The National Festival Of Making

“ stripped of all artifice, all pretension and all bulls**t, leaving behind totally joyful, free, gorgeous creativity.”
Colin Petch
July 9, 2024

Proudly lop-sided when it comes to talking about the impact ‘art and culture’ in all its forms has on us as individuals, as communities and as the kind of society we should all want to be a part of – even we have been left awe-struck by Blackburn last weekend…

The National Festival of Making returned on Saturday and Sunday to the Lancastrian town and it looks like a record-breaking number of us wanted to be part of this key event, that's been doing quite brilliant things in Blackburn and Darwen since its inception in 2016.

The National Fesival of Making, Blackburn. Image Robin Zahler
The National Fesival of Making, Blackburn. Image Robin Zahler

Celebrating making and manufacturing – of which the town and region are justifiably proud – early indications suggest that in excess of 40K visitors enjoyed the festival over the weekend, but that statistic is likely to swell.

Kicking off for us on Saturday morning at a ‘welcome event’ in the crypt beneath the beautiful cathedral (the youngest in the UK – and incorporating the first cloisters built in five-hundred years); artist, academic, community changemaker and all-round inspirational bloke Jamie Holman with his understated but determined sense of ‘place’, opened proceedings with a brief intro on this year’s festival and a name-check of some of the visionary folk behind it.

While you could be forgiven for believing that a ‘festival of making’ anywhere in the North of England might focus on a history of long-gone mills, shipyards and foundry’s – you’d be utterly mistaken. This festival is shining a light on the future and brings into sharp focus for those of us unaware, that our part of the world is still at the cutting edge of making – as organisers are proud to confirm; ‘from the kitchen table to the factory floor’.

After enjoying a brunch with Marcia and Dionne from Black Artisans – two women from Luton and London who’d headed north to deliver their workshops across the weekend – I’d already typed ‘Joyous’ into the notes on my phone (perhaps the ecclesiastical setting was rubbing off?).

Initially concerned I might be in the wrong place, as many of those gathered were dressed for a rather posh wedding, it was only when artist Horace Lindezey and Katherine from Venture Arts talked about the ‘We Are Gathered Here Together’ exhibition that the penny dropped for me – and I wasn’t faced with having to the thank the bride (either Amanda or Katherine) for their hospitality. 

Artist Horace Lindezey
Artist Horace Lindezey. Image: Robin Zahler

As one of the artists involved in the Art in Manufacturing commissions, Horace – who has been an artist and maker with Venture Arts for more than 30 years – was presenting his first solo exhibition, following a residency with The Making Rooms (yet another Blackburn based organisation that could make even the most entrenched luddite embrace the creative future in central Lancs).

In addition to over 75 workshops, the town centre was alive with markets, music, demonstrations, installations and exhibitions and as we headed from the cathedral on a tour of some of the key components of this Northern triumph, I spoke with Elena Jackson, the Curator of the Art in Manufacturing programme and Co-Director of the National Festival of Making, who first nurtured the seed of an idea almost a decade ago for such an event, along with her colleague Lauren Zawadzki and designer Wayne Hemingway – the Morecambe lad who not only has a microscopic understanding the fashion world – but also the importance of ‘getting the built environment right’ as his work with Northumbria University and other leading academic institutions testifies.

Elena: “I’m so proud of how fantastic Blackburn looks today. A lot of people have worked very hard all year to make sure that creativity is celebrated in what is actually a very creative town.”

We briefly touch on Mag North’s recent visit to Standfast and Barracks in Lancaster to meet Margo Selby and the team supporting her with her residency:

“The work is amazing. How it transforms the transept of the Cathedral is beyond what we’d expected.

“This festival, together with our year-round programme, is about the importance of and the joy we can get from being more creative.”

It’s that word again: Joy.

Margo Selby's 'Breathing Colour' In Blackburn Cathedral. Image: Jules Lister

A sold out ‘in conversation’ event with Patrick Grant, supporter of the festival, and his co-judge on the BBC series The Great British Sewing Bee, Esme Young was only one of a multitude of highlights that filled the weekend – but for us – bumping into the Kids from Nelson’s Marsden Heights Community College and their Positive Voices was probably the moment that pressed home how massively important the vision and belief of Jackson, Holman, Zawadzki et al is:

Last year some of those same students headed off with a Mag North camera, while we were at an equally inspirational community event down the M65 in Pendle, which Community Arts Organisation Super Slow Way had curated for – and with – local people, but that had further reinforced for us, how amazing Northerners are. The images that came back are among the most honest and hopeful we’ve ever published. 

While the sun shone on the Cathedral Quarter and its festival space ‘Kitchen Tables’; focussing on the ‘making’ that happens at home through activities such as cooking, henna, crochet and printing, as well as the markets supporting emerging creatives and independent makers – and with beautiful festival flags blowing in the wind – not only was joyful our overriding emotion, but also immense pride to have witnessed ‘Art andCulture’ as a key social, economic and community driver yet again.

Brighter Than The Sun: The National Festival Of Making. Image: Fiona Finchett

We’ve previously listened to Jamie Holman deconstruct and explain ‘Cultural Agency’ – and The Festival of Making and its ripple effect is confirmation, if confirmation is needed, that people like him – and Elena and Lauren and Wayne, are the custodians and future of the concept of People and Place – and it’s their manifesto that impacts lives in a way that any document originating in Whitehall could only aspire to.

The National Festival of Making is set to return to Blackburn in 2025 on 5 July.

‘Infinite Hands’: Nehal Aamir + Darwen Terracotta andFaience will be displayed at Blackburn Museum & Art Gallery until 14 September.

‘Breathing Colour’: Margo Selby + Standfast & Barracks will be displayed at Blackburn Cathedral until 14 July.

Header Image: Sam Williams and The Cardboard Box Company 'Fabula un Facto' at Blackburn's Exchange. Image: Jules Lister

All images courtesy of National Festival of Making