Now in its fourth year, the BMC Women's Trad Festival is fast becoming a landmark and highly sought-after date in the climbing diary. Last year's 3-minute sell-out was - unbelievably - topped this year by tickets being snapped up immediately. In the time it took to refresh the page, the tickets for Women's Trad Festival 2019 were already sold out!
Gathering over 300 participants, the festival included folk of all ages, abilities, genders, ethnicities, countries, and backgrounds. It was a special moment when people from all over the UK and abroad arrived at the beautiful site on the outskirts of Sheffield last Friday. With children, young adults, parents and non-parents, right through to older climbers in the full glory of retirement, the festival welcomed a wonderfully diverse range of climbers, offering an opportunity for intergenerational connections and mentorship that is all the rarer these days.
The weekend was blessed with sunshine and was filled with climbing, conversations, and new friendships and the Peak District crags were awash with brightly coloured WTF2019 Rab supported t-shirts and smiling faces. The excitement and fun were tangible - you could almost feel it spreading from person to person along the gritstone edges.
Just as varied as age was ability. From first-time climbers to MICs, amongst the participants were people who had never climbed before, to experienced climbers pushing the edges of comfort zones with new climbing partners met that weekend.
In terms of what was on offer this year, the flagship 'Learner' ticket had changed little, proving its unquestionable success over the four years it's been on offer. However, the festival as a whole has gone from strength to strength, each year bringing yet another ticket type to the table in response to whatever emerging needs arise from the climbing community. Now on offer are 'Climber' tickets with an added Crack Climbing Masterclass from Libby Peter and Harriet Ridley; a 'Parent and Child' ticket; a 'Self-Rescue' ticket for a course run by Rock and Sun, and a pre-festival 'Climbing For All' CPD accessibility training for the 'Leaders'. All these sit alongside each-other, offering progression within the festival to participants from year to year, and weaving a strong web of interconnected learning during the weekend.
Teaching the 'Learners' were experienced and qualified climbers who were volunteering in this capacity. Aiming to address the ratio imbalance in the instructing world, Women's Trad Festival welcomed both male and female Leaders at the event to meet the demand from male Leaders to learn more about their female client's needs and understand better how to support them.
Overseeing everything with an experienced eye, were MIA qualified 'Mentors' headed up by Cath Wilson. These knowledgeable instructors gave advice and tips where needed. This in combination with the Leaders provided the space for mentoring relationships between the different levels and gave a great opportunity for peer-mentoring. With numerous examples of visible and relatable role-modelling, it was apparent the core principle of progression wove across many strands of the festival.
As well as the climbing, an aspect that really shone this year was a commitment to three underpinning core values: sustainability, mental wellbeing and accessibility. The festival minimised paper, everyone brought their own bowl and cutlery, flyers and single-use plastic was strongly discouraged; all lighting was solar-powered and the toilet roll was 100% recycled. This commitment to sustainability and environmental impact was a strong guiding value that extended right down to glass milk bottles for the tea. Participants were encouraged to car-share or use public transport, and an extensive recycling system meant that only five bags of landfill waste were accumulated by 300 people over the duration of the festival.
The power of the outdoors on mental wellbeing has long been something the organisers passionately believe in, but the impetus to bring this to the fore at the festival came really from the participants. It has been an increasingly loud message, that mental wellbeing is a matter close to participants hearts. As a result, the festival is an invitation for people to be away from the hustle of our busy and often screen-focussed daily live, and to be in nature.
The third value of accessibility has long been key in that Learners can attend the festival with no experience or climbing-specific equipment. Instead, they can learn to trad climb from an experienced leader, borrow shoes from Tenaya, a trad rack from DMM and come away with a whole range of skills and experienced to begin their trad climbing journey. Taking this accessibility value further this year, the festival hosted a very successful 'Climbing For All' course that focused on disability and climbing, run with support from the BMC.
Weaving these key threads into a highly enjoyable weekend of climbing, the fourth Women's Trad Festival was bigger, slicker and more established than ever, and certainly, a container for community and connections within climbing. Looking at the response and comments on social media it's clear the event was a resounding success. Perhaps even the best one yet…?
Here's to next year!
The BMC Women's Trad Festival is organized by Charlie Low, Ellie Fuller, Hetty Key and Gilly Mcarthur.