VegFestUK Goes Online in 2020

VegFestUK is the largest completely vegan festival in all of the UK – most years the festival spans multiple cities, attracting hundreds of vegan stalls and thousands of excited guests!

Unfortunately due to this year’s pandemic, there won’t be a traditional festival to attend in 2020. But that doesn’t mean the show won’t go on! We spoke to Tim Barford, founder of VegFestUK, about the history of the festival and what we can expect when VegFestUK goes online this weekend.

How and when did VegFestUK start?

VegfestUK started back in 2003 in Bristol, mainly as a good excuse for a party, but also to celebrate the best of the vegan way of life in a positive uplifting environment. Up until then, vegan events were a little bit dour and worthy affairs, and failing to attract people who weren’t vegan. VegfestUK changed the landscape there a bit. Bristol was definitely the right place to launch, with a background of festivals, raves and street parties, and that was very much the original VegfestUK vibe. The crowds loved it.

Veganism has seen amazing growth over the past few years - how have you seen this change reflected in VegFestUK since you began, such as in attendance or in businesses interested in participating?

It’s been mixed to be honest. There’s plenty of interest in all things vegan, and a big rise in plant-based living and plant-based consumer options, and the establishment of veganism as an ethical position akin to a philosophy or religion, and protected as such.

On the downsize, the escalation of mainstream vegan options has seen crowds dwindle at events, and business drop for many independents. Seeing Ms Cupcake go out of business earlier this year was an indication of this downside. That’s what happens when movements go mainstream.

Do you have any plans to expand to even more cities in future years? If not, what other plans for continued expansion and growth do you have?

With the advent of Covid-19, our business has dropped off 100%. It’s been very tough to navigate these past four months, with zero income. Olympia is still closed, with no concrete plans to reopen, although some pilot schemes with a number of conditions have recently been announced.

These events are £¼ million budget, 80% upfront, and 30% of that upfront six to 12 months ahead, with a run in of 12-14 months for a show of this size. During March to June, we received not one booking, nor one enquiry. We’ve already had to cancel plans for a summer 2021 return to The Brighton Centre. We’re keeping our eye on things, but are keen to grow the virtual events until such time as we can return to physical events.

How have you had to adapt this year’s VegFestUK in light of the pandemic?

We’ve gone online! We have a fantastic platform that offers visitors a proper virtual experience of our events. Visitors log into the show and can wander around looking at stalls, chatting to stall owners via video and chat. They can hang out in the different areas for entertainment and talks, and can also chat with other attendees. So we’ve really gone out of our way to make it as close to the physical experience as possible using this new platform with state-of-the-art technology.

We’re looking forward to welcoming hundreds of trade and media delegates and thousands of visitors to our free event VegFestUK Summerfest Online on 14-16 August. The event includes a Trade & Media Day on the Friday, with panels and talks to match. The Saturday and Sunday is the consumer day.

What are some of the highlights of this year’s VegFestUK line-up?

Macka B and Adamski headline the weekend event this summer which will be fun, plus a plethora of talks and panels covering a whole range of different aspects of the vegan way of life and the plant-based lifestyle. For example, we’ve got a former dairy and beef farmer turned vegan sharing activism strategies, and we’ve partnered with the Vegan Women’s Leadership Network to provide a platform for vegan women leaders’ voices.

As with our physical shows which typically draw more than 15,000 people, we’ve made sure there’s something for everyone. There’s comedy, music and of course the all-important exhibitors with a range of vegan products, services and projects.

As the biggest vegan festival in the UK, you must have seen a huge array of vegan products, businesses and trends over the years - what is the most amazing change you’ve seen so far in the world of veganism?

At last we now have clarity and understanding about veganism as an ethical ‘justice for animals’ position, and an understanding of the benefits of health, environment and sustainable food production that comes with a plant-based diet and lifestyle, and the similarities and differences between the two positions.

This has healed a lot of rifts within the vegan and plant-based communities, both of which are now growing leaps and bounds.

And equally important, an understanding that whilst veganism centres animals and is essentially a social justice movement for animals based on an animal rights position, it also embraces human rights, and has always evolved as such.

You can centre animals and still show solidarity with marginalised groups, and you can centre marginalised groups and still show solidarity with animals. And that it’s the root causes of oppression that we need to recognise, and then dismantle.

That’s a real breakthrough if we want to see veganism go truly global. Otherwise we risk replacing one set of destructive values with another, albeit animal free.

Having been vegan since the 1980s, I’m really happy to see many of the myths about it start to disappear. I’m optimistic at the many young people who are getting involved in the movement and excited for the future.

VegFestUK will be held online this weekend, Friday the 14th of August to Sunday the 16th of August. Click here to find out more!

23 Sept 2021
Gabriella Rodriguez

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