The Festival of Debate returns to South Yorkshire for its sixth year in 2020, bringing with it over 130 public events from 14th April to 31st May reaching over 20,000 people.

Festival of Debate is the biggest political festival in the UK, providing an important platform for debating and discussing the key political and social issues of our time at a point when democracy is most at risk. In the UK, three out of five of people or 60% of the voting population are unhappy with the way democracy is functioning. The Festival of Debate provides an urgent and necessary platform for communities to come together and discuss what matters to them.

This year’s festival includes some of the most important and well-known figures in UK politics and beyond. Keynote speakers include environmental campaigners like the broadcaster and Extinction Rebellion supporter Chris Packham and the journalist George Monbiot.

There are household names from politics such as Labour MP David Lammy and well-known commentator Ash Sarkar. There are international stars too, including one of world’s most famous feminists, Gloria Steinem, whose remarkable life and journey at the forefront of the American feminist movement has recently been made into a Hollywood film starring Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander.

Closer to home there are campaigners such as Gina Martin, who led the successful campaign to make upskirting illegal, and Donna Hall, the former chief executive of Wigan Council who set up the Wigan Deal which transformed how council services interacted with communities. Other speakers include Jason Williamson, the frontman of Sleaford Mods, one of the most politically charged music acts to come out of the UK in recent years, and David Olusoga, the British-Nigerian historian and BBC documentary host.

The Festival of Debate is unique not due to its household names but because of how it engages with communities across South Yorkshire. The festival is coordinated by not-for-profit social enterprise Opus Independents and crucially is co-programmed by over 100 individual partners in Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley.

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

The result is the biggest grassroots political festival in the UK. Most of the events are free to attend, ensuring the festival reaches as large an audience as possible and reduces barriers to attendance. A 2019 audience survey revealed that 99% of partners found that running an event at the festival helped them reach new audiences and that in turn 34% of those audiences were planning on joining or contributing to a campaign after attending an event.

Festival programmer Joe Kriss said: “At a time when Britain has been increasingly polarised along lines of North and South, young and old, left and right, the Festival of Debate creates a critical platform for communities to have these conversations in public. Our hope is that the festival encourages people to participate in their communities and try and make change, together”.

The Festival of Debate was launched in 2015 with a view to provoking discourse and discussion ahead of the General Election. It aims to combat apathy and disillusionment in politics by ensuring its events are led by the issues, rather than by party politics, which can be so divisive.

The full programme is now available at

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