There will be something for everyone when the York Festival of Ideas hits town next month. STEPHEN LEWIS reports on the festival that keeps on getting bigger.

YORK has always been a city of ideas. We’ve had Constantine, the Roman emperor who converted the western world to Christianity; Alcuin, the Anglo-Saxon scholar who founded a great (now lost) library; John Snow, the father of epidemiology; and the pioneering social reformers Joseph and Seebohm Rowntree.

They would all no doubt have approved of the feast of ideas that will be sweeping through York next month.

From June 13 to 29, the city will be buzzing with everything from debates on the impact of the North/South divide to an exhibition about the work of the bouncing bomb creator Barnes Wallis, and a talk by one of the founders of Aardman Animations, the creators of Wallace and Gromit.

Along the way, there will be a chance to meet leading young writers; a debate on equality and the economy; an introduction to the ‘real’ King Richard II; and much, much more.

Yes, the York Festival of Ideas has come around again. There will be more than 120 events across the city – many free, and many featuring some of the leading thinkers, scientists, writers and artists of our times.

They will include:

• Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet

• Broadcaster and novelist Melvyn Bragg

• Art critic and broadcaster Brian Sewell

• Archaeologist and broadcaster Michael Wood, talking about Athelstan, the grandson of King Alfred the Great who united the English under one king

• Aardman Animations’ Peter Lord on the making of Wallace and Gromit, as well as hit feature films such as The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists

• Dr Mark Brandon, the scientific adviser behind the BBC’s Frozen Planet TV series, explaining the importance of scientific discoveries made during polar exploration.

There will be a host of other events too. St Sampson’s Square will be turned into an outdoor science laboratory (admittedly, one in a marquee) for a ‘science out of the lab’ event; the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall will host an exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid, and to look at the work of Barnes Wallis; and there will be a debate at the University of York’s Sir Ron Cooke Hub on the growing gulf between north and south in Britain.

North and South is the major theme of this year’s festival – but there will be many other themes, too, including creative writing, making films, health, economics and design.

The festival will be launched at 6.30pm on June 13 with a free lecture by historian Peter Watson, whose book The Great Divide delves back 15,000 years to examine how the people of the Old World (Eurasia) and New World (Americas) came to be separated (see interview).

There will be something for everyone, says Joan Concannon of the University of York, which organises the festival.

The festival has gown since being launched two years ago with 24 events. Partners this year include BBC Radio 3, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Royal Academy of Engineering; and the V&A. But most of all it is about the people of York.

“We invite everybody in the city to join us in celebrating the power of ideas,” Joan says.

“It is for everybody in York. A lot of the events are free, and they’re very accessible. Just bring an open mind and be inspired!”

• York Festival of Ideas begins on June 13. There are more than 120 events, many of which are free but may require booking. To find out more, or to book, visit:


Festival highlights


• North, South, East and West and civilisation – Peter Watson on ‘The Great Divide’. Ron Cooke Hub, university of York, 6.30pm, Thursday June 13. Free but booking required

• North-South: from divide to chasm – Danny Dorling, Professor of Human Geography at Sheffield University, on the growing gulf between north and south. Ron Cooke Hub, 10.30am, Friday June 14. Free but booking required

• Supporting business and growing the economy. Debate chaired by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Julia Unwin. Ron Cooke Hub, Friday June 14, 1.30pm. Free but booking required

• Skivers vs Strivers: debate on the welfare state featuring Zoe Williams, Paul Johnson, Harriet Sergeant and David Goodheart. Ron Cooke Hub, Friday June 14, 4.30pm. Free but booking required

• Climate change: Does it all add up? Light-hearted look at the evidence for climate change. Berrick Saul Building, University of York, Friday June 14, 6pm. Free but booking required

• The Historic Atlas of York: Dr Peter Addyman on 2000 years of development in York. York Library, Museum Street, Saturday June 16, 2pm. Tickets £4.

• Brian Sewell in conversation. Ron Cooke Hub, Tuesday June 18, 6.30pm. Free but booking required.

• King of All Britain: TV historian Michael Wood on King Athelstan. Ron Cooke Hub, Wednesday June 19, 6pm. Free, but booking required

• Science out of the lab. St Sampson’s Square, June 22, 10am-3pm,

• Cracking Animation: an audience with Peter Lord, founder of Aardman Animations which created Wallace and Gromit. Scenic Stage Theatre, University of York, June 22, 2.15pm. Free but booking required

• Minster of Mystery – find out what recent excavations beneath York’s cathedral have revealed. York Minster, Tuesday June 25, 5.30pm. £10 (but free to York residents), booking required.

• A reading by Seamus Heaney. University of York Central Hall, June 26, 7.30pm. Tickets £10.

• The Yorkshire DNA Project – the history of Yorkshire’s people as hidden in our genes. Ron Cooke Hub, June 26, 7.30pm. Free, but booking required

• Melvyn Bragg talks about his novel Grace And Mary. Ron Cooke Hub, Friday June 28, 8pm. Free, but booking required.


• Barnes Wallis: In Yorkshire and Beyond. June 11-23, Merchant Adventurers Hall

•  Beeching 50 years on: The man who reshaped Britain’s railways. June 13-16, National Railway Museum

•  Looking back at Hungate. June 13-29, DIG

Fulford Tapestry. June 17-29, St Helen’s Church

• Royal Academy of Engineering: Design for living. June 22-26, Ron Cooke Hub