Leeds 2023: Women of the World festival comes to the city for the first time with workshops, live music and food

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Another two weeks of events are to hit Leeds in May as part of the Year of Culture.

From May 8-21, the doors of The WOW Barn on Leeds’ Cinder Moor will be open to everyone for two weeks of inspiring talks, events, workshops, live music, food and comedy. The events will celebrate the achievements of women, girls and non-binary people from across West Yorkshire and to encourage people to join the Women of the World (WOW) movement for change.

Jude Kelly, founder and chief executive of The WOW Foundation, said: “We wanted to do something truly special for Leeds in its Year of Culture and the creation of a WOW Barn is a first for us. A question we often ask is ‘if women took up more space, what would we talk about?’ and we’re about to find out.

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“Women are often used to being deselected and deskilled but for weeks now, women and non-binary people in West Yorkshire have come forward to learn new skills and together they will build a temporary venue for everyone.

Leeds 2023 bring the Women of the World (WOW) Festival to Leeds for the first time. Photo: Lucille MooreLeeds 2023 bring the Women of the World (WOW) Festival to Leeds for the first time. Photo: Lucille Moore
Leeds 2023 bring the Women of the World (WOW) Festival to Leeds for the first time. Photo: Lucille Moore

"In May, Cinder Moor in Leeds will be where the magic happens and I can’t wait to hear what conversations are started and the dreams that will be realised when women create a space of their own. It feels right that this bold idea should start in Leeds, a city with a proud history of social activism, before – we hope – it goes global.”

Built by 300 Barn Raisers from across West Yorkshire – women, girls and non-binary people including professionals in construction, architecture, engineering, building and STEAM, as well as novices and DIY enthusiasts – the WOW Barn will be a bustling pop-up festival hub in the heart of the Hyde Park area of Leeds.

Poet and playwright Kirsty Taylor will open the main stage by performing a new poem at Leeds’ first WOW festival, followed by the WOW Big Ideas sessions. This is the first of many important discussions across the two weeks.

What events are taking place at The WOW Barn?

Leading voices that will take to the stage include:

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- Musician Corinne Bailey Rae and her sisters Candice Atterton and Rhea Bailey on the enduring power of sisterhood.

- Kisha Bradley, founder of Brightbox and Girls with Drills, on teaching girls across Yorkshire to use drills and handsaws.

- Akeela Din Mohammed, the first Asian Muslim in Doncaster to become a Deputy Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, on all the things she's learnt from fencing and how sport builds love, happiness and community.

- Construction engineer, public speaker, filmmaker, host of the She Who Dares podcast and 2020 Northern Power Awards Agent of Change winner Michelle Hands will talk about her experience in construction.

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- Hattie Hasan MBE on founding Stopcocks Women Plumbers and how plumbing saved her life.

The two weeks will also see many other events – from evening programmes of world class comedy, music, performance and talks and events held in schools to discuss gender equality, activism and take part in construction and DIY workshops. There are also three themed sessions taking place throughout the day, each focused on current issues facing women, girls and non-binary people in particular:

- Do You Care? – A rallying cry to overhaul social care with an expert panel of front-line change makers including Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana and campaigner on Grandmothers’ rights, Lauren Fabianski, head of campaigns and communications at Pregnant Then Screwed, and author and journalist Saima Mir.

- Let Us Speak – This is an opportunity for young people to speak up about the issues concerning them including toxic messaging and mental health as well as exploring positive initiatives for long term change.

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- Stop the Violence – Calling for an end to violence against women, girls and non-binary people with speakers teacher and activist Mina Smallman, Deputy Mayor of West Yorkshire for Policing and Crime Alison Lowe, Women’s Night Safe Space’s Shreena Gobey and the One Voice Collective.