Festival of Debate invites you to 'Join the Conversation' at largest non-partisan politics festival

Opus Independents have today revealed the programme for 2021’s Festival of Debate –- the largest non-partisan politics festival in the UK.

This year's festival features big-name speakers including famed economist Yanis Varoufakis, Labour MP and Tribes author David Lammy, and writer Maya Goodfellow.

Other well-known figures featured at Festival of Debate 2021 include columnist and author Santham Sangera, former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, veteran politician David Blunkett, and Jackie Weaver, the parish council clerk who went viral earlier this year, who will host a ‘Festival of Debate Does Question Time’ event.

The festival also includes a diverse and exciting programme of community-led events exploring the most important social and political issues of our time.

Launching today via a brand new website, the 2021 programme will include more than 40 live-streamed online events and short video commissions between 4 May and 6 June.

This year’s events fall under four strands:

  • Progressing Social Justice

  • Putting Citizens in the Lead

  • Solving Poverty

  • Acting on the Climate Crisis

The 2021 programme will explore new ideas and offer a platform for local voices on topics as diverse as community organising and local democracy, social care, sustainable food, Universal Basic Income and the future of city centres in post-pandemic Britain.

Sitting alongside keynote events is a wide range of community-led events coordinated by local groups, charities, campaigners and ‘active citizens’ after the festival put out a public call for collaborations.

The programme of online events will include talks, panel discussions, workshops, film screenings and more. A series of short videos will also be produced with partners and shared online during the festival.

All events will be hosted online, with a ‘pay what you feel’ model which doesn’t exclude anyone from enjoying the programme, but also gives people the chance to support the festival if they can.

Selected events

Opening the programme on Tuesday 4 May, Sathnam Sanghera joins Desiree Reynolds for an in-conversation discussion about his new book, Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain. The book explores the contradiction that, while the British Empire is fundamental to understanding Britain, there seems to be a desire not to look at it too closely, even among those who celebrate it.

On Friday 7 May, internationally-renowned economist, writer and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis talks about the themes and ideas in his book, Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present, which imagines a parallel timeline starting from the global economic crash in 2008 which has led to a fairer, more just economic system.

On Wednesday 12 May, in an event hosted by Sheffield-based asylum organisation ASSIST, Maya Goodfellow will explore the UK's history of anti-immigration politics, looking at how both Labour and Conservative governments have implemented regressive policies. The author of Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Become Scapegoats will unpick the myths that surround immigration to argue against contemporary anti-immigration politics.

The following day (Thursday 13 May), Jackie Weaver will be our fair and impartial host for a ‘Festival of Debate Does Question Time’ event, featuring local political representatives, thinkers and campaigners – and questions from the audience.

‘A Bit of Earth’ - a project celebrating and growing green spaces

Festival of Debate and South Yorkshire Climate Alliance are excited to announce a specially-commissioned project which will gather people’s thoughts and experiences about nature and green spaces during lockdown.

In exchange for stories and images of people’s daily walks, unexpected encounters with wildlife and adventures into the unexplored green spaces of their cities, we will send out seeds and a map to their very own ‘bit of earth’ to create their own secret garden with their neighbours.

Run by The Bare Project, the project is suitable for all ages and will be open to people in Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster. The first 150 households will receive seeds and a map in the post.


Joe Kriss, Programmer at Festival of Debate, said: “Covid-19 has impacted our communities in so many ways we don't yet understand, but it has also highlighted the inequalities in our society that have always existed. Moments of crisis create the possibility of change. We must take this opportunity to bring people together to discuss the kind of society we want to live in.”

Jackie Weaver, Chair of the Festival of Debate Does Question Time event, said: “I am delighted to have the opportunity to chair what I trust will be a lively Question Time-style event aimed at increasing active citizenship and democratic engagement. The enormous value of local councils and the people who make them work is just not well enough recognised, so events like this are invaluable in highlighting this and encouraging engagement. I, for one, am looking forward to exercising my new authority as chair.”

Natalie Bennett, Green Party peer and Sheffield Green Party member, said: “Sheffield has a great tradition of nation-leading public debate and activism, from the Sheffield Female Political Association, the first suffrage society in the UK, through to Edward Carpenter and on to the City of Sanctuary. The Festival of Debate continues that great tradition."

Jo Eckersley, Deputy Managing Director at Sheffield Flourish, said: “Every year Festival of Debate gives us a space where we can talk about the things that really matter to us, partner with other organisations and get people thinking. It’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on why we do what we do, and sometimes to question the status quo.

“Being part of the debate matters to us. It makes us feel valued and it brings out the important conversations which need to be happening, right now. This year, for example, we’ll be talking about 2020, as Festival of Debate has given us a space to go through a year of mental health challenges in a participatory online workshop.”

Partners and sponsors

This year’s partners include Citizens Advice Sheffield, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, Sheffield Flourish, the Centre for Welfare Reform, Disability Sheffield, the Media Reform Coalition and DiEM25, alongside many more.

The programme is kindly sponsored by Sheffield City Council, the University of Sheffield, Learn Sheffield, South Yorkshire Climate Alliance, Sheffield College and the Independent Media Association.

For more information: https://festivalofdebate.com/

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