Public chooses region’s top 2021 festivals as industry gears up for busy year

Dee Fisher and Jos Flynn in steampunk costumes at the Primadonna Festival

EAFN Festivals of the Year for 2021 included the Primadonna festival in Stowmarket, Deepdale in north Norfolk and Harwich's shanty festival - Credit: Denise Bradley

Local communities and economies were the “real winners” at the live events which did manage to go ahead across East Anglia in 2021 in spite of the pandemic, said a festival body as it announced its Festivals of the Year.

County winners of the East Anglian Festival Network (EAFN) awards were Deepdale Festival in Norfolk, Primadonna Festival in Suffolk, Harwich International Shanty Festival in Essex and Buckfest in Cambridgeshire.

Thousands of the region’s festival-goers voted for their favourites from more than 400 East Anglian festivals which went ahead in 2021 within a much tighter timeframe because of restrictions. 

In pre-pandemic 2019, there more than 700 events were recorded, suggesting the region has some way to go this year to get back to its pre-crisis level.

Overall,  EAFN estimates the festival industry to be worth £2bn to the local economy and more than £20m to charities and local causes, suggesting the impact of its fuller return this year will be considerable.

Some events last year had to operate with reduced numbers and sometimes at a loss, said EAFN. But enthusiasm for them has not been dimmed and EAFN is predicting a “huge year” for the region’s festivals, with some already selling out.

Norfolk’s winner in the public vote, Deepdale Festival, is an award-winning eco-friendly event at Deepdale Farm/Backpackers and Camping at Burnham Deepdale on the North Norfolk Coast in September. The 1,000-strong festival was described as “small yet perfectly formed” with an “excellent” line-up of performers.  In normal years organisers also run many other events including their Christmas Market that raises thousands of pounds for charity. The date for the 2022 event has yet to be confirmed. The county’s runners-up were the Folk in a Field Festival in King’s Lynn and PrimEVIL at Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure in Lenwade.

The three-day Primadonna literary festival at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket is due to return in July 2022. The event, which celebrates “brilliant writing, music and ideas”, is described as “the first literary festival to give prominence to work by women, as well as writers of all genders, economic status and ethnicities whose voices are not usually heard”.
Suffolk runners-up were the Festival of Wheels at Trinity Park, Ipswich, and Wamfest in Felixstowe.

Harwich International Shanty Festival attracts 6000 visitors from around the world and has been going since 2006, raising around £150k annually for the local economy. This year’s event in from October 7 to 9. Essex runners-up were Motorfest in Chelmsford and Southend Jazz Festival.

Most Read

The Cambridgeshire festival runners-up were the Ely Folk Festival and Ramsey Steam and Fire Show.

Mike Wilson, founder of regional industry body EAFN and of Gigs Out, said: “Thank you to the thousands of people that voted and congratulations to all the festivals involved. Our community, charities and local economy are the real winners as our amazing fun, fulfilling and fruitful festivals contribute so much to our region every year.” 

The awards will be presented at regional EAFN meet ups planned for the spring.