20 Apr 2023

Press Release


Contact Anita Morris Associates 01943 603311

Anys Williams / Anys@anitamorrisassociates.co.uk / 07909 151441

The WOW Barn programme highlights announced – two weeks of events that are set to raise the roof on a unique pop-up venue as part of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture

  • The first WOW – Women of the World Festival ever in Leeds – a whole day of workshops, conversations, food and more [13 May]

  • An evening programme of world class comedy, music, performance and talks [8- 21 May]

  • A packed programme for schools [9-13 May]

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.

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’ – the WOW Barn will become a bustling pop-up festival hub in the heart of the Hyde Park area of Leeds.

Highlights 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.

A signature project of LEEDS 2023 in partnership with WOW – Women of the World, Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority [WYCA], The WOW Barn will be an inclusive, accessible, vibrant space open to all, brought to life with events – with many of the WOW Festival events Pay What You Decide - encouraging audiences of all ages and genders to celebrate and confront how women, girls and non-binary people are treated in 2023.

Saturday 13 May, The WOW Barn Festival

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.

This includes:

  • 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.”

The newly constructed Barn will be the focus for 300 people of all genders from across West Yorkshire to become Dream Builders, each designing a wooden tile then made by artist Emma Hardaker, that will be used to decorate the exterior of the structure.

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

‘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 12 May 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.


Images are available to download here. For further information and interviews please contact Anys Williams at Anita Morris Associates on Anys@Anitamorrisassociates.co.uk / 07909 151441 / @AnysAMA

Editors’ Notes

About LEEDS 2023

LEEDS 2023's ambition is to deliver a transformational year of creative experiences connecting and benefiting people now and into the future.

The planned programme will celebrate and transform the City’s identity locally, nationally and internationally – creating a lasting legacy of economic and social impact.

LEEDS 2023 is run by the Leeds Culture Trust, an independent charity set up in 2019 by Leeds City Council as part of its Culture Strategy and as a response to the cancellation of the UK's participation in the European Capital of Culture competition.

Leeds City Council recognises in a number of its key strategies the difference culture and creativity can make to a city and its citizens, and is the principal funder of LEEDS 2023. www.leeds2023.co.uk

LEEDS 2023 is supported by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players for making this possible.

About The WOW Foundation

The WOW Foundation was created by Jude Kelly CBE in 2018 to run the global movement that is WOW - Women of the World Festivals. The festivals began in the UK in 2010, launched by Kelly at the Southbank Centre London, where she was Artistic Director, to celebrate women and girls, taking a frank look at what prevents them from achieving their potential, raising awareness globally of the issues they face, and discussing solutions together. To date, WOW has reached five million people in 30 locations on six continents, in locations including Australia, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Finland, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somaliland, the UK and the USA.

Over the last 13 years the festivals have developed a reputation as a space for world renowned artists, activists, thinkers and performers including Angela Davis, Malala Yousafzai, Annie Lennox, Patrick Stewart, Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Salma Hayek, to come and participate, alongside thousands of women and girls who don’t have public profiles but are doing amazing things. WOW provides platforms for people of all kinds, changes attitudes, brings communities together and provides a unique space for people to work together towards gender equality in their own communities. One example of the impact the festival has come in 2015, with the founding of the Women’s Equality Party by Sandi Toksvig and Catherine Mayer.

In 2018 Kelly left the Southbank Centre to run The WOW Foundation full time as a charity working to build, convene and sustain a global movement that believes a gender equal world is possible and desirable through festivals and empowering women and girls. The unique festival model creates numerous pathways for participants to take part in WOW projects, amplify their own causes, or start new initiatives which have a wide impact on communities. It is the biggest, most comprehensive and most significant festival dedicated to presenting work by women and promoting equality for women and girls.

WOW festivals and events are presented by arrangement with the Southbank Centre.

The former Duchess of Cornwall was The WOW Foundation’s President.

The Space is the UK’s leading digital agency working in the cultural sector. Originally founded by the BBC and Arts Council England, the company supports arts, cultural and heritage organisations across the UK to build skills and produce digital creative content for online and broadcast platforms, as well as site-specific digital experiences. thespace.org | @thespacearts