Sheffield books festival’s fresh chapter with Arts Council funding

Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield have been awarded Arts Council funding to take over and develop the Off The Shelf Book Festival. Pictured left-right Prof Vanessa Toulmin, Lesley Webster, Su Walker and Maria De Souza.
Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield have been awarded Arts Council funding to take over and develop the Off The Shelf Book Festival. Pictured left-right Prof Vanessa Toulmin, Lesley Webster, Su Walker and Maria De Souza.
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Sheffield’s Off The Shelf festival is under new management - and a push is on to make the event one of the country’s top literary celebrations.

The city’s two universities have formed a partnership to take over the running of the venture from Sheffield Council, which was struggling to find the resources to develop the festival.

The Arts Council has committed funding of £100,000 for two years and duties will be split between institutions - Sheffield Hallam University will oversee the visual identity, and production of marketing materials, while Sheffield University will manage the planning and organisation.

The council staff who have produced the festival for more than 20 years are transferring to Sheffield University.

It is hoped the new model will allow bigger names to be booked - the literary festival is one of the few that pays its authors - and introduce initiatives such as ticket discounts and early bird passes.

There will be more community events, reflecting Sheffield’s increasingly diverse make-up, as well as more focused, curated strands to the programme.

The aim is to also put the festival on a more sustainable footing, to make sure it breaks even.

Prof Vanessa Toulmin, Sheffield University’s director of city and cultural engagement, said the council had ‘cared for and nurtured’ the festival, and that it was a ‘brave decision’ to hand it over.

But she added: “The council can see we have the expertise and willingness to make Off The Shelf one of the top three literary festivals in the country and certainly the best in Yorkshire.”

Prof Toulmin said the festival reflected the universities’ ‘core business’, and that their events, such as Festival of the Mind, offered a template to grow Off The Shelf.

However, she said the new structure would have been ‘economically unfeasible’ without the Arts Council grant, a 20 per cent increase on what the national organisation has offered previously.

Prof Chris Wigginton, deputy dean of Hallam’s faculty of development and society, said the universities already worked together on several initiatives, the most recent being the Year of Making.

“We are delighted to be collaborating again on Off the Shelf - a unique festival that demonstrates the vibrancy, creativity and experience of our city,” he said.

Coun Mary Lea, council cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure, said the Arts Council money and ‘joint expertise’ of the universities would ‘enable this much-loved festival to flourish’.

This year’s Off The Shelf runs from October 7 to 28.

The programme includes over 200 events in venues ranging from the Crucible to pubs.

Hilary Mantel, Carol Ann Duffy and Nick Hornby have appeared at the festival in previous years.