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festival of thrift 2017

Festival of Thrift

Festival of Thrift 2017

~ a guest blog sponsored by The Neon Greenhouse


This weekend saw the return of popular Festival of Thrift to Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar.  This event is the brainchild of designers Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway.  It aims to promote “Living Sustainably with Style“, with a range of activities designed for all the family.  Showing you how to save money, be environmentally savvy and live a rich and creative life.  Leading and emerging artists, demonstrations, stalls, talks and workshops offering thrifty advice, tips and tricks as well as innovative tasty food and drink.

This free festival has been running since 2013, originally at Lingfield Point in Darlington, before moving to its new home Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar.  It has been growing in numbers year on year and received great recognition since starting out, having won a multitude of awards, including Best Event Teesside (in 2015 and 2017), Gold at North East Tourism Event of the Year and the Observer Ethical Awards for Arts and Culture, recognising the fact that artists are embedded in the programme as agents for social change.

We decided pop along and see what all the fuss was about on Saturday and made our way down to the festival.  We arrived nice and early at 11 am, taking the bus from Middlesbrough.  The setting was a great one, we had been near here before for the Scream Factory Halloween event last year.  The museum is a beautiful building and is surrounded by some fabulous green spaces, with great woodland and parkland.

We headed in and were instantly hit by some delicious mouth-watering aromas from the food stalls near the entrance.  We sampled a few cheeses and local produce, buying some from Parlour Made.  This local village farm dairy is set in 240 acres near Sedgefield, County Durham, a family farm run by Neil & Carol Peacock.  The dairy herd consists of 120 Holstein/Friesian cows all of which were all born on the farm. The family is passionate about herd welfare which ensures consistent high quality milk and every cow is known by name and family history.

Cheese taken care of we made way over to the big red double-decker Routemaster bus selling beer for a refreshment.  Beers in hand we perused the market stalls and food vendors in the morning sun.  The festival had a nice laid back feel with stall holders chatting and bopping along to the music playing.  

After checking out a few stalls we cracked and had to get some of their delicious grub.  We decided on some amazing looking Vegan African food from Cafe Nobia.  We got a little bit of everything, some jerk butternut squash curry, a bean stew and homemade coconut slaw.  The lady serving us was super friendly (the whole festival had that vibe) and it was absolutely amazing food, packed full of flavours and very generous portions.  

cafe nobia

We sat in the morning sun, tucking into our food and washing it all down with a refreshing pint.  There were some great sitting areas for people to relax across the festival.

I’d recommend trying Cafe Nobia’s food if you get the chance, you can find them on Facebook here.

Refreshed and fed we set off for an afternoon of thrifty shopping.  The venue was split into different areas, each with its own distinct vibe.  First we went for Adventure!

festival of thift 2017

The stalls were a real mix, each with its own unique take on ‘thrifty‘.  The stall holders were all ages, from young entrepreneurs starting off crafty business ventures, to old market veterans with their hard collected crazy eclectic ephemera.  The range was huge.  Everyone was super friendly and it was great to see!

A few that stood out for me were the guys at Green Devil Designs.  Green Devil strives to break the cycle of our throw away culture with the use of upcycling.  The home of abandoned toys, they give them new life as their twisted creations.  

green devil designs

I loved their fun and creative creations.  They definitely caught your eye!  You can find them on Facebook here.

Another great stall was The Pet Hugger.  Handmade pet beds from an old jumper, they provide your pet with a hug from you even when you are not at home!  This was a simple but really effective idea.  Their pet beds were really individual and perfect for dog and cat owners.

pet hugger

After chatting to the stall holders and perusing their wares we headed over to the Pavilion and Courtyard area.  The great thing about Kirkleatheam Museum is the grounds, heading through to the next area we walked though tree-lined avenues and past giant old railway vehicles resting on the remaining rails.  The mix of old redundant museum vehicles and converted old buses for bars, venues and events spaces was amazing, they all fitted in with the feel of the museum.  There was an outdoor cinema area for the kids, showing their favourites from CBeebies.  As a family friendly event I cannot fault The Festival of Thrift.  They have so much on for all ages.  Like all events for the family I would advise bringing plenty of cash, not because it is expensive, quite the contrary!  However there is so much you can buy, you really don’t want to get caught short.  Some stall holders do have internet connected pay services which is great but you never know just what you might find and where!

We made our way through the amazing vintage stalls, selling some fabulous finds from across the ages.  It was fun just to take a trip down memory lane to be honest!  Seeing all the brightly coloured toys, kitchenalia, collectables and ephemera.  

