We Invented the Weekend, a brand new festival, based in Salford, with a bold claim within its name and, as co-founder Wayne Hemingway MBE points out “If you’re going to claim that a place invented the weekend, you better get it right”.
As with all festivals, there’s more to it than just a name, so we met up with Hemingway to dig a little deeper into the ethos behind the festival, one of a surprisingly large portfolio of events created by Hemingway Design which seems to have become a festival organiser by accident rather than, er, design.
“At Hemingway Design, we do quite a lot of festivals: First Light, we instigated that, the National Festival of Making, National Festival of Thrift. They’re all big festivals, you’re talking of 40 to 60,000 people. We Invented the Weekend, that’ll probably be six figures. They’re not they’re not small events, these are big gatherings of tens of thousands of people, but they’ve all come out of urban design projects; we’re urban designers. I suppose we are an events company because we do so many events, but we didn’t set out to do that. We set out to be urban designers, but we also know that the best thing that you can do for a place to be animated and for people to feel great about a place is when people get together and celebrate.
“All of the events we do are in places that are existing rather than in fields, to animate and to create, to allow people to feel that those places are places that they can celebrate. I always say to any team that we’re working with, think about that, because obviously town centres are going through significant change. The Internet, it’s still only 18% of shift from physical retail to Internet, but it’s still 18%, that’s your margin gone.
“Also, for the public, it’s not just about that shift; young people have a lower disposable income and probably going to have that for quite a while now because of increasing rents and obviously wage inflation hasn’t kept up with inflation. So there’s the economic side that means that people have got less to spend in town centres, but they still want to get together in town centres because that is where you meet your boyfriend, meet your girlfriend, chat with your mates, have a drink, socialize, watch a band, you know. Town centres are not just places for conspicuous consumption for all that 80’s stuff of shop ‘til you drop, they’re about people coming together and doing what people like to do, and that’s converse, dance, kiss, eat together, all of those things that people do.
“I always say, think about the Romans, which is basically the first town centres that we that we that we have big illustrations of, there’s no photography of a Roman town centre but at school, most people will have studied [the Romans] so you can imagine the people in their togas, some of them debating, some reading from a book, others bartering, others with their arm around each other, chatting and being convivial. You might see in those days an animal dancing, or you’d see jugglers. Yeah, it shows what people like to do when they get together, which is have fun, buy things, share things, debate, talk, all of that kind of stuff.
“So that’s basically what we say, let’s bring that, If we can bring that to our town centres, then we are changing that culture, shifting the culture back to what it’s always been rather than what it became, and that’s purely transactional”
“We are heading back to that through necessity and through choice because, of course, there’s a whole generation who are realizing that consumption for consumption’s sake is not right for many, many reasons. It’s not right in a cost-of-living crisis and on your pocket, but it’s not right for society, for the world, a circular economy and the climate emergency. So, everything is pointing towards [bringing] people to have fun together, but not on a purely transactional basis.
“But then you can’t just put a festival in a in a town centre and expect it to work, it’s got to have meaning. Also, it’s very important that you don’t pay to go into the town centre, that would be going completely against the ethos. What we’re not doing is saying let’s fly Beyonce in or the Arctic Monkeys, into a town centre and everybody pay to watch them. That would be totally counterintuitive to what we’re trying to do.
“We create festivals that are totally and utterly free for tens of thousands of people. We’ve been doing it for nearly 12 years now. We are not interested in ‘names’ in any event that we do. If names want to come and be part of it because of giving back to society, then that’s fine, but we want to create events that people come to for the experience of the event and not to gawp at somebody on a stage. So we have to create events that are not predicated on a name that’s going to bring people in, and that takes a skill. So, what we do is we sell experiences, and we sell meaning.”
Looking at other festivals in the Hemingway Design portfolio, the name and the meaning comes from association, Like Lowestoft’s First Light being built on the fact that it’s the most easterly town in the UK. We Invented the Weekend found its name and its meaning hidden in Salford’s history. Hemingway explains:
“We were working on, on a, on a vision for the future of Media City, which is which and the urban design thinking behind this. that we had was that Manchester is poorly served with public spaces that people can gather apart from places where they can gather and shop.
Media City does have scale; it’s hard standing, but that’s great for events. So. And you know, but it’s not. So, we said right, okay, number one you’ve got the Manchester Ship Canal, all the open space and the big skies that you can see there. We felt that this place should be hosting more events, things that people [gravitate] towards. One of the values was that Media City should be always on, so that whenever you go there, there’s always something happening. We said the best way to kickstart that is to show how these spaces can be used by doing a big festival of scale, using every nook and cranny and showing how to use it.”
What could that meaning be for Salford?
We got together with, just a set of creative minds who knew the area and who are capable of thinking of unusual things and knew a bit about the history of the place; that bit of history was important. We’d been there about an hour eating pizza and and having a drink, there’s 30 of us in a room in Media City, and this guy said, ’Oh, did you watch? Who do you think you are? That BBC programme with Sir Ian McKellen on it, and he was talking about his great granddad who fought for workers’ rights and fought for people to have Saturdays off for the first time ever in the world?’
“None of us had seen it, so immediately we all got onto it and yeah, Robert Lowe. One of us, might have been me, I can’t remember who it was said, ‘Well the weekend was invented here, so why don’t we do why don’t we do a festival called We Invented the Weekend. It sounds so great in Manchester, it’s got such a swagger about it, but you can actually say ‘We did it’.”
