Leeds Festival 2023 took place from Thursday 24 August, to Sunday 26 August at the city’s Bramham Park, with headliners Billie Eilish, Sam Fender, Becky Hill and The Killers taking to the stage in front for over 100,000 festivalgoers.
Leeds Festival typically attracts a large audience of young people aged 16+, often acting as a celebration or post-event destress with GCSE results day usually falling around the day the festival begins. This year, PAPYRUS was thrilled to attend and spread awareness about our services, including HOPELINE247, as well as listen to young voices, learn about what they might be struggling with, and hear their stories of overcoming difficulties. 2023 was the first year that PAPYRUS has attended a festival. As we are growing and learning from different communities, we have found that many young people attend festivals in their summers. As suicide is the biggest killer of under 35s in the UK, the age demographic of the festival was a good place for us to share our support and educate young people about suicide.
Many Leeds attendees will likely have recently finished education for the summer, and it might be just a few weeks before they move away from their friends and family to embark on their university journey – a daunting time for most. Our teams were on hand across the whole weekend to inform festivalgoers about how HOPELINE247 can support them should they need it, as well as address the myths, facts and misconceptions surrounding suicide to help break down the stigma around suicide. To engage visitors, we created a box full of myths and facts related to suicide, and if people could correctly answer which statements were true or false, they could spin the wheel and win a prize. This was a great way to get younger audiences involved because who doesn’t enjoy winning? This activity initiated many meaningful conversations and had a significant impact in helping to destigmatise suicide and educating people about the lesser-known information. For instance, many people who picked out the statement “Suicide is the biggest killer of under 35s in the UK” were shocked to find out this was a fact, which then furthered our conversation around what support is out there for people and emphasised the importance of having conversations about suicide safely and sensitively.
A pinnacle moment from the weekend occurred when a family with three children, aged six to 12, attended the stall wanting to spin the wheel. They were happy to continue after being informed the game involved reading statements relating to suicide, and one of the children went on to select “Talking about suicide could increase the risk of suicide,” to which they answered “fact”. Before we could respond, their parent gently prompted, “Have a think about that. Could it be the opposite? If we talk about it, the likelihood is that it will help that person get the support they need,” and both children agreed. They went away learning that not talking about suicide could stop someone from accessing support, which was exactly our goal.
Festivals can sometimes feel overwhelming; therefore, we wanted to offer a space where people could share their messages of hope for others to read and find comfort in. We created a wall of hope, and people flocked in across the weekend to write messages that could uplift and share positivity. Some people also offered self-care tips and advice; having these messages to read in our tent was heart-warming, with many people writing “You are not alone,” a statement we champion at PAPYRUS.
During our time at Leeds festival, we spoke to over 1,200 young people, conversing with them about our training and services and educating many people about the importance of suicide prevention. The weekend allowed us to speak to so many young people in an environment they felt relaxed and comfortable. Our conversations felt rich and fulfilling, with many people taking wristbands with our number on. Many young people were happy to hear that they could contact our service as a concerned other to gain some advice on how to help the people around them. With so many fantastic services and organisations surrounding us, Leeds Festival created an atmosphere of hope that we believe is essential for such events.
As the first festival of its kind that PAPYRUS attended, it presented an opportunity to gauge whether attending more events like this in the future would be beneficial in spreading awareness; we were optimistic that it would be a success and as a charity, we are constantly learning and exploring new ways to engage with young people. After a busy and fulfilling weekend, we believe our time at Leeds allowed us to reach audiences who had not previously heard about PAPYRUS; however, have come away from their weekend with a new support system they won’t hesitate to contact should they need help keeping suicide-safe.
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