About Bradford Literature Festival

Bradford Literature Festival is an annual festival and year-round cultural outreach programme. Encompassing the best of literature, music, theatre, cultural discussions, lectures and family events, the festival is unique in the country for its diverse and imaginative approach to high quality arts and cultural programming.

We create spaces that are welcoming and inclusive for all. Our representative programmes give a platform to diverse and marginalised voices and stories and create a supportive space for even the most challenging conversations. To make sure everyone can access our work, we have pioneered ‘Ethical Ticketing’ – this means our events are free for people who otherwise would not be able to afford to attend arts and cultural events.

We do this because we believe arts, culture and literature have the power to change lives. 

Our seamless integration of diverse artists, audiences and issues creates a space in which no conversation is off limits. We embrace and amplify openness, curiosity and exploration, to encourage questions rather than shut them down. Each person is a walking world, and we use words literature and culture to understand the experiences of others. BLF brings together people of all backgrounds and communities to celebrate all that unites us while creating a nuanced understanding of that which divides us.

As well as widely celebrated, annually recurring strands, such as the Brontë’s, Poetry, World Affairs & Politics, Global Futures and Health & Wellbeing, each year the Festival programme also encompasses important literary and historical anniversaries, and explores the issues and trends of the moment, weaving events throughout the programme thematically.

The festival takes place annually over 10-days at the end of June and the start of July, with a programme of almost 500 events stretching from the heart of the city and across the district. BLF’s signature mix of topic-led events, which include author talks, world-class poetry line-ups, live music, film, theatre and more, attract almost 70,000 people to Bradford each year.

Our ever-popular annual flagship events include the Lyrical Mehfil, Poetry with a Punch and Comico; our own mini Comicon. Each year we also host multiple panel discussions in order to create a space for dialogue, debate and reflection, covering topics ranging from faith, climate change and gender politics to the role of the media, sports and fairy tales. At Bradford Literature Festival we truly believe there is something for everyone.

Bradford Literature Festival operates an extensive Ethical Ticketing Policy, offering free or discounted tickets to those who might otherwise be unable to attend the festival. Combined with low tickets prices overall (a standard priced ticket is as little as £7) BLF attracts audiences more socio-economically diverse than any other literature festival in the UK.

In 2019 (our last fully-live festival):

  • 57% of audiences attended the festival with a free or discounted ticket
  • 65% of audiences reported incomes below the national average
  • 55% of audiences identified themselves as BAME

Schools and Education

The BLF Schools and Education Programme is an integral part of the festival and runs year-round in schools across Bradford.

The programme is dedicated to offering all young people the opportunity to engage with life-changing literature and is built upon a belief in the power of words to open minds and raise aspirations.

The programme is free for schools and education groups in Bradford and offers a wide range of literature-based events and workshops for students from Early Years to Sixth Form.

To date, the BLF Education programme has reached almost 75,000 students and educators and engaged 70% of all schools in Bradford.

Communities

BLF is rooted in local communities and operates a year-round Community Programme, working with grassroots organisations to develop their creative practice and support cultural engagement.

The BLF Community Programme is as diverse as the communities that is serves, working with refugees, children in care, women’s centres, homeless services, hospice care, mental health providers, hospitals and more, with events tailored to the needs of each community.

Our history

2014

In 2014 the first annual festival was launched by Syima Aslam and Irna Qureshi as an ambitious intervention to boost Bradford’s economic growth through cultural regeneration, build cohesive communities through dialogue and intercultural fluency, and raise aspirations and literacy levels. In total there were 25 events over a weekend in September which attracted 968 visitors, 36% of which were BAME.

2015

Following on from the success of its debut in 2014 the second BLF moved to a 10 day schedule featuring 150 events and attracting 9,449 visitors, 46% of which were BAME. In addition to the core festival line up we launched the first of the family fun days in City Park.

2016

Provident Financial Group became our title sponsors in 2016. In order to improve our communications with visitors in 2016 we introduced a new physical hub as a central information and meeting point. This year the BLF resulted in Waterstones exceeding their targets of book sales. The 2016 festival increased to 279 events and tripled visitor numbers with 31,782 people attending events throughout the ten days. 48% of visitors were BAME and notable guests included Carol Ann Duffy and Nadiya Hussein.

2017

This was the year we launched dedicated school days, and together with the core programme, we delivered a total of 444 events with 50,158 attendees, with 49% of BAME visitors. Notable guests included Germain Greer and Linton Kwesi Jordan.

2018

As part of our Heritage strand in 2018 we launched the Bronte stones project. The Programme increased to 467 events whilst visitor numbers saw an impressive increase to 70,349 visitors, 51% of which were BAME. We embarked upon the Pupil Exchange Program between BLF and Hay Festival and launched The Write Here, Right Now Competition. Notable guests include Kate Bush, Akala and Lowkey. 2018 was also the year we won The West Yorkshire Tourism Awards for Tourism Event of The Year.

2019

Midway through the 2019 festival, we welcomed the 200,000th visitor to the festival, an incredible milestone for BLF. 432 events attracted 69,862 visitors, with 55% BAME visitors. Notable speakers included John Barnes, Luke Goss and Elif Shafak.

2020

The pandemic years saw a drastic change to our programming and in response in 2020 we produced an all-digital festival with 99 events, 32,619 visitors (inc digital “attendees”) and 48% BAME visitors. Notable participants include Ilhan Omar, Joseph Coelho and Ian Rankin. We began our partnership with Reading is Magic Festival and Adab Fest, increasing our international reach.

2021

In 2021 we moved the model to a hybrid festival programming 49 live event and 50 digital events and attracting an audience of 114,139 people with 57% BAME visitors. In response to the COVID-19 climate, we programmed five Family Fun Days entitled Literature Unlocked at public parks across the City. Notable guests include Tez Ilyas, Jacqueline Wilson and Caitlin Moran and as part of the festival we launched the Keighley to Karachi Project.

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