Festival of Debate Takes 2020 Programme Online

Posted by: Claudia Downs
Festival of Debate Takes 2020 Programme Online supporting image

The Festival of Debate was due to enter its sixth year in South Yorkshire this spring, with 15,000 people expected to attend over 130 public events exploring the social, economic and political issues of the day.

Due to restrictions on social contact, all in-person events were cancelled in March during the first month of lockdown, but the social enterprise which coordinates the festival is reframing its programme for online audiences and exploring new approaches to sparking crucial conversations.


Festival of Debate is the biggest non-partisan political festival in the UK, providing an important platform for debating and discussing key political and social issues, a remit which feels more important than ever. The Covid-19 pandemic has completely rewritten the landscape of what is possible in UK politics. A recent survey from the RSA found that only 9% of British people want to return to ‘normal’ after lockdown. This crisis presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to share visions of a better future and rebuild our society in new and exciting ways.


This year's online festival includes some of the speakers from the original 2020 programme, like the well-respected journalist and activist George Monbiot (Thu 28 May, 7pm). However, Festival Programmer Joe Kriss is keen to point out just how much the landscape has shifted: “The Festival of Debate 2020 has been re-programmed almost from scratch, because most topics at the moment need to be seen through a Covid-19 ‘lens’. The pace of change in world events is hard to keep up with. The festival also needed to be built around being digitally native.”


The Festival of Debate Online includes virtual events featuring journalist and commentator Grace Blakeley, epidemiologist and activist Kate Pickett (co-author of The Spirit Level and The Inner Level), economist and political theorist Michael Jacobs, the Thriving Cities Index, third sector organisations Citizens Advice Sheffield and Gambling with Lives, and Universal Basic Income advocate Scott Santens, with many more due to be confirmed in the coming days. An online Festival of Debate Does Question Time event is also planned for early July.
Photo by Dora Damian


In addition to regular live streamed events over the next six weeks, a series of short videos featuring passionate and knowledgeable citizens and campaigners will be released via Festival of Debate social media platforms, including artistic responses and entertaining insights into the coronavirus pandemic.


There are a huge number of host and partner organisations involved, from experts who work in health and community development to academics, researchers, artists and individual active citizens who have a keen interest in a whole range of issues.


Programmer Joe Kriss added: “This crisis is being played out in public, in private, across our media and in our living rooms, yet it's increasingly hard to make sense of the challenges that we are facing. This online programme of events will give the opportunity to open up wider discussion about coronavirus, our collective responses to it, and our visions of a better society. We hope you will join us so we can discuss how to make change — together.”


The Festival of Debate Online programme is now available at, with more events to be announced soon. To keep up to speed with announcements, you can follow Festival of Debate on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and sign up for their mailing list via the website.

25/7/17 - 25/7/19 12 month blenheim

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