Wild Rumpus - Cheshire’s community events company celebrates tenth anniversary

Festivalgoers at Just So Festival

Festivalgoers at Just So Festival - Credit: Archant

How do you make the most of a festival when you have the kids in tow? Two Macclesfield mums made it a family affair.

Rowan Hoban and Sarah Bird

Rowan Hoban and Sarah Bird - Credit: Archant

It’s not every day you have 12 pianos delivered to your ofice but then for Rowan Hoban and Sarah Bird from Macclesfield there isn’t very much ‘everyday’ about their working lives.

The old pianos, which are being unloaded as I grab a few words with Rowan, are about to be converted into seating for their next Just So Festival. It’s somewhat emblematic of what Just So is all about - quirky, creative, the arts meeting the outdoors. The three-day family-friendly extravaganza in the woodlands of Rode Hall allows children to run free and enjoy everything from theatre and comedy to magic, circus acts and walking on custard. (Wellies optional!)

This year marks 10 years since Rowan, 40 and Sarah, 42, created their first festival which subsequently led to them establishing a community events company, Wild Rumpus, that now runs large-scale outdoor arts events throughout the year.

The pair originally met in the shcool playground.

Luke Jerram's Museum of the Moon

Luke Jerram's Museum of the Moon - Credit: Archant

‘Our children went to the same school and we were in a book club together. We’d both talk about how we loved theatre and art galleries but I had particularly loud and boisterous boys and it wasn’t very relaxing,’ explains mother-of-four Rowan.

Meanwhile Sarah, who has three daughters, would find herself at music festivals missing the action because the crowds weren’t the right place for the kids.

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‘She’d say, “People would ask me who’s headlining but I’d tell them I had no idea because I’ll be sitting in the kid’s corner doing something sticky”’.

And so together they dreamt up Just So - a place wehere kids could go wild and parents ejoy the entertainement too.

James Campbell at Just So Festival credit Mark Carline

James Campbell at Just So Festival credit Mark Carline - Credit: Archant

Continues Rowan: ‘We just knew that when we were outdoors in natural places everyone felt more relaxed. The kids were at their best and so were we. So we thought wouldn’t that be great to create a weekend festival that embodied that, that lets you be outside your daily life. All routine goes out of the window and a new community is being built. We thought that it’d be amazing if we could do that entirely for a family audience.’

As neither of them had any events experience or worked in the arts, Rowan admits they were completely naive when they started out.

‘Sarah was a manager at Waterstones book store and I was doing freelance management projects, but nothing vaguely on this scale,’ she explains.

‘I think in that first year we thought that might be all that there ever was. We had a handful of arts management students working on it but generally it was friends and friends-of-friends; a homespun affair.’

Their aim was to create an outdoor family adventure complete with pillow fights and tribal tournaments.

It attracted 2,500 people when it made its debut in 2009 at an old scout camp at Marswood. And immediately the knew they’d created something special.

‘I remember really clearly standing at the gates as people were leaving and seeing that it had just had this transformative effect on families that had been there. They were coming out feeling they had been in a magical, incredible experience and immediately they were like “What are the plans for next year?”’

Within a year they had quit their jobs and were organising the next festival from a lock up behind a Kwik Fit garage in Macclesfield. Now their office is a slightly more salubrious affair - a farmouse in the grounds of Rode Hall where the festival has been held since 2011. The whole operation has grown. This year Just So will attract more than 6,000 attendes and the duo will be organising a raft of festivals throughout the country including Timber Festival on July 5th-7th in the National Forest and a new festival, Hinterlands in Skipton, which makes its debut this month.

‘Nowadays Just So is just a small part of what Wild Rumpus does,’ says Rowan.

‘It comes out of this place of being passionate about nature and how creativity and well-being can be improved by being outdoors.’