Every City needs its claim?
“Yeah, so then we said all right, what a great thing because weekends are so important to everybody. Everybody talks about the future of work and the potential four day week, lengthening the weekend and working from home and all of that kind of stuff, it’s such a big subject.
“Weekends mean so many different things to different people. You might be into dog walking, you might be into gardening, you might be into knitting, you might be into reading, you might be into taking your kids to a judo class, cycling, running paddleboarding. You can do it all here. We can bring everything out. We can empty every single church hall in Greater Manchester from doing the most unusual thing, from learning how to tango to all of those things that are hidden behind doors. Let’s bring it all out so that anybody can participate in what everybody else does at the weekend and can see people and can laugh and can have fun and create that forum that that Roman forum of what people do behind closed doors. Obviously not everything…
“There’s never been something that celebrates everything that everybody does and talks about it and gives people the chance to experience what other people do. And that means we don’t need big stars because the stars are an elderly couple who’ve got green fingers, who want to show what they do at a weekend, so the people become the stars.
“In terms of programming, it’s really exciting because you’re focused and you’re not, you know, you’re not flapping about saying, what do we feel that stage with we who’s going on at 3:00? It’s more about what flows from this to that. If it’s a music festival, you’re looking at what you can afford and who’s available.”
But it’s not all programmed by your organisation, you’ve got, for example, Sounds From The Other City involved in programming.
“That’s what we would always do. We’d always bring in the best of the people, they’re providing one of the best weekends in Greater Manchester, so they provide that element of the weekend, that’s how we work.”
We Invented the Weekend will be taking place on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th June 2023. Across the two-day weekender CBeebies Bedtime Stories LIVE will descend onto MediaCity and delight children of all ages, with festival guests and celebrities reading stories. BBC Children’s will continue to spark attention at We Invented the Weekend with everyone’s favourite CBBC and CBeebies’ stars making an appearance on the festival main stage.
We Invented the Weekend will also be hosting the first ever Junior Art Battle Manchester, where young artists will compete in live painting competitions to be named champion. In a world-first, the event will take place in The Lowry theatre and gallery complex, which sits in the heart of Salford Quays, named after the early 20th century-painter L.S. Lowry. Young artists will take part in the Junior Art Battle Manchester in the Compass Room, which sits adjacent to the historic L.S. Lowry collection.
Community Clothing, an ethical clothing brand based in the North, will be leading a swap shop over the two-day weekend, whilst their founder and presenter of BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee, Patrick Grant will join Hemingway to discuss sustainable fashion and the history of the local textile industry, paying tribute to the Greater Manchester workers who fought for our right to have Saturday’s off.
The festival will also be hosting over 100 ‘We Get Creative Workshops’ delivered by talented designer makers from the region. The workshops will be welcoming, age inclusive and free to join. As part of an extensive set of workshops designed to boost creativity and positive emotions, festivalgoers can expect Hot Bed Press – a workshop designed for attendees to create their own designed tote bag. Ghetto Fabulous will also host a workshop aimed at teaching the whole family how to ‘werk’ the runway and pull a picture-perfect pose. Manchester Street Poem will create a giant participatory artwork to describe what the weekend means to festival goers.
At The Lowry, a key partner of We Invented the Weekend, there will be a whole host of activities as part of the ‘We Get Creative Workshops’ organised by the festival, including Lowry by The Lowry, which will allow the whole family to let loose with the paintbrushes in the iconic setting. Local Goggleboxer, Helena Worthington will host the experience in true Salfordian style.
From a musical perspective, the powerhouse of North West talent and fronted by Pops Robert, Lovescene will be making an appearance as part of the ‘We Get Creative Performances’ as well as an unmissable Unity Radio Mainstage takeover, SFTOQuays brought to the festival by local heroes Sounds From The Other City and Get Your Docks Off musical themed boat trips on the ship canal. ‘Playhouse Project’ are also set to get the whole family going with soulful house, rare funk and broken beats on the MediaCity weekend stage, amongst a plethora of other DJ sets across the site.
Salford Community Leisure will be on hand to showcase Try Outs in the Weekend Arena. Festivalgoers will be able to get active with everything from tennis and street cheer, all the way through to cricket and parachute games. Joining this year’s programme will be Great Height Climbing Wall with Salford Youth Services and Wicked Wickets with the Lancashire Cricket Foundation in a whopping inflatable Bowling Cage. Northern Rolling will also be bringing their massively popular skate workshop as the perfect opportunity for the kids to learn how to Ollie like the pros. Manchester United Youth Foundation are also set to bring their hugely successful Street Reds programme to We Invented the Weekend, giving young people the chance to learn new skills and get active.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) will be joining the line-up to host gardening masterclasses with award-winning designer and TV presenter Lee Burkhill. The RHS will also be hosting talks from Jason William, aka the Cloud Gardener, as well as inviting Bread-and-Butter Theatre Company to perform their hilarious horticultural antics. And everyone is welcome to the Plant and Seed Swap where visitors can bring their spare plants, cuttings or seeds and get new plants for free!
The 2023 programme will also see the introduction of We Think Big talks in collaboration with the University of Salford, where industry leading activists, campaigners, mayors and entrepreneurs will discuss big societal issues including the future of work, sustainable travel and ethical fashion in front of a live audience.