In late June, team members from the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Fordhall Farm and Field Studies Centre visited Wild Rumpus in Cheshire to learn more about environmental social enterprises. Plunkett is working with Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Fordhall Farm and Field Studies Council through Growing Confidence – a programme that's supporting young people in Shropshire to explore their interests in environmental activities and social enterprise. Here, Project Officer Tom Carman shares his experience:


"Wild Rumpus is a woodland social enterprise, which, amongst many other things, runs the annual 'Just So' family arts festival in the beautiful ‘School Wood’ woodland at Lunts Moss on the edge of the Peak District. The Just So Festival is an annual, intimate, weekend-long camping festival for children and their families and provides an imaginative outdoor adventure, showcasing the best art, music, literature, comedy and theatre for families in a landscape of woodland clearings, parkland, amphitheatres and lakeside spots in the Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire.

"There's a lot to see at Wild Rumpus’s headquarters, but perhaps the most famous is the ‘whirligig’ – a colourfully decorated communal seating, eating and sharing space centred around a campfire - where we sat to learn about how Wild Rumpus got started and what it is up to now.

"Wild Rumpus is a Community Interest Company that was set up seven years ago. Sarah Bird, Wild Rumpus’s co-founder and director, explained to us that the beginnings of Wild Rumpus had started on a warm day when she and a group of friends were stuck in a queue of traffic to get in to a music festival. The spare time they found themselves with in the car eventually landed the conversation on to how they might run a festival themselves, and arriving home a week later Sarah did some research and realised that there was nobody in the UK organising an arts festival for children and their families… a year or so later, after gathering a team of co-conspirators, artists and supporters, tickets became available to the public and the first Just So festival was about to take place!

"Wild Rumpus’s first year was very experimental and was the result of a lot of hard work and effort from a small and entrepreneurial team. Each ticket sold represented something that the team could add to the festival – from a new artist to more portable toilets! The team were supported by Arts Council, and were grateful for the support of the Rhode Hall estate for the space offered on the estate lands.

"Since the first Just So festival, Wild Rumpus has grown as an enterprise, making use of the woodland space to support and nurture artistic talent. This includes a woodland residency project, The Forge, which opens up the woodland workspace for groups of artists to live and collaborate in over the summer, creating and developing work inspired by the outdoors. The artists set up workspaces and studios in vintage caravans (and this year have added a treehouse, pictured below) and work together to create art in and for natural landscapes.

"We came to Wild Rumpus to understand more about enterprise in environmental settings and were really pleased to learn about how they have become a sustainable business. Wild Rumpus draws about two-thirds of their income from festival sales, with the remainder coming from a roughly equal mix of sponsorship, Arts Council funding and the sale of festival pitches to artisan food retailers. They have found that building and maintaining strong relationships is really important – their relationship and tenancy with Rhode Hall, for instance, being important for the space for the festival to take place in and to host their offices – a converted horse box (of course!) with 4G, electricity and water.

"Wild Rumpus’s learnings are also about working with and asking for the support of other people. A team of 300 volunteers help out with the Just So festival, where 400 – 500 artists perform. Networks are also really important to Wild Rumpus and they are part of The Northern Festivals Network which has allowed them to strategically work with others to create an environment where outdoor family arts can thrive and they are able to use companies to develop audiences for family work outdoors. Finally, sharing news of what they've been doing has been of entrepreneurial importance, with some of their earliest work getting features in The Guardian and The Times, which drew plenty of attention to the first Just So festival.

"Sarah also explained that having a 'non-divisive' programme is really essential, so that families are sharing experiences together – this approach comes from Sarah’s own experience of often finding herself in the designated childrens/family area at other festivals. In contrast to this, Wild Rumpus encourages families to be together. Innovation also makes festivals exciting, and fortunately Sarah has access to and knowledge of the most creative artists in the UK, having worked with artists that have arranged mass water fights in central Manchester, professional storytellers that have arranged participatory city-wide fictions about travelling to the moon, highly skilled puppeteers based at their artists residency and experimental photographers using techniques like wet plate photography and Victorian polaroids. All of these artists combine to make a very immersive and unique experience for Wild Rumpus’s supporters and fans.

"It was great to come to an environment where families are immersed in incredible stories and at an enterprise that believe that families deserve access to the highest quality art. As a not-for-profit community interest company, all of Wild Rumpus’s profit goes back into its arts programmes, developed to support emerging artists, create pioneering schemes for volunteers, and host creative adventures for marvellous families of all shapes and sizes. This approach has led to Wild Rumpus working internationally by supporting the development of an arts festival in Brazil – international working being an incredible achievement for a team of three working from a 4 acre site in rural England!"

Plunkett and the Growing Confidence partnership would like to say thank you to the Wild Rumpus team for helping the team learn more about their operations and workings, and for their fantastic hospitality. We look forward to working with them again and sharing more news of the work as it progresses.

Click here to visit the Wild Rumpus website.