“‘Shhh, it’s a library’ is so yester-year,” Punam Ramchurn, director of the Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival, tells Northern Soul. “We have music gigs, computer classes, children’s sing-a-longs.”

Now in its third year, this Northern festival has stayed true to its ideals and still holds many of its events at libraries in and around Rochdale. It is loud and and proud about how our libraries have evolved from a sea of silent faces buried in books to rooms of vibrant arts lovers, all with a thirst for knowledge.

Ramchurn is still buzzing from the success of last year. “We had over 5,000 visitors and it really put Rochdale on the map, not just with the books and reading but with the music, arts and philosophy. It’s incredible how culture brings people together.”

There are more than 30 shows this year and the line-up is a credit to Ramchurn and her team who have worked hard over the past 12 months to cherry-pick the very best of local and international talent. Taking place this weekend, the festival includes readings from Carol Ann Duffy, Lemn Sissay, Bonnie Greer, Jonathan Harvey and Dom Joly as well as workshops in the ‘Expand your Mind’ section from local award-winning playwright Ian Townsend and fabulous theatre events directed by Joyce Branagh.

But essentially this is a celebration of books – those leafy forests we forage in for knowledge and imagination. Why does Ramchurn think that so many people want to visit the festival and share their love of such a solitary pursuit?

Punam Ramchurn“Well, libraries are such wonderful warm places. We also have an amazing range of books here, from bestsellers to crazy manga comics.” But this can all be found at home at the swipe of a finger, can’t it? ‘”The one thing I love about the library is being part of a collective of people enjoying the same thing, there are always writing groups, local community groups and book clubs. What I love is being part of a book club at a library and seeing if what I think anyone else thinks.”

Ramchurn is excited about the programme, particularly the new children’s show Pirate Adventures.

“We have a giant boat coming into town and we have more than six pirate events which are free for children and families. It’s going to be absolutely buzzing in the town centre. I’ve actually been in to shops this morning checking they have their literary pirate in their window for children to do their treasure hunt…it’s a long story.”

Rochdale is a town rich in a diversivty, both in terms of culture and heritage. The festival carries on the library tradition of welcoming and appealing to all facets of society in the appreciation of art and knowledge.

“We try to reflect the diverse mix of people in Rochdale, whether it’s David Starkey’s middle England approach or Pete Chand’s traditional Punjabi tales. We like to mix it up and create a noise. We’re really interested in participation and have organised several writing projects around flash fiction, playwriting and a music project around our finale event.”

There is definitely something for everyone and it’s wonderful to see libraries and literature celebrated locally. As the writer Anne Herbert says: “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”

By Cathy Crabb


The Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival on from October 23-25, 2015

Many of the events are free or under £5. Tickets are available each of the festival at the box office at Number One Riverside, at Touchstones Arts and Heritage Centre or online at http://rochdaleliteraturefestival.co.uk/