People and communities are bombarded by mainstream media with anxiety provoking news and a tsunami of economic and social challenges, from AI to climate change to Brexit. Unsurprisingly, mental health difficulties are on the rise.
But there is also much to be hopeful and excited about that hardly ever sees the light of day in the mainstream media.
So how might local communities be exposed to, and access, life affirming, hopeful environments that balance the usually doom-laden narratives of mainstream media? And how might they more easily access solutions that they can participate in? Whether it be improving health or the environment or the happiness of their families.
There needs to be innovative ways to onboard local communities into new perspectives, share new information and offer ways to practically engage.
I believe the festival format can be ‘silently’ disrupted to provide specific social and community benefits. We plan to begin re-inventing the festival with a pilot event, the Jump Fall Fly Festival in Exeter this summer along with a new Circus, Theatre and Creative Community project.
The doorway into this project is through the arts (and science) for a reason. I have my children to thank. It was through their interest in acrobatics as small children that we were drawn into the world of circus. Over the years, with a hiatus in 2018, we attended quite a few festivals of different types in Europe and the UK.
It takes little effort to notice that circus, theatre and a plethora of creative arts are in fact imbued (along with many other things) with psychology and science. I have a background in coaching psychology and have trained many coaches to specialise in behavioural health. But I have learned that too often the 1 to 1 talking therapy approach is a poor cousin to a whole person, body, mind, science, play, physical, creativity-based approach.
Many people from all ages and socio economic groups like festivals.
These events come, of course, in many different formats, sizes and offer vastly different experiences. From huge music events like Glastonbury to niche festivals celebrating well, almost anything! An upcoming example being this years Cornish Faery Festival.
What draws people to festivals is the prospect of having a good time. Enjoying great entertainment, theatre, music, dance, hanging out with their ‘tribe’, great food and drink (although not always drink) and loosening their cares for a few days or a weekend. In short, being in community.
People want to have these good times in part as a counterpoint to stresses of daily life.
Many hard-pressed families have little respite from a myriad of stressors. From job insecurity, rising costs and stagnant wages, school pressures on children and teenagers, constant contradictory information about the dangers of social media, looking after elderly relatives, and relentless pressures on their time.
If that is not enough, the current media discourse is flooded with anxiety and fear-based information mostly served up without being linked to any reasonable solutions. At the peak of things to be anxious about, is the omnipresent, life ending, scenario of climate change and the 6th extinction. All of this is debilitating to say the least.
So, getting to an entertaining, relaxing, affordable festival type event is appealing.
When people are enjoying themselves, they are open and receptive in ways that is rare in their everyday lives. Broadly, when people are de-stressed, relaxed, self-choosing what they are doing then their brains are in a more receptive condition. .https://www.nature.com/articles/npjscilearn201611
So, what if a festival can serve as both an enjoyable experience and allow people to engage with positive life-affirming information? What if they can be offered experiences that might shift their opinions and nudge attitudes and behaviours in positive directions? What if local stakeholders can positively communicate within such an environment to support positive change on the big challenges of our times at a local level?
And what if there were small, community follow-up events that re-enforced some of the positive messaging and experience in the months following the festival, reaching round the year to the next one?
There are a number of stakeholders that are orientated around huge social issues that concern everyone:
- City / Regional Councils
- Health Services
- Next Gen Businesses (Alternative Energy, Biotech, Tech, Environmental)
- Charities and Social Enterprises in the Health, Environment, Education sectors
All of the above probably have something to say; a message about a product, service or local news that relate to our social concerns. Maybe the city wants more people to be excited and know about new housing projects. Or alternative energy companies want to tell people about their offering. Or a green environmental service wants to broaden out their communication to the community. Health service wants to encourage healthier lifestyles, eating more vegetables and fruit and less meat perhaps.
Whatever the agenda, a community event, like a festival, can be a place where these kinds of communications can take place within carefully created parameters.
Importantly though, when it comes to topics such as diet change, environmental issues, mental and physical health, preaching, scolding, fear mongering or deficiency marketing only gets you so far with so many people. Many people, for instance, are tired of being made to feel guilty for eating meat and animal products and resist the word vegan.
So, our question is this. What if people went to a great festival event and ate delicious food that just so happens to be vegetarian, even vegan? What if all the content of the festival offerings was normalised? The food was great, the power was green, there was no plastic but plenty of great drinks of all kinds to be had.
What if we move from telling people to change and invited them to just come over and have a good time? What if the best ‘wellbeing‘ festival never used the word wellbeing in its title or its marketing? What if the event just was, well, a ‘well’ event? What if we normalised the new and the ground-breaking?
The possibility of a curated festival that is a partnership between local stakeholders working towards a better, radically less fearful local future, are endless. I think we must reach for new solutions in the social and community space, especially now that we are on the brink of massive change.
If you are in the South West of the UK please come to our upcoming RSA event in Exeter on 7th May, join the conversation and get involved.
A new CEO, a new format and new ideas – Andy Haldane marked his first day as head of the RSA in September with our first virtual Fellowship Townhall.