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York Festival of Ideas turns spotlight on the ‘three Rs’

Posted on 17 April 2023

York Festival of ideas - one of the biggest free events of its kind in the UK - returns in June with the theme of ‘Rediscover, Reimagine, Rebuild’ and featuring a wide range of distinguished speakers and performers including Michael Morpurgo, Anna Phoebe, Louise Minchin, Tim McInnerny, Nazir Afzal, Ian Blackford and Michael Cashman.

Running from 2-15 June, the 2023 Festival aims to help us rediscover our shared humanity, reimagine the cornerstones of our society and rebuild a shared socio-economic contract, both locally and globally. 

Building on last year’s Festival, which attracted an audience of almost 40,000 from 153 countries, the 2023 Festival presents an imaginative and accessible hybrid programme featuring more than 150 talks, panel discussions, performances, family-friendly activities, and more. Audiences have welcomed the mixed format approach of in-person and online events the Festival developed in response to the challenges posed by Covid-19 restrictions, making it more inclusive and increasing its international reach.

60th anniversary

In its 12-year history, the Festival has established cultural links across Europe, Asia, North America and Australia, and the 2023 Festival will present a compelling, innovative and eclectic programme featuring speakers and performers from across the globe.

This year’s Festival coincides with the 60th anniversary of the University of York, an institution founded with a robust social purpose and which was pivotal in the Festival’s own genesis more than a decade ago. The University leads the Festival and both share an unwavering commitment to the public good.

With the Holbeck Charitable Trust as headline sponsor, the Festival is supported by over 100 local, national and international partners including cultural, social and business organisations, all of whom are passionate about the importance of sharing knowledge and ideas.


The Festival celebrates human ingenuity and imagination, and the power of education and ideas to influence lives positively. Its varied programme includes events featuring distinguished contributors such as former BBC presenter and Team GB triathlete Louise Minchin, acclaimed author Michael Morpurgo, GRAMMY-nominated countertenor Reginald Mobley, campaigner and politician Michael Cashman, solicitor and former Chief Prosecutor Nazir Afzal, former leader of the SNP in the House of Commons Ian Blackford and author, historian and broadcaster Tracy Borman.

This year’s programme ranges from the local to the global, featuring online talks and discussions by world-class speakers, as well as performances, walking tours and fun activities for all the family. A fitting coda to the programme is the partnership with Big Tent Ideas Festival, the cross-party platform for constructive debate and civil disagreement, which comes to York for the first time on Saturday 17 June in Dean’s Park - find out more at

Louise Minchin will draw on her own experiences as a TV presenter and Team GB triathlete to focus on women doing extraordinary things in sport, exercise and the great outdoors. Ian Blackford will be in conversation with award-winning broadcaster and journalist, Gavin Esler. 

War Horse

In a unique concert adaptation at York Theatre Royal, Michael Morpurgo will retell an abridged version of his bestselling novel War Horse, accompanied by Ben Murray, with music and songs from the National Theatre production.

Actor Tim McInnerny will narrate the Festival Finale Elégie – a celebration of the life and work of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. Elégie will also feature its creator, pianist Lucy Parham. Violinist Anna Phoebe will perform her most recent album ‘Sea Souls’ at the National Centre for Early Music, a long-standing Festival partner.

Festival focus events will explore community-led solutions to poverty, the potential for imaginative regeneration for the city of York, the relationships between Africa and Europe, the challenges within our criminal justice system, and more.z

Community Challenge

There will also be a host of events related to environmental sustainability and biodiversity. For example, audiences will be able to see urban river restoration in action as part of the York Cares Big Community Challenge, and enjoy a talk and related hands-on activities on biodiversity, based on work that was funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Centre - the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity at the University of York.

Joan Concannon, Director of York Festival of Ideas, said: “We are thrilled to announce our programme for the 2023 Festival, which is exciting, timely, thought-provoking and fun. The Festival’s pioneering spirit, inspired by the University of York’s positioning as a university for public good, remains focused on our founding ethos to educate, entertain and inspire audiences of all ages. 

“In doing so, we recognise that we live in tumultuous times. The Festival will invite audiences to rediscover, reimagine and rebuild our world and the way it is governed, as well as our lives and relationships, to create a more stable future in which people and their communities can both survive and thrive.

“I am again profoundly grateful for the outstanding support of all our sponsors, without whom we would be unable to deliver so many events free to our audiences. York’s great tradition as a city of ideas, innovation and inspiration has helped us to attract an impressive range of eminent experts. Our wonderfully engaged and enthusiastic audiences have a treat in store.”


York Festival of Ideas is delivered in partnership with over 100 organisations, including the French Embassy in the UK, Maastricht University in the Netherlands, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Aviva, City College - University of York Europe Campus, York Cares and York Theatre Royal.

Look out for the 2023 programme going live on 28 April at and join our mailing list to be the first to see the full programme. 

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