Reflecting on a Festival year in the Community

As we get ready for our 2024 festivals, the Book Festival's Communities Programme Director, Noëlle Cobden, reflects on her top five highlights from 2023 in what was another bumper year for their Communities Programme - which, with the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, takes the essence of the Edinburgh International Book Festival on the road around Scotland.

We have had a busy year of Communities activity in 2023, with lots of new partnerships alongside delivering our established programmes. There have been so many fantastic moments, almost too many to mention but, here are five of my favourites.

1. Zine-Making with Young People from CAMHS

During the February half-term, we invited young people receiving care from CAMHS to take part in a creative collaboration with poet Leyla Josephine and illustrator Katie Quinn. The sessions supported by CAMHS Occupational Therapists Bryanna Lazich and Aoife Merren. The project supported the young people to produce creative work as a fun, diversionary activity, which supported wellbeing by building confidence through learning new skills.

Seeing the young people react to the finished zine was absolutely wonderful. The project had taken them out of their comfort zones, but they rose to the challenge, creating some really special together. This was also the first time we had worked with colleagues from CAMHS, and they were fantastic and supportive partners!

2. Citizen @ the North Edinburgh Community Festival

Over the spring, our Citizen Adult Writers Group worked with Citizen Communities Writer in Residence Eleanor Thom to write children’s stories. They then took part in a performance workshop with poet and theatre-maker Leyla Josephine to develop their skills in engaging children in their stories.

In May, the group attended and performed their stories to families attending the North Edinburgh Community Festival. I was incredibly proud of the group, who included props and songs in their stories to make them really engaging for the children. Alongside the performances, the Book Festival’s Communities team distributed 100 children’s book and activity bags and 100 adult books to festival attendees – people were taking them out of our hands!

3. Letters of Hope

As part of our long-term partnership with The Alternative School at the Spartans Community Foundation (SCF), this year we held our first event showcasing the incredible creative work of the young people involved. Our writer-in-residence Chris Barkley (who has been working with the pupils since August 2022) hosted a special evening of film, poetry, and stories. The young people, their families, and representatives from SCF, alongside the wider Book Festival audiences, came together to celebrate the young people and what they have achieved with Chris’ support. The event included two films written by and starring the young people as well as a poem read live by Ashton.  I was particularly impressed with Aston who found the confidence to perform in front of an audience of his peers, family, and the wider Book Festival audience – an amazing achievement! 

4. New partnerships

As part of our Story Nation project we developed two important new partnerships this year with The Ripple and Corstorphine Dementia Project. Both organisations work with older people, providing social opportunities in their local communities. Over the year we have delivered a range of creative sessions with one-off author visits at The Ripple and an eight-week poetry project at Corstorphine Dementia project.

I have had the absolute joy of spending time at both centres. Seeing the service users experience our creative sessions has been extremely special. I also don’t have words for how fantastic the staff and volunteers are at both in particular Todd Bioletti at The Ripple and Georgia Mark at CDP – my thanks to them for welcoming us so warmly!

5. Citizen Winter Warmer

In early December we held our annual Winter Warmer Festival. We delivered workshops and events in schools, at the Fisherrow Centre in Musselburgh, and West Pilton Neighbourhood Centre (in partnership with North Edinburgh Arts), with over 400 people taking part across the week. Authors including YA Prize-winning Danielle Jawando, Michael Pedersen, and illustrator Tom Morgan-Jones visited schools. While Chitra Ramaswamy, Ross McKay, Doug Johnstone, and Kate Foster performed specially commissioned pieces alongside our Citizen Adult Writers Group and Citizen Collective at our Stories and Scran events in Musselburgh and West Pilton.

The Winter Warmer was a terrific way to round off the year and celebrate everyone who has taken part in our Citizen programme this year. The mixture of professional authors side by side with local community writers felt so inclusive and was very moving.


We have lots more exciting activities to come in 2024 with a new project with the Scottish Youth Parliament and the Festival of Politics to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament. Plus, our Festival move to the Edinburgh Futures Institute which will provide many new opportunities for the Communities Programme. Watch this space!

The Edinburgh International Book Festival runs from 10 to 25 August 2024, with full programme details to be announced in June.

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