Creative Crawley looking to build on festival success

Creative Crawley are digesting the lessons of their hugely-successful Right Here two-day mostly-online festival at the end of January.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 12:00 pm
Louise Blackwell - credit James Pike photography
Louise Blackwell - credit James Pike photography

They promised that Crawley’s creative renaissance was going to start “right here” – and all the signs are good as they look back on how it went and start to plan how they are going to take it forward.

The festival comprised more than 20 free events taking place live, livestreamed and streamed over January 29 and 30. It included spoken word, audio tours, photography and film, with local colleges, camera clubs, libraries and performers all taking part – all curated by Crawley born-and-raised Louise Blackwell and West Sussex artist Sinead Emery.

“I loved the fact that there are way more incredibly creative people in Crawley than I ever imagined – and the joy of receiving short films and emails from people is still continuing,” Louise said: “I think our feeling is that the future of Creative Crawley is very positive.”

Creative Crawley is a grouping of local stakeholders who aim to place creativity at the heart of Crawley. Their aim is to celebrate the spirit and resilience of the town’s people, connecting local organisations such as libraries, youth groups and shops to benefit the wider community: “One of the things we wanted to achieve was to start to get more and more different members of the community together, more and more of its different sectors. I don’t think that they weren’t connected. I just think you can always improve. I think it is about building on it. And I just think there is something really powerful about being able to say yes to people. There is a confidence that happens. I am now seeing that people are wanting to share their ideas. I think we have opened up the doors to what is happening.”

And the great advantage of the festival having been mostly digital is that you can find out exactly what the take-up was. In less than a week, they had had more than 1.4k unique viewers: “The other thing that is interesting is that when a show is real, people turn up and see it and then that is it, but when you are working digitally, the potential to grow and grow is huge. It is all on our YouTube channel indefinitely.

“The numbers were way beyond my expectations. I had a sense that the festival was wanted and needed, but I didn’t know what the engagement would be because in lockdown we are mostly all staring at our screens all the time anyway. Is there fatigue? But the feedback we have been getting has been amazing.”

The plan now is to set up Creative Crawley on a firmer footing, as a legally-constituted organisation: “We are just working on that at the moment. And then I am thinking about a year-round programme bringing together the various organisations in the town, connections which have really stemmed from the festival between organisations that really care about creativity. It is about finding ways to share each other’s aims. I am trying to raise money to continue that, but really it is about an all-year-round programme that might involve workshops and maybe a festival or maybe a big performance when we are allowed. It is about a sustained programme rather than a one-off festival really.

“In order to do another festival we would have to start raising money now. The idea for this festival started in March last year, and it was almost a year in the planning and raising the money. I don’t know if we will do another festival next year. Maybe we might do something in May. I love the whole whizz-bang of a festival which is great at bringing people together and maybe we might have one to build towards, but really I don’t know at the moment.”

Key for the moment is developing the links between the organisations including Crawley Town Centre Bid, Crawley Borough Council, the Arts Council and the Sussex Community Foundation.