This past weekend I spent a sunny Saturday and a (mostly) sunny Sunday wandering around the Pop Up Festival of Stories in King’s Cross. I ate some yummy street food, read by the canal, attended some story-themed events, got a sunburn and chatted to Dylan Calder, the festival’s Director, to learn more about what Pop Up is trying to achieve. The overall goal is to increase access to literature and the arts in the King’s Cross community and he shared how they are going about it. I’m looking forward to seeing how the festival will develop.
Here are four reasons I’d go back next year…
1.) It’s FREE.
Free admission is something Pop Up is really proud of.
I learned from Calder it costs well in to six figure sums to put on a weekend festival of Pop Up’s size, so it’s no small feat. But, to really make the kind of impact they want, Calder described free admission as essential. Keeping it free, he said, will always reach as more people, attract the diverse demographic they hope to see and help create the kind of visitor loyalty that will keep people coming back year after year.
It’s already working. The festival is only two years old, and last year it took place in Coram’s Fields, but despite being based in a brand new location, and some minor confusion due to a lack of signage around King’s Cross Tube Station, Pop Up already attracted repeat visitors.
2.) Pop Up is already increasing access to art and literature in the Kings Cross community.
This year Pop Up’s school programme brought over 3,000 kids 110 author events at ten different community schools and various neighbourhood locations. Getting kids excited about reading is vital. The Evening Standard’s Get London Reading campaign and this week’s BBC story about the reading gender gap both revealed startling statistics about children’s reading abilities and the resources that schools have to address them. Focused, outside help is necessary and Pop Up is bringing great authors like Candy Gourlay, Gareth P. Jones and Sian Pattenden in to classrooms to get children engaged with books, stories and creativity.
3.) They’re working getting children of all ages involved in the Festival.
Most of the events at this year’s Pop Up were geared at younger readers. There were a lot of parents and primary school aged children who obviously loved the arts and crafts activities on, like face-painting, cut paper crafts and the Pop Up Picture Pavilion, where children could display their work. But there were fewer events dedicated to the over ten crowd.
That’s something that Pop Up is developing for future festivals. Calder’s hoping to see the Festival’s appeal broaden as children come back year after year, and he said that Pop Up staff are busy collecting ideas from secondary school students in the area about what sort of events they would like to attend and figuring out how to deliver them.
When they do organise events for older readers they are absolutely fantastic. The highlight of my weekend was a short dramatic production based on Marcus Sedgwick’s vampire novel, My Swordhand is Singing. It was an incredibly atmospheric and lively performance and so satisfyingly spooky. I went straight to the bookshop afterwards and bought the book!
4.) Pop Up’s events are genuinely collaborative and innovative because they’re designed by the authors.
This is one of the coolest things about the festival. Each visiting author and illustrator is given a budget and comes up with their own story sharing venue or story ‘experience’ idea and works with the Pop Up team and set designers from partner Central Saint Martins to bring it to life. That meant there’s quite a range of activities from the aforementioned arts and crafts and short play, to interactive digital projects, audience participation and live music. I could tell the authors, illustrators, poets and musicians were as excited to be there as the kids, and it’s no wonder – it’s really a labour of love. There were also different activities on both days, so you could spend the whole weekend there and never do the same thing twice!
All in all, the Pop Up Festival of Stories is putting roots down in the King’s Cross community, having a positive impact by bringing great literacy events to children and their families and is well worth checking out and supporting. To find out more, visit Pop Up’s website here.