How Harrogate International Festivals fought back from lockdown and why it can do it again

Harrogate International Festivals enjoyed an amazing 2021 - despite a sea of hurdles facing the arts during the Coronavirus pandemic. The Omicron variant may be presenting a new challenge but HIF chief executive Sharon Canavar says the beloved arts charity is determined to bounce back again.

Thursday, 30th December 2021, 10:36 am
A 2021 hit for Harrogate International Festivals - 1571 The Waters That Made Us light installation celebrated 450 years since the discovery of spa waters in Harrogate.

Harrogate International Festivals’ impressive return to the arts scene faces being undermined by mounting uncertainty over Omicron and the ever-present threat of new restrictions.

In an open newsletter, the leading Harrogate arts charity’s chief executive Sharon Canavar said it had felt fantastic to bring back some of its live events in 2021 with great success.

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But a decision has now been taken to put on hold plans for a return to even greater normality in 2022 - temporarily it is hoped.

In particular, Harrogate International Festivals’ Sunday Series of concerts which usually takes place in January has had to be postponed.

Mrs Canavar said: “We had planned to announce our 2022 season of coffee concerts last month but, with the current guidance and potential changes in events for the New Year, we were planning into the unknown and, as a precaution, have taken the decision that we cannot afford to take the risk of last minute changes over Christmas.”

Despite the trials and triublations faced during a series of Covid lockdowns by Harrogate International Festivals, something it has had in common with much of the arts world in the last year, the organisation was praised for the way it has coped.

Times have been tough, Mrs Canavar admitted, but she said the hard work of her small HIF team and the loyal support of sponsors meant 2021 had been a year to be proud of for everyone involved.

“This year and the months prior have been an incredibly difficult road for the Harrogate International Festivals,” she said. “Several of our traditional events were unable to take place due to lockdowns, conditions placed on events or were financially unviable due to restrictions and safety.

“Fortunately, we were able to plan elements of our annual programme that included the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival thanks to the continued support of long-term sponsors, along with a host of community and digital projects thanks to donors and supporters.”

One thing which had proven a bridge too far had been HIF’s live music events.

Mrs Canavar said: “What we have missed most is music. Our music offer is embedded within our heritage and both the traditional music festival in the summer along with our Sunday Series coffee concerts have been much missed.

“These events have been planned and cancelled several times behind the scenes due to the oft changing regulations over the last few months, and as a small organisation with limited funding we felt unable to take the risk of losing significant amounts of money which would radically impact the long-term future of the Festivals beyond the


The HIF boss had also had to grapple with staff reductions during fallow periods.

But Mrs Canavar said hope was on the horizon and Harrogate International Festivals were determined to bounce back.

“I’m pleased to say we are now recruiting to support our much hoped for return of events

in 2022.

“Our ambition is to return to our coffee concerts from late Spring and we are currently programming a host of artists to brighten up the season from March onwards.”

Looking back on 2021: Some of Harrogate International Festivals' own highlights

A year that began in full lockdown and the arts online, saw Harrogate International Festivals burst back into life with a series of successful live events.

Looking back on 2021, HIF’s chief executive Sharon Canavar said highlights included:

1. Just four days after the final restrictions were lifted, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival & Awards took place. Audiences were still capped and a new tented venue was created to allow distancing and a safe event. We were delighted to welcome authors and audiences safely back to Harrogate.

2. 1571 The Waters That Made Us celebrated 450 years of the discovery of the spa waters in Harrogate. Attracting over 5,000 people to this free sound and light installation working with world-renowned artists Dan Fox and James Bawn.

3. A full literature programme was produced for the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival this year, welcoming the likes of Ed Miliband MP to Sarah Ferguson Duchess of York Roffey. It was fantastic to be back delivering live events.”

Looking ahead to 2022: Harrogate International Festivals' plans for Crime Writing Festival

One of the UK’s greatest and most friendly festivals, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is set return to the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate on Thursday, July 21 to Sunday 24, 2022.

Despite the current situation in terms of the pandemic, organisers Harrogate International Festivals have a bumper crime writing festival in preparation - and exclusive Weekend Break packages are already on sale for 2022.

They are also guaranteeing thrills, and perhaps a few spills at the hotel bar, at the gathering of the crime writing industry’s self-appointed AGM with a difference.

Audiences are invited to grab a pint of Yorkshire’s finest ale, relax in the hotel gardens, and dip into an intoxicating mix of comedy, cabaret, heated debate, and scintillating socialising.

Hang out with your heroes, get an exclusive insight into the Next Big Thing, rub shoulders with the UK’s leading agents, editors and publishers.

For more information, bookings and price details , contact 01423 562303, email: [email protected] or visit www.