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Sustainability: How we sense as well as do

Sustainability: How we sense as well as do


Our Head of Production and Programme, Mark Denbigh, talks us through the Festival’s approach to embedding sustainability into our work, and how we work with other organisations to help to improve our practise and share our knowledge.


Embedding sustainable practice within an organisation is something that we’ve had to work at. It’s taken us time and is reliant on cross department commitment to enable change.

At Norfolk & Norwich Festival we take pride in our sustainable efforts and over time several things have changed and developed in this area significantly. The festival’s approach to environmental sustainability began to grow because of the belief and will of a very small number of people who were passionate about it and now crosses all aspects of our work and still has a long way to go.

In 2017, working as the Head of Production and Programme I could see that several possibilities to reduce our environmental impact that were available to us. It required us to make a few simple changes to the ways we did certain things. We made changes such as banning the use single use plastic water bottles and plastic straws on site and switching to bio fuel in our generators. These ‘initiatives’ were also impactful in that audiences and peers noticed them too.

This broader, deeper recognition began to light up all sorts of interest in my mind and changed the focus of the work we had been doing at Norfolk & Norwich Festival. In 2019 I applied to take part in the Julies Bicycle and Arts Council England Climate Leadership course Accelerator and was successful. I was to be part of the second cohort of the programme which aims to support arts and cultural organisations to develop innovative approaches to their environmental practice and explore sustainable models over a two year period. The programme reaches a wide and varied set of cultural organisations and with the aims to develop our sustainable practices and empower and support us on our journey to lead and share our work and ideas.

The first national lockdown forced the programme to be delivered online which for better or worse has really promoted the sense of openness and collaboration; Two essential qualities required when thinking about our focuses and priorities to our sustainability work. I had applied to Accelerator to focus and develop the festivals approach to power and infrastructure needs of our annual festival but came away with so much more.

We were offered some time for professional support as part of the programme, and through Julies Bicycle we were introduced to the sustainability team at Rock In Rio. Over a series of conversations, we worked together to formulate the focus and then together, we hosted a few online sessions with the entire Norfolk & Norwich Festival team. The sessions pulled together the teams’ individual thoughts and aspirations on environmental sustainability and highlighted the interconnectivity of other areas by referencing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This was such a fascinating and powerful way of us thinking collectively as one organisation which in turn focussed our efforts when it came to writing our own Environmental Responsibility Action Plan.

These plans and approach at an organisational level mean that we better recognise the link between environmental, social and economic sustainability. These important and interlinking elements of the organisation can now better relate to one another.

The Accelerator scheme has helped to realise the significance of collaboration, openness and transparency with our sustainability work. Norfolk & Norwich Festival now sits on sustainability working groups for Vision2025, Without Walls and we’ve started our own network focussing on Arts and Cultural events that take place in city centre or urban environments. The ability to talk through issues and experiences, share knowledge and approaches means that together we can progress things far more effectively than if we were working in isolation.

Masthead credit: JMA Photography

Arts make life better

Norfolk & Norwich Festival brings tens of thousands of people together in celebration – it has been doing this for 250 years. Through our May Festival and our year-round arts education work, focusing on children and young people, we lead and support celebration, creativity and curiosity in communities across Norfolk and the region.

This year we begin an exciting new initiative, Festival Connect & Create that will bring creative opportunities to those schools and communities with least provision. Creativity transforms people’s lives. It builds cohesive communities, develops vital skills and supports health and wellbeing. We want more people to have access to creative opportunities.

Please consider donating to support and develop this work. With your help we can increase access to the life changing power of the arts.

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