For the last two years I have been involved with the running and organisation of the Nether Edge Festival. I work as part of a committee with my role being all things design - this includes banners, posters, flyers, the website and a Programme. I also run the festival Facebook and Twitter accounts – yeah that’s me occasionally praising myself… well someone has to!
My involvement in the festival came about as a result of getting swept up in the ‘Millifandom’ phenomenon of two general elections ago. I joined the Nether Edge Neighbourhood Group so I could get more involved in, and engaged with, the area where I lived. Not long after joining I was invited by David, the very persuasive Chair of the Neighbourhood Group, to use my skills as a designer to help the festival.
For anyone that doesn’t know Nether Edge it is a lovely, leafy part of Sheffield with a thriving creative and community feel. It also has a reputation for being very middle class and very white. With the aim of trying to make Nether Edge more inclusive and celebrate its diversity the Neighbourhood Group, along with volunteers, set about creating the Nether Edge Festival.
You’d be surprised how much time and effort and goes into planning the festival. We start in January for a September festival. Working as part of a committee involves, as you’d expect, meetings, discussions and A LOT of emails. None of us are professional festival organisers, so we’re all learning as we go.
The Festival had already been going for a year when I was asked to get involved. I was a little reticent at first as I had not been freelancing for long and was still trying to build up my client list. I knew from the outset that if I got involved with the Festival I would not be getting paid, so I wasn’t sure I would be able to dedicate the time required. I know working for free is a very contentious issue within the design community due to the negative impact it can have and obviously I would prefer to be paid but the Neighbourhood Group is a charity and we organise the festival on a shoestring. Everyone on the committee is expected to donate their time so it is only fair that I do too. After mulling it over I chose to take the opportunity to work on something that would benefit the community I had lived in for a number of years – to help bring it together at a time when attitudes are often quite divisive. To be clear this is also the only unpaid work I do – I have a mortgage to pay!
I was asked to replace the original identity with something bright, eye catching and appropriate for a family-friendly community festival. The committee gave me quite a bit of creative freedom, which is a rare thing and one of the reasons I got involved. This freedom gave me the opportunity to create an identity flooded with colour and even try my hand at some illustrations of local animals.
Although I have plans to develop the identity further I have already created something that stands out from the rest of my portfolio and hopefully grabs people’s attention. See some of the work I designed here.
Obviously as this is unpaid work I have to balance it alongside paid work rather than prioritise it. Even though I don’t have the responsibility of any particular event it can be a challenge, as sometimes I’d like to be able to dedicate more time to it and use the festival as a vehicle to learn new skills such as animation, and who knows maybe even build the website myself one year! But the reality of life means I can’t do that and if designing the Programme coincides with covering in design studios during the summer holidays then I just have to spin those plates!
Now in its third year the festival continues to grow in popularity, as does awareness of it. More and more people see the benefit to the community and want to take part. Being part of a committee was not something I had experience with but I guess it’s not too dissimilar to working on a job with multiple stakeholders. During the run up to the festival there were definitely occasions when I thought I’m not going to have the time to help next year but when I stop and look around me during a bustling event with all the smiling faces and children laughing and I think to myself – I helped with this, I am part of this – it really does make me feel I am doing something worthwhile.