This weekend saw the second ever Festival of Manchester at Platt Fields.

The FOM is a celebration of Manchester and all that it entails. It’s cultures and religions, diversity, acceptance of others, colourful behaviour and rich history.

We were sad to have missed it last year but only found out about it on the day, it seemed to be massively under-promoted (nobody I know had heard of it) and this year wasn’t much better in terms of social media coverage. It almost slipped under the radar again for us. I’m so glad that it didn’t so I thought I’d do a little write up of our experience in hopes that you’ll all go next year when I’m sure it’ll be even bigger and better.

The festival is free, so my expectations weren’t too high but from what I’d seen of last year, I was quietly excited and eager to get there. The kids were excited too. We attended Flixton Festival last weekend, so they were up for the idea of another ‘bestibal’ (as Posey calls them) because to them they represent music, too many sweet treats and inflatable fun.

We arrived as the festival opened, something we always try to do at events that are expecting lots of people. I find it’s less daunting for young children if they arrive before the masses. It also gives us a chance to experience it all before the queues become unbearable or the little ones tire out. However I must say that at no point did it feel overwhelmingly crowded, not did we have to queue for long periods of time for anything.

The festival was nicely laid out around the lake, with plenty of breathing space and tons to do. As soon as we arrived we fed the ducks and swans, before mooching around the artisan market. The stall holders were all so friendly and generous and kept giving us free food. Several samples of delicious treats later, we moved onto the first stage where there was an Eastern-Western fusion dance troupe on stage.

It was loud and busy and colourful; the kids loved it. They’ve just recently seen the new version of Aladdin so the costumes reminded them of the character, Jasmine. They were in awe of the dancers, as was I. Their clothing was stunning, a real feast for the eyes, which were able to see because the tent was pitched at the bottom of a hill. We climbed to the top of the hill, meaning we could always see what was going on, no matter how many people were in front of us.

We danced and tried to copy the moves, all the while the kids were eating ice creams which was dribbling down their elbows. Posey even had it on her back (how though?!!). Once the dancers had finished we headed over to the Laugh + Learn area where we sat under the Big Top and listened to poetry. Teddy has always been partial to a poem, something that really pleases me. I feel like it opens up literature (and the world) to him in a whole other way. The poet (whose name I did not catch) was doing a poem using slogans to talk about a separation. Teddy laughed his head off every time he heard a slogan or brand name that he knew, but then the poet did a piece about space which totally blew his mind (he’s an avid space fan) and I could feel myself getting all choked up while watching his little face.

After the poetry, we headed for the Create + Make area where we helped Walk The Plank Arts make cogs needed to open the Lighthouse Music Box that was sitting in the middle of the lake, ready for the grand finale at the end of the day. The idea was that the children needed to make cogs, which would help build the mechanism to open the Lighthouse, which my two were only two happy to do. In fact, Teddy said this was his favourite part of the day and I must say, it was a sweet activity that kept them busy for quite some time.

There were several other interesting things to do in the Create + Make area, the brilliant Z-Arts was there, but we moved onto the next stage to listen to a rapper we could hear from where we were sat. By the time we got there, the female rapper had finished and a young boy come on. He was only about 12 but he went for it and I can only imagine how proud his family must’ve been to see him do his thing and love every second of it.

After sharing a Nutella crepe we went over to the kids running track that had been set up next to the lake. There were three lanes and my two took their positions time and time again, racing anyone who would challenge them for a good twenty minutes before we finally moved on, despite Posey’s protest to stay and ‘run with Mr Ben’ (the name of the guy who comes to do sports once a month at her pre-school and subsequently what she calls any man doing sport).

We moved onto the Play + Explore area where we did a mutant bug hunt – another thing my kids love, BUGS! These weren’t the creepy crawly kind, or else they were but they were metal sculptures created by Urban Furniture Project. We were given a little worksheet and had to write down and describe what we’d found. Mostly we made up the names and they generally all came under the sub-category, ‘mini beast’ as designated by my intrepid explorers.

We wandered through the land of the mini beasts and giant (real) mushrooms, before having a chat with the Police and trying on a few bits of their kit. The Police won the children over with more sweets and stickers. This was turning out to be the greatest, most sugar-filled day ever.

We didn’t get see or do everything. Unfortunately The Bearded Manc had to work, so we missed a fair bit, including the grand finale. It was set to be a spectacle and one we were disappointed not to see. What we did see, all six hours of it, was fantastic. I cannot believe it was free.

We revelled and smiled and ate and talked with all kinds of people from all areas of Manchester.

We watched kids do tricks on the BMX park, and skateboarders flip and martial artists kick and dodgeballers-dodge.

We hooked a duck and won a Minion that for some reason had a Transformers recording inside.

We watched the ducks and swans again. Teddy got hissed at. I laughed. So did he.

We saw a shed get launched into space by an astronaut, a mad man on a motorised tennis court and hugged a six foot bee.

We danced to 90s club classics and listened to traditional Indian music filling the park, the whole place transcending into something more than a just field of people.

We experienced Persia and met a walking, hugging bush.

We experimented and created and had fun.

We relaxed.

We played.

We danced.

We danced like no one was watching.

We danced with the sun on our faces and the grass under our toes.

I’m so glad that there is now a festival to celebrate Manchester in all its glory. It is a city worthy of celebration, where anyone is welcome as long as they work hard, play fair, remember their roots and party hard. That’s my kind of city.

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