We headed into the Pavilion were they had a collection of artworks inspired by thrift and our modern throw away culture.  One of the most impressive and eye-catching instalments was from Diane Watson.  Her piece ‘A Drop in the Ocean‘ highlighted the crisis globally as 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the sea every year.  This staggering and harrowing fact is illustrated by her tide of plastic items, sorted into various colours and shapes.  

All the plastic for the piece was collected from the beach since January!  She started this project after walking the dog on a local beach near Redcar and realising the scale of the issue.  Something we realised first hand when we participated in a beach clean organised by the Fifth Point Dive Centre earlier this year (You can read our review of that event here). 

We chatted to her about her piece and it was great to get up close and personal with the artist.  This is a fantastic feature of the Festival of Thrift.  It brings artists, musicians and performers from all around and allows you to meet them and see there work.  In this case it was a local artist highlighting a global issue using rubbish collected from the local beaches.  One of her interesting and strangely beautiful pieces was a wallpaper made from repeating images of pieces of trash found, all sorted into interesting patterns.

It wasn’t until you got up close you saw the individual pieces of plastic for what they were, with bright coloured toy wheels, arms, cogs and lighters.

Another art installation we enjoyed was Light Up North in The Stables.  Light up North is blazing a trail in the north-east to illuminate anything using Electroilluminesctent neon wire.  Their exhibition showed a collection of their pieces illuminating the dark stables.  This was a great exhibit and the pieces were made from combinations of portraits.  The bodies of famous kings and queens with the heads of modern pop culture icons, all illuminated with slogans in neon.

Bowie, George Michael, Daft Punk, Morrissey and Blondie all made an appearance.   I loved these pieces and can see them doing really well.

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Enlightened by the art exhibitions we set off for some more grub and another pint.  We grabbed some Halloumi Fries at The Allotment.  We knew we were in for a treat because we had come across these folks before at the Summer Storeys pop-up event.  They did not let us down, the fries were perfect and super moreish!

the allotment

Next we grabbed a beer over at the Tash Bar in the Toasting Gate Field.  This was a bar encouraging its customers to don a tash, with a collection of stick on moustaches available on the counter.  This explained a lot, as we had seen many people wandering around with stick on facial hair and wondered exactly what was going on!   To be fair this was not too unusual as the whole festival had a slightly strange and avant-garde feel about it, which made it what it was!

Beer and grub in hand we settled into the comfy deckchairs available and listened to the DJ at the Boat Stage.  This intriguing set up was half pirate ship, half DJ booth, all attached to a caravan.  The DJ got the crowd dancing with some summery feel good reggae.

The sun was out and everyone was in a great mood and having fun.  The crowds were a real mix, with lots of families, people with their dogs, intrigued first timers and hardcore thrift veterans carrying mountains of purchases on tiny trolleys.

Suitably refreshed we went for a bit of shopping.  Until now we had been restrained but we joined in with the retail therapy.  There were some great stalls, selling a huge range of items, from large reclaimed wooden industrial items made into garden furniture to tiny handmade purses and wallets.  One stall that caught my eye was Sarah Turner – Eco Art & Design.   Her amazing artwork was all made from old drinks cans.  Turning old coke and redbull cans into butterflies, then mounting them in frames.  

sarah turner eco art

All of Sarah’s work is made in her studio in Nottingham from bottles collected from local cafes and households.  She frosts the bottles by sandblasting them then she dyes them the vibrant colours.  Then with some intricate cutting and sculpting she transforms them into high quality, unique designs.  With many of her designs the materials are so transformed you can’t tell that they used to be waste materials.  

There were some excellent stalls, it was perfect just to peruse and chat to the owners and designers.  I would recommend to anyone, how ever keen on craft and thriftiness.  It all made for a brilliant day out!

Next up we began heading back via Kirkleatham Lane, past the old walled gardens.  There had been some kind of huge tea party going on in the gardens.  This looked fab and was something extra special.  Developed for the Festival of Thrift  by Simon Preston,  food guru whose BBC Radio 4 series The Town Is the Menu sees top chefs create a new dish inspired by their home town.  Last year was Redcar now it was Saltburns turn!

The festival had lots of events, classes and experiences you could sign up for in advance, booking slots for everything from spoon carving to an intimate 40-minute theatre show set in a caravan!  There was also organised swaps for clothes, plants, seeds and more.  They really have something for every level of thriftiness.  It was impressive to see.  I think this is a great feature of the festival with seasoned thrift veterans turning up with trolleys full of things to swap and beginners coming just for a free day out.

As we walked down the tree-lined lane we were met by Willy and Wally, rowning in mountains of plastic, resigned to the fact that they will soon be swallowed entirely. As well as talking a load of rubbish, they perform amusing, poignant monologues and cutting, edgy dialogue.  They were hilarious to watch as they freaked out passers by, critiquing their choice of outfit, spraying with water from giant flowers.  Fun aside they further highlighted the huge issue facing the world with waste plastic being dumped into the oceans and landfills at an alarming rate.

