Line-up announced for The WOW Barn

25 Apr 2023

Blog Post

From Monday 8 – Sunday 21 May, the doors of The WOW Barn on Leeds’ Cinder Moor will be flung wide open to everyone for two weeks of inspiring talks, events, workshops, live music, food and comedy to celebrate the achievements of women, girls and non-binary people from across West Yorkshire and to encourage people to join the WOW movement for change.

The WOW Barn is a signature project of LEEDS 2023 created in partnership with WOW, Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority [WYCA], and will be an inclusive, accessible, vibrant space open to all, brought to life with events encouraging audiences of all ages and genders to celebrate and confront how women, girls and non-binary people are treated in 2023.

Built by 300 Barn Raisers from across West Yorkshire – women, girls and non-binary people including professionals in construction, architecture, engineering, building and STEAM, as well as novices and DIY enthusiasts over a 24-hour ‘Barn Raising’ this weekend (look out on our Instagram for live updates!) – The WOW Barn will become a bustling pop-up festival hub in the heart of the Hyde Park area of Leeds, including the first ever WOW Festival in Leeds on 13 May.

Highlights across the two weeks include live sessions from spoken word poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan (8 May); comedy from Bridget Christie (9 May) and Shazia Mirza (11 May); chef and broadcaster Andi Oliver (12 May); “rock star classicist” Natalie Haynes (16 May); a new commission from Bradford poet Kirsty Taylor (13 May); Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae in conversation with her sisters, Candice Atterton and Rhea Bailey (13 May), and Hattie Hasan MBE (13 May), founder of Stopcocks Women Plumbers, the UK's only national company of women plumbers and heating engineers.

More about The WOW Barn Festival on 13 May!

Leeds’ first WOW Festival, led by WOW Founder and CEO Jude Kelly, will bring big names and ideas to Cinder Moor for one day packed with talks, skills workshops, food and music, inviting all ages to join in the movement for a more equitable world.

Bradford poet and playwright Kirsty Taylor will open the main stage by performing a new, specially commissioned poem to start the day. It will be followed by the WOW Big Ideas sessions, the first of many important discussions on some of the biggest contemporary issues where a diverse range of leading voices will take to the stage to speak about issues close to their heart, including

  • Musician Corinne Bailey Rae and her sisters Candice Atterton and Rhea Bailey on the enduring power of sisterhood.

  • Kisha Bradley, Sheffield based Founder of Brightbox and Girls with Drills, on teaching girls across Yorkshire to use (and not be terrified of) drills and handsaws.

  • Akeela Din Mohammed, the first Asian Muslim in Doncaster to become a Deputy Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, on all the things she's learnt from fencing - and how sport builds love, happiness and community.

  • Construction engineer, public speaker, filmmaker, host of the She Who Dares podcast and 2020 Northern Power Awards Agent of Change winner Michelle Hands will talk about her experience in construction.

  • Hattie Hasan MBE on founding Stopcocks Women Plumbers, and how plumbing saved her life.

WOW Workshops include life drawing; a session on how kindness can change your life; speed mentoring; building a Barn Bird Box for adults and children alike; plumbing for beginners and Brown Girls with Drills, full details are available here. The Festival will also see the launch of local photographer Lizzie Coombes’ new portrait exhibition, which captures all 300 Barn Raisers in full size cut outs.

There are also three themed sessions taking place throughout the day, each focused on current issues facing women, girls and non-binary people in particular:

Do You Care? is a rallying cry to overhaul social care. From childcare to caring for ageing parents and more, an expert panel of front-line change makers including JasvinderSanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana and campaigner on Grandmothers’ rights; LaurenFabianski, Head of Campaigns and Communications at Pregnant Then Screwed, and author and journalist Saima Mir will lead the charge.

Let Us Speak – created in partnership with the WOWsers, a group of 15–18 year-olds from across West Yorkshire who have been working together on a creative project for the festival and who will also be part of this session. This is an opportunity for young people to speak up about the issues concerning them including toxic messaging and mental health as well as exploring positive initiatives for long term change. Speakers Corner, a young person’s collective from Bradford – will also appear.

Stop the Violence, calling for an end to violence against women, girls and non-binary people. Speakers include Mina Smallman – teacher, priest, archdeacon, activist and mother; Alison Lowe, Deputy Mayor of West Yorkshire for Policing and Crime; Shreena Gobey, from Women’s Night Safe Space, a Women’s Lives Leeds project - a safe bus for women and girls to come to, or be referred to in the city centre at night if they feel concerned, unsafe, unwell or vulnerable; and a powerful spoken word piece created by verd de gris arts - the One Voice Collective.

The WOW Barn Festival will close with Jude Kelly, LEEDS 2023’s Creative Director and CEO Kully Thiarai and West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin in conversation.

LEEDS 2023’s Creative Director and CEO, Kully Thiarai, said: “The WOW Barn is an ambitious collective, and creative act; an embodiment of what we want LEEDS 2023 to be all about. Celebrating the people of West Yorkshire and building together memorable experiences and conversations that will continue long after our Year of Culture is over.

“Working with The WOW Foundation and the Mayor of West Yorkshire we are delighted to bring together so many fantastic innovators, trailblazers and inspirational leaders together in this special gathering. They come from the widest fields of expertise, whether that’s music or plumbing, comedy or social justice, and all in a space created by local women and non-binary people. I hope that everyone involved will feel inspired and take away a new sense of confidence and self-belief while also having a really fantastic, fun time.”

Jude Kelly, Founder and CEO of The WOW Foundation; said: “We wanted to do something truly special for Leeds in its Year of Culture and the creation of a WOW Barn is a first for us. A question we often ask is ‘if women took up more space, what would we talk about?’ and we’re about to find out.

“Women are often used to being deselected and deskilled but for weeks now, women and non-binary people in West Yorkshire have come forward to learn new skills and together they will build a temporary venue for everyone. In May, Cinder Moor in Leeds will be where the magic happens and I can’t wait to hear what conversations are started and the dreams that will be realised when women create a space of their own. It feels right that this bold idea should start in Leeds, a city with a proud history of social activism, before – we hope – it goes global.”

Schools from across West Yorkshire will visit from 9-12 May to learn about gender equality, activism and take part in construction and DIY workshops.

Launching at a schools day on 13 May, ‘One Way or Another’ is a digital immersive experience that invites audiences to go through life as a young woman, experiencing day-to-day challenges and making decisions they may never have had to consider. Inspired by the themes of The WOW Barn, in partnership with The Space and co-designed by students from Trinity Academy, Leeds with digital studio Joi Polloi, ‘One Way Or Another’ will be launched on the Barn site and online, with more details to be announced in the coming weeks.

The full programme of events in The WOW Barn can be found here and tickets are on sale now.

The WOW Barn is supported by West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Leeds City Council and Arts Council England. Delivered in partnership with Civic Engineers and Leeds College of Building. ‘One Way or Another’ delivered in partnership with The Space. Original concept commissioned by UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK with funding from UK Government.