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Entertaining young audiences in Banchory at MiniFest

How to Build a Dinosaur, Frozen Charlotte

Piloted in Woodend Barn in Banchory in Aberdeenshire in 2015 and 2016, MiniFest is an inspiring multi-arts festival for children from 6 months to 12 years, as well as their parents and carers.

The festival was created by Heather Fulton and Jennifer Phillips and received an excellent response from members of the public demonstrating the demand for high-quality performances and activities for young audiences in rural areas.

We found out more about MiniFest and what the festival meant to local communities from Heather Fulton...

Girl with MiniFest brochure

What audiences were you trying to reach with MiniFest?

Jennifer Philips and I came up with the idea for MiniFest when we began our Creative Scotland Producer placements with Woodend Barn in Banchory in 2015. The Barn’s ambition was to increase what was being provided for children and families. My background is in children’s theatre, having trained with companies like Imaginate and having my own children’s theatre company Frozen Charlotte. Jennifer has a background in dance and has a great deal of experience in producing festivals. It was the natural choice to engage families with high quality work in a festival atmosphere.

Still Motion, We Dance, wee groove

How did you approach programming MiniFest and what sort of events and performances took place?

We want to offer families a selection of work so we programmed theatre and dance performances like Shona Reppe Puppets and Scottish Dance Theatre and partnered with organisation such as Puppet Animation Scotland to screen original children's short films.

We want to give our audiences the best experience of the work that is out there for them so are keen to connect with festivals like Dance Live in Aberdeen with whom we worked with this year to bring in Cultured Mongrel Dance.  

We offer participatory experiences with each day of the festival having interactive workshops such as drumming, dancing, bug hunting, growing dinosaurs; we partnered with Banchory Library to run some Bookbug sessions for us at the Barn which brought in new audiences that had never visited us before.  One of the core strengths of MiniFest is that we keep ticket prices low and we always offer some type of free activity. This has been in the form of drop in arts and craft sessions, a treasure hunt in our Wild Garden and just providing a comfy, cozy, relaxed space with some books and drawing materials that families can hang out in between events. We know that taking children out for the day can cost a fortune so we want to remove this barrier as much as we can for our audiences.

Bookbug session

What does it mean to be able to bring high-quality performances to rural audiences and what sort of feedback did you get from audiences and performers?

The response from MiniFest has been wholly positive.  We’ve seen audiences who have never been in the building before not seeming to want to leave. As a venue we are entirely set up for children and families – we have family friendly spaces, amazing outdoor areas and we are the only venue providing work of this professional level in Aberdeenshire.  This year in partnership with Youth Arts Collective North East we were able to tour MiniFest throughout Aberdeenshire having a day in Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Braemar, Laurencekirk and Inverurie.  One quote from our audience feedback in Peterhead was:

“Absolutely fantastic – please come back! There is nothing like this in Northeastern Aberdeenshire – Woodend is 1.5 hours from us – and this was superb. Thank you!”

We’ve also found that the companies visiting us really enjoy the experience.  It’s always good to feel part of bigger event, especially one that has a buzz around it and lots of smiley, happy faces.  I think our rural setting is also a tonic for companies on busy tour schedules; we pride ourselves in our relaxed atmosphere benefiting our performers as well as our audiences.  

Our ambition is that MiniFest becomes an annual event for families in the North East and we further our reach to Moray which has experienced extensive Local Authority arts funding cuts over the last few years.

Grass by Second Hand

Why are events like MiniFest so important to Banchory and surrounding communities?

The joy about work for children is that it is an opportunity for families to spend meaningful time together, which is invaluable for the wellbeing of all involved.  We programme MiniFest during school holidays as our feedback has shown that families are desperately looking for affordable things to do.  Living in Aberdeenshire access can be an issue particularly in the more rural areas.  We worked with North East Arts Touring to connect with suitable, family friendly rural venues for MiniFest in an attempt to challenge some of these issues. This worked extremely well and we were very much welcomed by all the communities in which we played.  This year we also programmed relaxed performances in partnership with Newton Dee community campus providing opportunities for more children to access the performances in a way that is suited to their needs.  

The other, most important factor is that the children love it. Everything programmed is designed especially for them and embodies the value we place in them as inspiring, funny, important and insightful individuals.

Drop in Arts & Crafts session

Heather Fulton and Jennifer Phillips took part in Creative Scotland's Producers Project. Woodend Barn receives Regular Funding from Creative Scotland.

This article was published on 15 Dec 2016