The Cheltenham Wellbeing Festival 2020 goes virtual! Now in its second year, organisers Alex and Lottie have taken the event online, hosting talks and workshops exploring wellbeing, and ensuring the door is still open to have important conversations about health and wellness.
Free tickets are available for all frontline and key workers, teachers, students, and those in need who are on low incomes or unemployed as a result of the pandemic.
As someone not only working in mental health, but having grown up in Cheltenham, I was really impressed with the initiative and its quick switch to an online alternative – and so was interested to catch up with Alex to chat about the brilliant offer this year.
Hi Alex and thanks for joining us! Tell us about the Live Life Well Weekender Cheltenham and Gloucestershire – what can people expect and how might they find it useful?
The Live Life Well Weekender is a not-for-profit virtual wellbeing festival launched with the aim of supporting people’s wellbeing in times of COVID-19. We hosted the first in our series back in May whilst in lockdown, as we felt so many people were struggling and in need of a bit of support. Thanks to our incredible community of speakers, over 40 experts came together to share their insight, expertise and knowledge to help people feel more positive and connected.
As a result of its success, we’re hosting the second one this weekend between the 11-13th September, which also happens to be the weekend we would have gone live with the physical Cheltenham Wellbeing Festival 2020.
Over the next three days, viewers will get the chance to hear from some of the UK’s best-loved health and wellbeing experts. We’ll be exploring the personal and social impacts of COVID as well as providing information, resources and support to help people live healthy and happier lives in times of uncertainty.
It’s a packed schedule with everything from discussions on ‘Long-Covid: How to recover Well and support loved ones’ with Dr. David Arnold, lead researcher from the COVID discovery team; ‘Self-Care for Tough Times’ with Suzy Reading; ‘This Too Shall Pass: The Psychological impacts of 2020’ with psychologists Dr. Aaron Balick and Dr. Claudia Herbert’; ‘How to Cope with Redundancy’ with Alexa Shoen; ‘Thriving in a Post COVID World’ with Kirsty Hulse; ‘Beating the Money Blocks’ with Andy Webb, Cat Plummer and Darren Laverty; ‘Combating Burnout & The September Reset’ with sleep and performance expert Natalie Pennicotte-Collier; ‘Sex and Relationships’ with Tracey Cox and even ‘The No Bullsh*t Guide to Finding Happiness’ with Steph Peltier, and so much more on parenting, mental health, men’s health, and more.
We also have a host of physical fitness, movement and creative workshops from a range of experts too.
We’ve made this 80% free to ensure that wellbeing is truly accessible to all – any profits raised also go to the NHS Charities Together COVID Appeal.
What is the history of the festival – who started it and why?
The Cheltenham Wellbeing Festival was founded in January 2019 by myself and co-founder Lottie Keble-Wyatt. I have a background in events and have always had a passion for health and wellness, and Lottie by day is a personal trainer and mother to a three-year old. We both shared the same vision to create a community-lead wellbeing festival which provided greater access to wellbeing services, experts and advice to help people live healthier, happier lives.
We met through one of Lottie’s fitness classes at FLUID in Cheltenham, and for me, her energy and passion was like a magnet. I’d been living in London for ten years and moved to Cheltenham for a break. I had the privilege of working on a few national wellness event concepts, but through the research we were doing, it struck me that none of them focused on community, and tackling the rising issues we have around mental health and wellbeing on a local level. It’s fantastic to have events promoting fitness and nutrition but, for us, we wanted to connect people to local practitioners so that they could continue what they learnt at the festival way beyond the doors closing, as well as work with local schools and businesses to support their wellbeing initiatives long-term.
We didn’t expect to create a week-long festival in year one, but the support and response we received was incredible and showed the need for it in Cheltenham and Gloucestershire. We ran the first festival for seven days in September 2019 which saw over 3,000 attendees.
How would you encourage people who perhaps haven’t engaged in conversations about mental health and wellbeing to take part in the events?
Mental health is still a difficult topic for many. It’s come on leaps over the past five years, but there are still many barriers to people openly discussing their personal situations and it can often be off-putting to do this in a live and physical setting. The beauty of us taking the Cheltenham Wellbeing Festival online is that it’s private. Virtual events mean that you can log-in and watch, and even ask questions completely anonymously. This slightly removed interaction means that you can explore the subject without having to put yourself out there. It gives people the chance to build their confidence and then seek the help they need or, realise there is a community out there of like-minded people that could be helpful to connect with in real time.
What’s interesting with the virtual festivals is that we have had a much higher engagement from men. As research shows, we know men are one of the sectors that really struggle to be open and honest about their health and mental health, so virtual events give them an outlet that perhaps offers a bit of a private and safe space.
Also, we have found that a lot of people still see their own wellbeing as detox retreats and expensive yoga brunches. It is often the last priority or even ‘self-indulgent’, and often reserved for those with disposable income. We want to change that and show people that everyone needs to prioritise their wellbeing. It should be accessible to all and a daily practice to maintain, much like eating our five a day.
Who do you find tends to come along to the festival and could you share some lovely feedback about the positive change it has inspired?
The physical festival in 2019 was incredible with a really varied age range. We made sure we had content for everyone, at every stage of life, so our audience ranged from 5-65+. We had kids events, mums, parents, dads, teens, grandparents. It was fantastic.
The virtual events, we tend to see a slightly older audience but this time more broad. Opening our tickets up for free to front-line workers and the vulnerable, we have really been able to provide support to so many truly in need. Some of the applications we get and hearing about people’s personal circumstances truly bring tears to our eyes. People really need this support, so we’ve been thrilled to be able to open up our content to a wider audience.
