A couple of years ago Gerardine and I we were introduced to a chap, John Orchard , whose company Marchday had taken on the enormous – two million square feet -Paton & Baldwins knitting yarn factory, at Lingfield Point in Darlington.
Rather than flatten the site and construct a soulless new build, as is so often the case, Marchday lovingly and artistically started to bring these evocative mid-century factory buildings back to life.
Today there are more than 2,500 people working there for dozens of companies, the cool ‘canteen’, and the childcare nursery – and now homes are being built on the site.
We were taken aback by the attention to detail and couldn’t think of a better example of upcycling of former industrial buildings in the UK. If it had been in London rather than Darlington it would be being used as an exemplar by Government agencies and the media.
John Orchard said he could do with the world knowing about what was being achieved at Lingfield Point, so that his vision of bringing the whole site back into productive use could be achieved.
We talked about how holding a significant event on the site, one that reflected its ethos could do the trick .
The concept of The Festival of Thrift was born, the first national festival that celebrated the fun that can be had ‘on the cheap’.
A wonderful team, mainly local, was assembled by a festival director who shares our passion for sustainability, thrift and hard graft, the wonderful Stella Hall.
PR agency Cool Blue rose to the challenge of proving the naysayers wrong in delivering media coverage for an event firmly aimed at being national yet held in distinctly regional Darlington.
In the run-up to the event most of the media I spoke to questioned if anyone would turn up and questioned if thrift, upcycling and sustainability were just play things of a “yummy mummy” middle class minority.
The team’s beliefs held firm. To us thrift isn’t about middle-class people making a lifestyle choice, it’s about enacting a real and positive change in the way that society acts and consumes.
The generation coming through now is the first that is worse-off than their parents and yet we continue with a culture of mass consumption – having to buy the latest gadget, the biggest TV, new clothes every six months and often with the help of credit.
We were clear that the Festival of Thrift is about challenging that attitude and showing that there is another way.
This festival was to be all about demonstrating ways that this generation, and many generations to come, could enjoy life without spending and borrowing on the scale of the past decades.
But nevertheless we were still up against a culture where spending a small fortune on a bag covered in the logo of a French brand and coveting your next door neighbour’s brand new company car is still prevalent and where few would share my absolute pride and delight in the family Toyota Prius approaching 200,000 miles.
On the morning of the first day of the festival Sept 21, 2013 – the atmosphere created – the cast of hundreds setting up; laying out their workshops and their wares was uplifting – but we still didn’t have a clue how many folk would turn up.
The gates opened at 10.30am and the public poured in, in their thousands. Around 27,000 people came and the weekend was an uproarious success!
The festival proved that thrift isn’t just a flash in the pan. It’s a genuine response to the economy and the state of the world that is creaking under mass-consumption.
This festival concept shows people want to actively learn how to save money and the planet for future generation. Thrift isn’t a ‘fashion’ thing among the middle-classes. It is a change of attitude that transcends the class system. We knew that there are pockets of people who are already making changes and Darlington is one of those places.
This festival was a powerful statement to send to everyone – life isn’t about bling in the form of flash cars, big houses and overpriced clothes. It’s about values and about getting stuck-in and enjoying creating the good things in life and that those good things can still feature great design and creativity.
The Festival of Thrift was about having fun, getting more ‘bang for your buck’ and working with others to get the best out of life without getting into serious debt.
The media was out in force on the first morning and the question of the festival’s relevance to the wider community of Darlington and beyond was the generally the first one I was asked.
None of us had to worry about this, all walks of life turned up and in an article that is enough to warm the cockles of the heart of anyone who puts on an event, Kim Goddard says in the Guardian:
“The place was teeming with families and young children, and yet despite my best efforts to find one, I was pleased to note there didn’t seem to be a Bugaboo buggy in sight.
“I think that, at the end of the day, you have to ask why any free event offering practical money-saving advice and ideas, five items of vintage second-hand clothing for a fiver, and free music and entertainment for the whole family, could be seen purely as the domain of the middle classes. It should be for everyone. As it happens, in Darlington it definitely was”
It’s great when a hunch comes off.