A Brief History of Warwick Words

Warwick Words has been hosting annual Festivals in Warwick since 2002.

Festival of Literature and Spoken Word – 2002 to 2015

The first Festival, the Warwick Literary Weekend, took place in October 2002 and was initiated by the Warwick Events Group, representing local promoters and businesses. The Festival then expanded from a weekend to a week, taking place annually in early October. The October Festival was regularly supplemented by ‘Xtra’ Events – post-Festival events and mini-Festivals earlier in the year.  

As a Festival of Literature and Spoken Word, our events were wide-ranging. Guest speakers included novelists, poets, playwrights, as well as writers of non-fiction – journalists, biographers, historians – and a sprinkling of politicians – many guests familiar to our audiences from national media, coming to Warwick as part of their countrywide book tours: we are grateful to Warwick Books, the independent bookshop, for supplying our guests speakers’ books for purchase at our events. 

As well as hosting author talks, the Festival worked with local groups to promote individual writing and literary education. Projects included writers’ workshops, poetry slams and literary-themed walks, plus children’s literature events and Fun Days and an education initiative in collaboration with local schools. From 2004 until 2011, a Festival Poet Laureate was appointed annually from among local writers, while 2011 saw the publication of the Warwick Words anthology, ‘a collection of writings from the people of Warwick to mark the tenth Warwick Words Festival’. Our collaboration with the University of Warwick, Tea Time Talks, an annual series of public lectures at the Friends’ Meeting House in Warwick, given by academics from the University, began in 2012. 

History Festival – from 2016

In 2016, the Festival became specifically a History Festival, focussing on events with a theme of the past: Warwick is the ideal location for a History Festival, with its own rich history and a wealth of historic buildings in which to stage our events: thank you to everyone at the Lord Leycester Hospital, the fantastic location where we now base most Festival events. Our guest speakers, many of whom are acclaimed historians of international standing, tell us how much they relish coming to Warwick for the Festival, speaking in such historic surroundings and meeting our enthusiastic and knowledgeable audiences. 

We also host local speakers and authors, as part of our In and Around Warwick local history project, and work closely with Warwick Castle and Unlocking Warwick, a volunteer group based at The Court House in Jury Street, to present walks, talks and other local history events. We continue to collaborate with the University of Warwick to present our popular Tea Time Talks – public lectures, with a history theme.

Digital History Festival

In 2020, we were unable to stage any live events because of Government restrictions on public gatherings in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, and so the Festival went online as the Warwick Words Digital History Festival. Several of the guest speakers who would have been joining us in person made pre-recorded talks available to us to stream to our audience. Local speakers also recorded short talks – Soundbites of Warwick – and all these talks were available to view until the end of the month of October 2020. 

Running the Festival 

Originally set up as an unincorporated association, Warwick Words was incorporated as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee in February 2008 and continues today in that format. A company limited by guarantee has no share capital and no shareholders: any surplus, year on year, is retained to fund future activities. Although it is a not-for-profit organisation, Warwick Words is not a registered charity.

Sales of tickets for our events account for more than 80% of our annual income. We are grateful to the local grant-making organisations and businesses for the financial support which they have generously provided since 2002 to supplement our ticket sales income. In the past, only a small percentage of our income has been made up of donations from individuals, usually as Friends of Warwick Words: in 2020, we were delighted that so many members of our loyal audience chose to make a donation in support of the Festival through our online crowd-funding platform – thank you.

Executive Director, Helen Meeke, has been key in staging the Festival since 2002. Helen is assisted by the Festival Committee, the members of which are all volunteers. Festival events are manned by further teams of volunteers, whose contribution is vital: front of house, stewards, sound technicians, organising refreshments (and washing up afterwards!). Thank you to all of our volunteers for your loyal support and the generous donation of your time.

Warwick Words History Festival Committee, 2020

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