We’ve had some incredible feedback:
“What an amazing contribution to the Cheltenham festival scene you have made, bouncing into 2019 and achieving what you did was really an outstanding achievement, well done”
Anna Garrod, Brand Director, The Coconut Tree
“As someone who has recently left a job and also battling depression, I found it great to have a positive reason to get up early and start the day in the right way. I think you all did such a fantastic job and I hope next year I can attend lots more events so many of them looked awesome!”
“Thank you girls – I enjoyed the festival last year and the virtual one this year. I had a few low days and this definitely gave me some tips to focus on more positives than negatives and start to feel better. It allowed me to feel ok about how I’ve been feeling on this ’coronacoaster’”
“Thank you so much for providing this support during a particularly difficult time. I was made aware of this event via a school colleague and after listening to 5 of today’s sessions and the huge sense of hope I feel as I result, I am so grateful to have been part of it”
What are the highlights of the festival this year that you’d like to tell us about?
We are really excited about this weekend’s festival. We have so many incredible speakers dedicating their time to this event – it’s sure to be an insightful weekend. One of our favourite speakers is Dr. Radha Modgil, she is such an inspiring voice in wellbeing and is part of a session with Kevin Duala talking about ‘Ordinary People, Turbulent Times’ – a great talk on how we can all take positives from the last few months, empower ourselves to manage our own wellbeing and move forwards positively.
I also can’t wait for Kirsty Hulse’s talk – she is an international motivational speaker and comedian who will be talking about how to ‘Thrive in a Post-Covid World’ – we’re all feeling a bit demotivated right now so this will be a great talk.
We’ve also had a sneaky peak at the sex and relationship chat with Tracey Cox, she is just brilliant and tells it like it is, so that will be a fun one. The ‘Wear and Tear in lockdown’ is a must-see as these are our local practitioners talking all about how working from home and working out at home is affecting us – it’s so important for long-term mobility so definitely watch this one.
I also can’t wait for all of the fitness sessions and mindfulness. Lottie and I will be doing them all as we manage it!
The festival has been impacted by the pandemic, as have most aspects of our daily lives, so how do you feel we can best use the online world to look after ourselves and each other?
It is such a difficult time for so many, particularly those in the events industry. Not being able to physically meet has definitely changed the face of events for now, and made people feel less connected. But virtual events can still be just as helpful and engaging, and offer a great community to engage with.
There’s so much information available in the online space and so many people, like us, have been offering their usual advice and services for free. It can be a bit overwhelming though as there is so much out there, but our advice is to find the style or voice that resonates with you and make sure you take at least an hour each day to absorb something helpful, or to engage with like-minded people so that you still feel connected regularly.
The Wellbeing Festival adds to a long list of festivals that Cheltenham is famed for! How do you feel that the Gloucestershire community generally is equipped for good communal wellbeing and to what extent to you find these arts and creative-based festivals add to that?
Gloucestershire, and Cheltenham in particular, is an incredible place with a vibrant culture. As residents, we benefit from lots of green spaces that have been a life-saver in lock-down times, and have really brought people together. We are lucky that it’s a small town so everything is accessible and we have a great balance of town business with the beautiful countryside making outdoor pursuits really accessible.
The festivals have also got a long history in the area and are incredible in what they do each year. They really do add to the culture and make it a place people want to live and work. It’s a vibrant place, and there is always something going on which is important for the town, as it allows us to attract people into the area and also helps to keep our town alive. It also means we are very well equipped when it comes to bringing the community together – people are much more open to events and new ideas, and that’s why we launched the wellbeing festival here first, to complement the existing programme, as it fitted so well with the existing schedule and what people in this area want. We also try and work with our fellow festivals to make sure we are complimenting one another too.
Finally, how has the process of putting the festival together – and then adapting it online – supported your own wellbeing? How did you find the process of getting it running as a digital event?
As with any start-up, it has been a labour of love. Lottie and I self-funded the festival in year one so it was always going to be a risk as we invested so heavily to get it off the ground. We learnt a huge amount and have some incredible ideas for the next live festival, but of course COVID has delayed things and with the events industry still so unknown it’s uncertain when we will make a full return. We are pretty resilient though and we know our content is needed so going virtual has given us a chance to mix things up a bit and look at new ways to develop the brand and make it all accessible.
Launching things virtually was a challenge mainly because in May we did is so quickly. We only gave ourselves three weeks to plan the whole festival. I am the planning and scheduler so curate the talks and content as well as designing the website and handling PR, but Lottie is the face, she’s way more confident than I am on screen so she did all of the presenting, and took the baton for learning the tech… it was an incredible, if a little speedy learning curve, but we managed it without too many hiccups. We must have got something right as a few other community groups and brands are asking us to plan events for their teams so it’s exciting to now start to explore new platforms to deliver future content.
We’ve also launched a digital community for Cheltenham and Gloucestershire, our wonderful ‘WellBook‘ – which is a local community of the very best health and wellbeing experts and practitioners in the county, offering resources, offering news, interviews and connecting people to the people they need to help them live life well all year round. We always had the intention to create this digital community so this has just been sped up to help support local businesses and people now.
EVENT LINKS & CODES
The Live Life Well Weekender 2.0 is on from the 11-13th September and is a not-for-profit event accessible to all with FREE tickets for all front-line and key workers, students, as well as those in need who are on low incomes or unemployed as a result of the pandemic.
A nominal fee of £12 per household for General Admission provides visitors with access to the whole three-days of content, of which all profits received will go charity to support the NHS CHARITIES NATIONAL COVID 19 APPEAL. All contributors are doing this event for FREE, so if you can afford to pay, please do contribute to the hard-working team behind this virtual event.
Register for your tickets today via the website www.livelifewell.uk or head straight to the box office Eventbrite. The Live Life Well Weekender content in May can also be accessed via our On-Demand services – click here for details and this festival will be accessible on-demand after the festival as well.