Organising Your First Event

Have you started thinking about your first Refugee Festival Scotland event? Whether you have been a part of the festival for many years or this is your first time putting on an event for any festival, we have put together a collection of questions for you to consider as you start thinking about your event!  

What counts as a festival event?  

Almost anything! The event categories are activism/campaigning, community celebration, families/young people, film, food, heritage, music/dance/theatre, outdoor, sport, storytelling/poetry/spoken word, talk/workshop and visual art. You can get some ideas of the events that took part in last year’s festival here 

Events can also be part of your normal activities that you run. For instance, if you already run a weekly conversation club, this can be added as a festival event, you may just want to tailor it to respond to the theme of the festival. Events in languages other than English are also more than welcome! 

What support is available? 

Scottish Refugee Council will have funding opportunities available in the new year to help cover costs associated with running your event. These will be posted on our website in January and the call will close in early March. Additionally, the Refugee Festival Scotland team will be releasing a series of resources for organisers, including guidance on how to promote your event.  

Are you ensuring the voices and experiences of those seeking refuge are leading the conversations and planning of the event?   

To be part of Refugee Festival Scotland, we ask that New Scots are meaningfully involved in the design and delivery of your event. Co-production is an approach to decision-making, which stems from the recognition that if organisations are to deliver successful services, they must understand the needs of their users and engage them closely in the design and delivery of those services. Here are some questions to guide your thinking around co-production: 

  • Have you consulted those with lived experience about what kind of festival event they would like? 
  • Are there people with lived experience supporting the delivery of your event?  
  • Does your event platform the voices of those with lived experience?  

We caught up with one of last years organisers, Breaking Borders Ayr, to get some insight into their understanding of co-production and how they used it when planning their event last year.

What was your event last year?

During the Scottish Refugee Festival 2023, we held our first event as a small community group in the West of Scotland.  As a group, we decided to focus on food which transcends language and cultural boundaries!  We had a pop-up Ukrainian and Syrian café with food prepared and served by our regular attendees and it was really popular with the group and with the customers. 

How did you meaningfully involve those with lived experience in your event, either in the planning, delivery, or providing a platform?

All the food was prepared by the wonderful ladies who attend the group.  We gave everyone an opportunity to be involved through personal contact and through group discussions.  The ladies chose the food they wanted to share, reflecting their passion for their home country and culture, they prepared it themselves and on the day, they served it themselves. As hosts of the group, we kept ourselves to the administrative and background tasks that would prove tricky without having lived here for a while – such as contacting food hygiene, budgeting, sourcing items, etc. 

Any advice you have to share with those creating their first Refugee Festival Scotland event, particularly focusing on the model of co-production and involving those with lived experience?

The most important thing we have had to learn as a group is to be responsive to the people our group is ultimately for.  For co-production, we had to lead from behind. It takes time to build trust and for a person to feel safe to express themselves in a new environment. We asked what the group users would like to do, over several weeks, in several different ways, both 1-1 and in a group setting.  At times, we’d throw some suggestions in but these were usually gained from listening to the users speak about what was important to them. I think it is important to keep checking in with the participants in the run-up to the event and to ensure each person is not overloaded with tasks (each person’s limit is different).  Expect a lot of changed minds and changed plans (life can be chaotic when you are trying to settle in a new country), be patient and gracious with misunderstandings – on both sides -, hold things lightly, and remind each other of what your motivation and collective goals for the event are.  

If you have any questions about co-production while planning your event, please do not hesitate to get in touch!

Is your event connecting different audiences? 

A big part of planning your festival event is considering who the event is for. The festival aims to create bridges between different communities, including connecting New and older Scots. We will want to know who your audiences are and how your event acts as an opportunity to engage new audiences. For instance, if you are a refugee led organisation and your core audience/community are those from a refugee background, how will you encourage other communities in your local area, like those who may not be involved in your work or have lived experience themselves, to come to your event?  

Where would you like the event to be?  

The festival is in June, so many organisers cross their fingers for a nice Scottish summer and hold their events outside, which is great! Consider if you want your event to be close to your community or in a new, relevant location. You should also take into account diverse access requirements, such as physical facilities (eg. wheelchair access, accessible toilets, seating), language support and other special requirements. The earlier you start looking for a venue, the more likely you are to find somewhere that meets your audience’s needs.  

For example, see RSPB’s event from Refugee Festival Scotland 2023. This organisation chose a location that would be relevant and engaging for their intended audience, while connecting with their overall goal of inviting New Scots to learn about their new home’s natural environments.  

How can you ensure that your attendees will be taken care of during and after the festival?  

Consider making a simple risk assessment prior to putting on your event to ensure that you have considered the safety and wellbeing of your attendees. Once completed, you can put measures in place to ensure your event is as safe as it can be. Don’t forget to think about protecting the mental wellbeing of participants and safeguarding as well, especially if your audience comes from a particularly vulnerable background. It is important to consider how you are going to create a welcoming environment for your audience and that you are open to tackling any unexpected challenges that may arise.  

We hope that these questions are useful to help you start thinking about your festival event! We can’t wait to see all the different kinds of events in this year’s festival.