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Alongside the old walled gardens along the lane were a huge array of stalls.  There was some amazing vintage finds for anyone who likes the classics, with furniture, clothing and art on offer.  By now the crowds were in full flow and it was a wash with people.  Last year’s Festival of Thrift at Kirkleatham delivered a much-welcomed boost for the area according to figures released in its annual report.  Over the course of the event on 17 and 18 September the combined spending of the event’s 35,000 visitors topped £500,000.   From what we saw it looked even more popular this year!  Hats off to the organisers, they really know how to put on a show.  In terms of days out it is definitely worth a visit, in fact many people actually come for both days.

It was as we walked along the lane we came across our first travelling band of the festival, the Boom Bike Bourree.  An original 21st century streetband, they bring a combination of medieval dance,traditional folk music and hip-hop!  Boom Bike Bourrée play processional music through a Boom Bike mobile sound, while moving round the Festival site on boom bikes.

This was another feature of the festival with several travelling bands, all moving around the festival performing.  This brought the party atmosphere direct to you!  Every now and then the bands would meet and an awkward stand off would ensue, I kept expecting a dance off to break out between them.  Another wandering band was the Always Drinking Marching Band, joy and irreverence sprinkled with a contagious Mediterranean spirit!  9 musicians and a front man parading their original and powerful sound around the festival site.  Lots of trumpets, horns, a trombone and a saxophone, blaring out tunes to get everyone dancing!  All dressed in yellow you could not miss these guys!

always drinking marching band

The party atmosphere was brilliant and got everyone smiling as they wandered around the many stalls, searching for bargains and special finds.

We paused for another food stop, grabbing a coffee and a homemade brownie.  It was at this point my eye caught a brightly coloured bit of vintage furniture and before I knew it I was haggling to be its new owner!  This is the thing about the Festival of Thrift, you might pop along just for a look and end up buying something fun.  You see loads of people wandering around clutching on to their new found old items.  It is great for people watching, with them carrying around huge pieces they clearly did not originally plan to buy.  

It was at that point we ran into my favourite travelling ban of the event, Cardboardia.  Cardboardia is a country without territory, founded 10 years ago it is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.  The state is independent and not connected with any natural resources, just people’s creative energy!  Ruled by the formidable Tyran they are always searching for new creative energy supplies in humanoid form!  This year to uncover new supplies they are developing the new science of Foolosophy.  Unpredictable and thoroughly entertaining they stole the show.

They wandered around the event with their mobile embassy, clad in cardboard, dressed as bees, chainsaw wielding robots and all manner of strange creatures, towing a cardboard cart full of tools of the trade.  They would randomly break into song, led by fez wearing Tyran, a terrifyingly unpredictable organ grinder.  He caught my eye and headed straight over, handing me and my friend a huge flag for us to wave.  They grabbed passersby and gave them giant cardboard tools, helmets and costumes.   They got everyone involved and before you knew what was going on you were part of the troop!  I felt a little like someone who had suddenly accidentally joined the circus! 

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They manically wove their way around the streets, getting everyone dancing to the crazy beats.  It was great to see everyone’s reactions, people looked genuinely terrified when they approached and made them join in, but it was fun to see how quickly people got involved when they handed them a giant cardboard hammer or a bee costume!   

You can check out our Facebook video of Cardboardia below.


Cardboardia really did steal the show with their high energy performance, craziness and crowd participation.  Part band, part political movement, Cardboardia listed their aim was to “plant and cultivate some seeds of happiness around Redcar”, and they certainly did that!

Cheered up no end by the bands we slowly meandered through the stalls back towards the entrance.  As a day out it was amazing, there was so much to see and do!  The Festival of Thrift have organised a fabulous event, I cannot recommend enough.  It is great for families, with a tonne of things to entertain you.  The fact you can bring the dog makes it even more of a proper day out.  Groups and parties will also enjoy it, whether you are a hardcore thrift/vintage fan or just looking for something to fill the day.  I would recommend going early on the Saturday, so you can always go again on Sunday if you don’t see everything you wanted to.  The stall holders are all super friendly and I would advise taking plenty of cash as you will probably come home with more than you expected, like I did!

A convert to thriftiness and a passport holding citizen of Cardboardia I’d definitely go again next year.  I think I will research it more too, and look to book some of the courses and experiences in advance to make the most out of it.  All in all it is a fun, well organised, slightly crazy and infectious festival that highlights some serious issues around consumerism and our throw away culture without being preachy or judgemental.  10 out of 10!


~ a guest blog sponsored by The Neon Greenhouse

the neon greenhouse

Helping Small Businesses Think Big




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