Edinburgh International Festival: Covid pandemic saw us put on community performances and we don't intend to stop – Caroline Donald

What is a favour? It can mean do a good turn for someone or a small gift – we’re not far from Christmas after all.

But in August it was something else. During summer this year, we decided we wanted to package up some of the Edinburgh International Festival’s magic and take it to people across this city. We gave creative and cultural experiences and called them ‘Festival Favours’.

It’s easy to forget, but spring 2021 was an uneasy time to be in live events. The International Festival committed early to bringing back live performance, but the public hadn’t been to any live performance in well over a year.

We managed around that by creating bespoke outdoor pavilions, allowing airflow and distanced seating that returned the live performance experience, whilst keeping audiences safe (although a little cold at times).

As well as bringing the world to Edinburgh in August, at the International Festival we work year-round with the city’s communities. Our regular projects in community spaces and hubs had been on pause since the start of the pandemic, so as groups were beginning to gather again, for the first time in 18 months, we wanted to find a way to do something meaningful and joyful.

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We came up with Festival Favours. In a simple call-out to groups across Edinburgh, we asked for ideas to bring creativity and reconnection to their community. It could be a performance, workshop, or something more practical like a community mural.

Old friends and new faces got in touch, all with stories of what they had gone through during the pandemic and what a Favour would mean to them. We were led by what they wanted, thought would work best, and would enjoy.

Iona Fyfe was among the performers would took part in Edinburgh International Festival's 'favours' project (Picture: Elly Lucas)

Aiming for 21 Festival Favours, in the end we brought 31 to groups and networks across the city.

Favours ranged from a pop-up performance in a backyard, as culture fans with dementia revelled in duetting with a South African choir; the Craigmillar woods brought to life by a rock concert for toddlers and their fathers; a community centre wall transformed into colourful display, inspired by local stories; mental health charity workers from across Edinburgh gathering in Leith for a spectacular drag show; and the Trad Award Musician of the Year Iona Fyfe enchanting some Stockbridge community elders and those who care for them, from LifeCare. Vicki Bradley of LifeCare describes their experience in further detail below.

Every single Favour was a highlight, and as the outdoor stages and pavilions were alight with world-class talent, our roving spotlight was daily focused on different parts of the city.

We don’t want that spotlight to fade, nor to lose the valuable connections we were able to make with people.

Caroline Donald

We see Festival Favours as a start. As a new way to creatively connect and make those meaningful moments happen time and again, throughout the year.

Festival Favours was a celebration of our city’s diversity, and a demonstration that when we are restricted, we are resilient.

When Patrick Geddes said, “think global, act local”, I don’t think he could ever have imagined how important it would be to us as citizens in re-connecting with the world after 18 months of physical, cultural and social isolation.

Caroline Donald is head of learning and engagement at Edinburgh International Festival

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