Sustainable festivals with Wild Rumpus

Sarah Bird and Rowan Hoban - directors of Wild Rumpus
How to the festival producers Wild Rumpus keep sustainability at the heart of what they do?


Wild Rumpus exists in a place where arts and culture meet the natural environment.

We create award-winning events which celebrate nature and believe that when audiences experience quality art together in the great outdoors, something quite amazing can happen. 

Wild Rumpus began in 2009 when we set up Just So Festival. Just So is a weekend of adventure on the Rode Hall Estate in Cheshire; everything is focussed around families having an incredible time outdoors, enjoying live music and art together in the natural environment. 

Radical change

We started out working from a windowless lock-up in Macclesfield – not the most inspiring environment for creating an outdoor arts festival! After our third Just So we decided to radically change the way we worked by moving to a woodland near the festival site.

We bought a Bedford horsebox to use as our office, got a generator and built some compost toilets. We immediately found that we were being more ambitious because we were working outdoors, having meetings on long walks instead of being stuck inside the same four walls. 

2019 marks the biggest change yet in the ten-year history of Wild Rumpus. In the past few weeks we’ve expanded to establish The Forge, a pioneering creation centre which includes the woods, our design barn where we build our stages and festival props, and the sixteenth century Ashbank Farm which has become our main office.

Having this much space means that we can invite other artists to come here and create new work in an inspiring outdoor environment.

We can also carry on our aims to be as sustainable as possible - we’re starting a kitchen garden for our staff, we’ll be raising chickens and are working to become carbon neutral.  

Commitment to sustainability

Working so closely with nature inevitably leads to an increased awareness of the impacts that we all have on the natural world.

We’ve always been keen to minimise the negative effects which Wild Rumpus and the events that we produce have on the environment and have worked hard over the years to establish eco-friendly ways of working.   

You can see our commitment to sustainability across all of our festivals, but especially at Timber Festival. Timber is a weekend of ideas and debate in the National Forest and uses the incredible natural landscape as inspiration for meaningful discussions about living sustainably.

Timber is still in its infancy; 2019 is only our second festival. This year our priorities are to reduce fuel and water consumption and to keep the non-recyclable waste we produce to an absolute minimum.

To do this we’re increasing the number of water standpipes around the site, setting up compost loos, using renewable and low energy to power equipment, and banning the sale of single use plastics including water bottles, plastic cutlery, straws and sauce sachets. 

Minimising travel 

One of the biggest impacts that festivals have on the environment is travel. Obviously you need to get audiences to your festival, but there are ways to reduce the negative effects of so much travel.

This year we’re working with a wonderful company called Red Fox Cycling so that people can cycle to Timber and have the cost of the bike hire taken off their festival ticket.

We’re also working with Midland Classic to offer a local bus route to the festival, and with Energy Revolution to offset the environmental impacts of our audience travelling to the site. 

Our audiences are the ones who champion the eco-friendly initiatives that we put in place. The Just So and Timber festival sites are always impeccable when we leave; people really care about looking after the sites and make sure that they don’t leave a single piece of rubbish behind.

Even though we’re working really hard it’s important that we don’t become complacent. If our audience are demanding that we change an element of how our festivals are run, we need to listen and make sure that we adapt. 

Environmental impacts

It feels like festivals are leading the way forward and inspiring best practice across the whole of the arts sector.

Festivals are normally temporary spaces set up in fields for just a weekend, often with the population of large towns and even cities, which means that organisers have a real responsibility to protect their festival sites for the long-term.

This responsibility can be quite a scary prospect, but it also means that you can decide how everything works - you can choose to set up compost toilets instead of chemical ones or to ban single-use plastics. If festivals can do this on such a large scale it shows that other organisations can make changes too.

It’s all very well thinking about the environmental impacts of a short-term event, but at Wild Rumpus we want to inspire real and lasting change. This means integrating sustainability into the fabric of every event, including what we choose to put on our stages.

Timber is packed full of workshops and talks about how we can live more responsibly and in harmony with nature, which inspires our audiences to think differently and take action in their daily lives. 

Changing habits

There are so many festivals embodying this idea of long-term change and encouraging their audiences to re-think their habits, whether it’s Shambala going vegetarian for all their food concessions (and 33 percent of their audience choosing to eat less meat at home as a result), Boomtown with their focus on audience travel or Hay Literature Festival with their Greenprint Toolkit. 

Festival audiences are really open-minded so are perhaps more willing to change their habits if they’ve been inspired by an idea over the weekend. 

Over the last year or so it feels like the world has woken up to the fragility of the environment. Just look at the heightened awareness of single-use plastics, and of course the strikes led by young people all across the world.

People understand that we have a responsibility to protect our planet. That’s why it’s so important that we’re always striving to improve and find better ways to keep sustainability at the heart of everything we do.  

Join in

Timber Festival is running from 5 – 7 July at Faenedock in the National Forest in partnership with the National Forest Company. 

Just So Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary from 16 – 18 August on the Rode Hall Estate in Cheshire.

This Author

Rowan Hoban and Sarah Bird are founding directors of Wild Rumpus. 

Wild Rumpus. 

More from this author


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