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Time for Peterbororough Celebrates!

Peterborough Celebrates

Still a relative newcomer on the Peterborough entertainment scene, the annual, weekend-long Peterborough Celebrates festival hit the ground running as an antidote to lockdown in 2022 and continues to go from strength to strength. With this year’s event looking to pack in even more free music, activities, good food and fun than ever, we spoke to Stephanie Peachey – Head of Visitor Engagement at Nene Park where the festival takes place – to find out more...

Everyone loves a festival and Peterborough is no stranger to a whole host of grass roots events celebrating everything from poetry to food! How did the idea of Peterborough Celebrates – a big, free party essentially! – come about?
It started as a welcome back after COVID, really. The first year was a gathering of people in the Park to thank everyone who had supported them during lockdown, and to come together for a lovely weekend. Luckily, it was fabulous! The weather was great and we had a variety of different, exciting performances on stage. One thing that has remained strong since then is the celebration of the richness of Peterborough: its diverse communities, champions, individuals, groups and organisations. Bringing all of these people together for a weekend felt important at that time, and it’s something we continued last year too. Everyone is welcome in the Park over that weekend, and that’s what makes it so special.

Last year, the theme was wellbeing, with the hope we could bring people together again to feel good. It was important to give people a chance to come together and feel positive, not just for themselves, but also for the city they live in and all the things that happen here. This year, we’ve taken it a step further. It’s a proper love letter to Peterborough, showcasing everything that makes it great over a weekend.

Peterborough CelebratesIt’s something that’s so often overlooked by people ‘at the top’ making the decisions – how much we all need to just get together, chat, have fun together, and remember that we’re all part of a community.
Absolutely! There is something transformational about getting together and experiencing new things together. I love that communities can watch each other’s performances, that family groups come and spend the weekend with us, and that we see a real diversity of people in the Park, lots and lots of different groups coming in with their stalls or coming to perform. We put out an open call to community groups to get involved and we know that the people who perform with us spend a lot of time and care prepping for their moment on the stage. I love seeing people taking part in a proper wide spread of activities over the weekend. Last year, we had an amazing Punjabi music organisation performing called Punjabi Roots. Everybody was dancing to their Punjabi music DJ set on Sunday lunchtime. It doesn’t matter whether you’re from that community or not, you take part in that experience and it captures your imagination. That’s what’s so special, I think, about Peterborough Celebrates – the breadth of what’s on offer. This includes making the groups across Peterborough more visible to each other – it’s a force for good.

Peterborough CelebratesIt says so much for Peterborough, but it also shines a light on how much we can get from the arts – sharing music, food, dance and humour – it’s the stuff of life!
Yes, and it is the largest event in our calendar – we attract the most people to the Park over that weekend. Last year, we had just over 20,000 attendees, and we really hope to see a similar number this year, weather permitting. It is a true celebration of the things that are important to us and the things that we love, which makes it really special. And as you say, it is a fantastic arts and cultural festival. Alongside the community performances, it is crucial we bring interesting, rewarding arts and culture to the city, and these aspects do go hand in hand: there is no distinction between the professional and community performances. Sometimes, you wouldn’t even know if you were watching an amazing community group from the city performing a captivating dance or listening to a professional poet or musician.

Peterborough CelebratesIt must take a lot of work behind the scenes! How do you go about choosing acts, making everything ready in time, that kind of thing?
We have an open call for any community group that wants to come and perform with us, and we collect the ideas they have about what they would like to do. Then, alongside this is a range of professional arts and cultural opportunities, and we have an amazing creative programmer, called Simon Hollingworth, who curates the programme for us. He’s a freelance creative producer that we work with very specifically on Peterborough Celebrates and he’s been with us since the beginning.

One of the things we really like to do is find great outdoor arts that will make people smile – and sometimes this means performances are silly and unexpected! We look for companies that bring things you wouldn’t normally see, that will be a little different for people. We also look for work that will engage people and allow them to participate – for example, Autin Dance Theatre bringing big puppets that people could interact with, and that sparked their imagination.

Peterborough CelebratesWe also look for things that people wouldn’t normally get to see on a day-to-day basis, a little bit of ‘wow’ factor. Last year, we had an amazing performance by Motionhouse, with dancers dancing on steel rods in the air, and this year we are working with some amazing carnival producers with Peterborough Presents and Mandinga Arts and Mimbre, an acrobatic theatre company. We like to include some surprises! Simon’s job is to combine all of these elements across the four different performance spaces we have, and these spaces change a little bit each year. Last year, we needed a particular stage for Motionhouse, and this year we are building a stage out of hay bales as a unique way of seeing and performing.

This year we have a main stage, a big top – which is an exciting place to perform with a great vibe – and the hay bale stage. Additionally, Peterborough Presents is curating a dome to celebrate their 10th birthday and to showcase all the community groups they have worked with over the years. And yes, it is a big job to bring all of these things together and ensure there is always something for people to experience over the weekend, so there are never any dead spots.

Peterborough CelebratesWhat are some of the highlights people can look forward to?
One of the highlights for me will be the carnival workshops that take place with Mandinga Arts. I think they are going to be amazing. I am a sucker for a silent disco, and we’ve got a number of silent disco moments lined up – I love taking part in them and watching them! We had a really lovely moment last year where we thought we’d try some yoga on Sunday morning as a kind of start-up for the day. We didn’t know how many people would join us, but it started off with about five of us and by the end of it, there were about 200 of us doing yoga on a Sunday morning! That was a really special moment, so we’re holding on to that.

We’re making use of the big top to run some (ticketed) cinema screenings in the week leading up to the festival, too. We’ve got some classic favourites lined up, sing-a-long films like Matilda and Grease among others.

Peterborough CelebratesAll the money raised through that cinema programme goes straight into the delivery of Peterborough Celebrates. We receive a huge amount of support from local companies as sponsors for the festival, and that’s really important to us and we’d like to extend a big thank you to all of them here. We don’t have any public money for this year’s festival – we have had it in the past, but not this year – so we are reliant on sponsors. The fact we have such kind, involved and generous organisations ready to help us with costs is very much a testament to their commitment to the city.

What’s important to us now is that we find a way of doing this long term – the opportunity to sell tickets for certain events helps us make a little bit of money to support the continued running of Peterborough Celebrates year after year, but we’re exploring how we might look into that moving forward. One of the most important things is that Peterborough Celebrates stays free, for everyone.

There’s still time for you and your community group to get involved in this year’s Peterborough Celebrates festival. Visit to find out more.

If you simply want to come along and enjoy the weekend, keep an eye on the website as more acts and events are announced.

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