Reader’s Digest spoke to Polly Shute, co-director of Out & Wild, an LGBTQIA-inclusive festival for women launching in June
RD: How did Out & Wild get started, and how would you best summarise what you offer? What makes the event different to other festivals?
My co-founder Becky (French) and I were both frustrated by the lack of LGBTQIA events that were designed for women. As a former Pride in London Director, I had seen Pride events grow from around 40 (in 2013) to over 180 (2019) but most seem focused around crowded city centres and drinking. We thought there was space for something different. Out & Wild is a Wellness Festival focused on connecting people through shared experiences.
We have dozens of activities to get involved with, including music, comedy, yoga, pilates, wild swimming, softball, spoken word and lots of interactive workshops. It's designed for women and those that are non-binary, but open to all. It's the only Festival in the UK that focuses on wellness, experiences and queer and questioning women.
RD: Have you undergone any formal training/previous roles that have helped with what you do for work now?
Yes, I was on the Board of Pride in London for 4 years, and have managed large charity events. Becky comes from an operational and security background. We also run an event platform called Out and About LGBTQ, and have a team of volunteer curators who have been amazing, pulling together all the events.
RD: The phrase "safe space" has been used a lot with regard to the LGBTQIA+ community, focusing on the need to reform certain spaces to make them more inclusive. What does the term mean to you and to Out & Wild? How can it be seen in action at the event?
Festivals are not always safe spaces for women. Research shows that 43% of women under 40 have faced unwanted sexual behaviour at a festival. We also know that LGBTQIA women and especially those that identify as trans often do not feel safe in public spaces. Over half of LGBTQIA women still feel uneasy holding their partner's hand in public.
"We created Out & Wild as a fun, safe and supportive space for LGBTQIA women and those who are non-binary"
We created Out & Wild as a fun, safe and supportive space for LGBTQIA women and those who are non-binary to come together through shared experiences. We have policies around inclusivity, and will make sure all staff and vendors are aware of these as well as attendees. The location itself is remote, next to a small village and not overlooked, so attendees can feel at peace.
RD: How does your work compliment your personality?
Becky and I are both gregarious characters who love meeting new people and trying new experiences. I come from a marketing background, so am more creative and sales orientated, and Becky has excellent operational skills. We make a good team!
Polly Shute, co-director of Out & Wild
RD: How did you go about building the Out & Wild team? What does each person bring to the table?
We are running mainly on volunteers as we start up, so it has been important to find people who were as passionate as us about the ethos of the Festival. All our curators identify as queer women, and they curate areas that they love and are experts on. For example, Lou Englefield, who runs Pride Sports, is curating our Sports experiences.
"It has been important to find people who were as passionate as us about the ethos of the Festival"
We have paid contractors, mainly working on digital and social media. Although expertise has been key here, so has enthusiasm, and an understanding of the LGBTQIA community. We have meeting every two weeks, and Becky and I meet weekly. But, as anyone who has set up a festival will tell you, year one is all-consuming.
RD: In the core months leading up to festival prep, what does a typical work day look like for you?
Well, Becky and I both work at other jobs. I devote two work days a week to the Festival, which mainly looks like calling people, and sorting out contracts (we are lucky enough to have sponsors and funders for our first year). It’s very hands on and varied work. We can be talking to a funder one hour and then chasing a food vendor the next, and of course answering queries from attendees.
RD: What do you like to do to switch off?
Both of us have dogs, so walking them and listening to podcasts is great. I also like to meditate, and Becky is a committed gym goer.
Becky, co-founder of Out & Wild, with her dogs
RD: What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?
From my perspective, I love finding new partners who can help bring different experiences to the Festival. We have met so many interesting people who just love what we are doing and want to help and support. I’m not so keen on some of the admin, which can be never ending as a start-up.
RD: What has been the most valuable business lesson you’ve learnt so far? What would you say to somebody looking to go into a similar line of work?
Plan well in advance. It takes a while to put a festival together, especially if you are looking for funding (which is key in your first years). Make sure you put in time to talk to others who are already running festivals as part of your planning.
RD: And what has been your most tangible achievement?
Getting funding in our first year, which not all Festivals get. We are very grateful to the Welsh Government, Swim Wales and another sponsor, to be announced, who have supported us financially.
RD: In five years time, where would you like to see the festival?
We would like to have seen it grow in its existing location, and to have Out & Wilds in other countries. We are also keen to explore pop up events around key elements of our offer, such as wellness.
RD: If you weren’t in this line of work, what other career would you love to have?
I am lucky enough to combine Out & Wild with a job working for Pink News, the world's most read LGBTQIA media. I love my job heading up all their partnerships, and am very fortunate to be able to combine my skills with my passion. Becky I think would love to be a journalist; she is a great writer.
RD: One very last question; if budget was no object, who would your dream festival headliners be?
Pink, Madonna, Imogen Heap, Sheryl Crow, Lady Gaga and Grace Jones. All strong women who know how to entertain!
Out & Wild Festival is taking place from 10th-13th June. You can buy tickets here.
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