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Festival planning in the age of COVID-19

At the moment planning festival events might feel a little tricky. We are all unsure about how long these strange times will last and what gatherings might look like in the following months. It’s more likely than not that some form of social distancing will be around for quite some time. However, staying connected, celebrating our communities and reflecting on societal issues feels more important now than ever. And that’s where we hope the Being Human festival can help!

The festival will go ahead this November, offering the opportunity to share humanities research with publics across the country in a variety of creative and fun ways. But how can you know what types of festival events to plan? So much is uncertain, and it’s a challenge to think about delivering great public engagement events in an age of social distancing. But at the same time we shouldn’t forget the value of real interactions and connections, and the very unequal access to digital infrastructure across the UK.

So, what’s the best thing to do? Below, we offer some practical tips on ways to imagine socially distanced activities, or re-imagine already planned festival events in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

1. The ‘interactive online’ approach

Some events lend themselves naturally to a digital approach. Live streaming music recitals, plays and comedy nights staged under socially distanced conditions is a good way to open up events to more attendees. Quizzes, online gaming events, virtual exhibitions and even virtual escape rooms have all been increasingly popular under lockdown. Even relatively static activities can be made more interactive by introducing online polls, quizzes or moderated chats.


Organise a poetry slam exploring research into the female voice in literature. Prepare for your in-person audience to be small (or non existent) due to social distancing measures, but connect with communities online and have everyone vote for who wins the competition.

2. The ‘best of both worlds’ approach

Another take on things is to go for a bit of both. You could plan an online campaign or activity that takes place in addition to a socially distanced face-to-face gathering. The audience does not have to be the same for these two elements and it should hopefully help increase the reach of your event. You could create online quizzes, surveys or at home experiments. Pair these with small in-person events that incorporate some of what has been shared online.


Crowd-source a memory-bank of people’s favourite arcade games from their childhood. Combine this with a small face-to-face event looking at the history of seaside arcades and have some examples for people to try.

3. The ‘we do home deliveries’ approach

You could tailor events to those who need to stay at home or in their local areas. This could mean planning events that are based in local communities such as balcony music recitals, back garden archaeology digs, or community artworks. It could mean organising a letter-writing or postcard campaign. Or it could mean delivering craft kits, pen-pal postcards or other items directly to people’s doorsteps. (Taking into account GDPR considerations).


Start a creative competition (photography, writing) or children along a particular street or block of flats that explores research on the representation of animals. Get them spotting the local wildlife! Deliver creative writing packs and share stories, poems and plays with neighbours.

4. The ‘show must go on’ approach

Finally, you might want to think about planning an event with a relatively flexible format that would allow you to move it online or run it in a socially distanced fashion if face-to-face gatherings are not allowed by November. With a bit of adaptation such events could work just as well and will not have to be completely cancelled.


Adapt your guided walking tour about your local area’s Pirate past into an audio walking tour complete with a treasure map. Attendees could still share their experiences of the walk through social media. To add an element of real-world interaction, and/or you could place a treasure chest along the route where those completing the walk could post little notes.

Remember, it’s all about engagement!

We hope these suggestions serve as jumping off points for event ideas. We know there are no easy solutions right now and it’s important that we acknowledge the limitations, as well as the potential, of online and socially distanced events. Some people do not have access to the internet or the tech needed to attend virtual events, others may be uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the platforms that are popular right now – including many of us! As with all public engagement, we need to think of our audiences, asking ourselves what would realistically work best for them and make an event accessible.

Being Human 2020 is undoubtedly going to look and feel different, but we know you are up to the task of making it a spectacular festival. Over the last six festivals, humanities researchers and public engagement professionals have proven that as a group we are crazily creative, amazingly ambitious and perfect at problem solving (as well as over using alliteration in our promo material). We look forward to reading your applications and appreciate your continued efforts to share humanities research across the UK.

Discover more tips and guidance about planning your event in our range of toolkits and case studies.