Women’s Trad Festival was founded in the summer of 2016 by Ellie Fuller and Charlie Low. In its first year there were only 67 attendees. By its third year year, Gilly McArthur and Hetty Key had joined to make a four-strong organisational team; we had a host of dedicated core volunteers, committed and generous sponsors, over 50 highly skilled leaders and mentors, and nearly 200 attendees. Our strong, supportive and welcoming community was growing!
It was above the sea at North Stack, Gogarth, on the Women’s International Climbing Meet (WICM) that the idea for Women’s Trad Festival was born. Scottish climber Vicky Mayes and Ellie had somehow lucked out and found themselves alone at the crag above a sparkling sea, with only seals for company. An idea was hatched, inspired by the days at the meet spent climbing with other women for the first time: inspiring, strong, psyched women. What if we could make something happen like this, but for women who can’t yet climb and want to…? Ellie was keen to see this through.
That first festival was put together in two months with no money and no real idea if it would be something people wanted. Charlie Low quickly got on board, and things got going. She and Ellie set up a Facebook event and a few weeks later came back from a climbing trip to find over 50 women signed up to come to the first Women’s Trad Festival! We contacted sponsors, only asking for kit to lend out, to offer sample sales and insurance. We got t-shirts printed, found a campsite and got a bunch of enthusiastic friends on board. 8 weeks later, come August we found ourselves welcoming our very first participants..!
The first festival
The first Women’s Trad Festival event relied on the generosity of friends and the Pinnacle Club. It was free as we didn’t know if the idea would work and consisted of just a few tents in a field, a borrowed marquee, and a cook-your-own BBQ.
But it did work! Everyone who came brought such enthusiasm and psyche, the sun shone, and everyone wanted us to do it again..!
So we did. Clearly it was something that was needed and wanted. To respond to that call and be relevant to the women of the trad climbing world has since been the driving force behind this event and how it has evolved.
Growth & change
Since these humble beginnings, the festival has grown exponentially. The core format has remained essentially the same; similar to the WICM, but also taking inspiration from The BMC’s Youth Meets, with leaders and learners carefully paired.
Together as a strong team of four, Gilly, Hetty, Ellie and Charlie have grown and developed Women’s Trad Festival around this key concept. Not only do we have a greater numbers of leaders, we now offer ‘climber’ tickets as a step between learner and leader. Bringing in an incredible team of mentors, who support the leaders in safety and instructional aspects has been central in enabling the event to grow sustainably. Heading this, and overall lead on safety, we have been lucky enough to have to the incredible support of Cath Wilson from Leading Edge.
Over the years, we have developed a core group of incredibly supportive and generous sponsors. From gear and shoes for the attendees to borrow, to insurance and leader support, our sponsors are integral to the success of the festival.
Now an established and highly sought after event in the climbing calendar, Women’s Trad Festival is internationally known and recognised. Climbers from Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands have joined us, and if you’ve ever tried to get a ticket you’ll know it’s no easy task! In 2019 tickets sold out instantly and we ended up with over 200 climbers on the waiting list!
We have produced and featured in films and appear in media throughout the climbing world, however, up until 2019 we never advertised the event, word of mouth simply did our work for us and we have always had more people wanting to come than we can realistically cater to!
As long as this is the case, it is clear that Women’s Trad Festival remains something that is very much wanted and needed.
Having gone from strength to strength, we are only inspired to go further. We are working to keep the festival relevant and respond to what’s wanted.
We are weaving in underlying intentions around key values of mental wellbeing, sustainability and community building, and will continue to develop those aspects into the future.
We are working on widening provision, offering different ticket options as different need arise, as well as hoping to introduce scholarships or bursaries in the future.
Each year brings new changes and growth in some way. We take participant feedback on board as a core part of future planning, responding to the voice of the community, each year designing the festival afresh.