annual conference and sends out a really terrific weekly newsletter keeping us up to date with everything outdoor arts related; it’s where we find out most of our news and is also terrific at representing its members more broadly to the rest of the arts sector.
We’re also members of the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) which has always proved useful for networking and incredibly welcoming and supportive as a trade association. Other than that we are part of a number of networks and consortiums which cross the different sectors: The Northern Festivals Network (greenfield festivals), Without Walls (street arts), Big Imaginations (children’s theatre), and Weave (Cheshire East digital and creative industries).
What else do you have in the pipeline?
At Wild Rumpus we are incredibly excited about Timber, a new international forest festival which we are producing this July (6-8) in collaboration with The National Forest. Celebrating the transformative impact of forests, we’ll be programming a weekend of music, art, philosophy and sustainability as we play and create in an arboreal wonderland.
As well as producing our own events we work with a range of other cultural, tourism and heritage organisations to produce outdoor family arts events. Amongst other projects, we’re looking forward to heading back to Chester Zoo later in 2018 to work with the team there.
Alongside all of this we have a host of other projects we’re working on including the development of The Whirligig, our woodland offices.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
Start at the end, think about what impact you want to have on your audience – what’s the memory you want them to take away? Then try to keep that in mind during your planning and ensure that everything you do helps you create the story which will make that possible.
Posh Frocks and Wellies www.poshfrocksandwellies.co.uk
The Travelling Stage www.travellingstage.com
Wild Rumpus www.wildrumpus.org.uk
Stage Management Company www.stagemanagementcompany.com
BARS & CATERING
Various inc. Justin Whitehead Catering www.cateredbyjustin.com
Melody Corporation www.melodycorporation.co.uk
UK Loos www.ukloos.co.uk
The Ticketsellers www.theticketsellers.co.uk
Cash on The Move www.cashonthemove.com
Wicked Events www.wews.biz
Just So Festival 2018