Encounter Festival

An ambitious, high-quality creative festival for the whole of Lancashire that builds on the regions great tradition of making and taking part. Bringing together artists, arts organisations and communities from across Lancashire, the Encounter will be a true Lancastrian celebration.

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Encounter Festival is a headline event in Preston’s cultural calendar bringing the finest outdoor arts and music to the city centre alongside our key commissions and iconic torchlight procession. 

2023 will see 60,000 people visit Lancashire’s central city as audiences, participants and artists.  

Lancashire Encounter 2021

Why we joined Without Walls

Encounter Festival has been a member of the Without Walls TNP since 2016. The access to quality programming, programme subsidy, training, resources, and additional grant funding has been invaluable to the festival, enhancing the artistic programme and the festival’s reputation.  

Aside from all this it is the network of experienced arts and festival programmers that we are given access to through the partnership that is the key benefit. This has been a catalyst to our understanding of the festival programme we provide as part of a national picture of Outdoor arts and where we can improve our provision in Preston.   

Encounter Festival's logo is a burst of bright pink and purple powder paint with the words 'Encounter Festival' in a negative white space in the middle.

Impact on Local Communities

Encounter is one of the only high-profile, large-scale events in the city which offers free, on the street, activity accessible by people on low incomes or who don’t engage with arts and culture elsewhere.

Their central torchlight procession has increased in size and engagement, bringing in numerous community groups who participate in arts and culture throughout the year, eg. Preston City Mela, Preston Caribbean Carnival, Jazz Swing Dance, Bay Beat Street Band and many other regular art groups. In 2022 Encounter began to expand this more widely to cultural groups who don’t usually engage in the arts but who were excited to join them, such as Preston Tae Kwando Club and Girl Guide groups. By providing artistic support they can engage these groups in an exciting and beautiful procession.

The Encounter Voices programme has been supported by Without Walls Audience Development funding, and in 2022 Encounter Voices Choir MD, Loz Kaye, in partnership with Arts Lancashire, surveyed grassroots singing groups in every Lancashire local authority area to assess the impact of covid on this key community cultural activity resulting in the Holding Our Breath report published in Dec 2022. The report offered key recommendations including designating Lancashire as a “County of Song”. Partnering with Lancashire County Council and their Lancashire Choir of the Year competition Encounter will champion this in 2023 and Encounter Voices will bring together momentum to this key profile-raising activity.

Encounter Festival have been invited to rejoin the new Without Walls Touring Network Partnership cohort for 2023-26. Through this partnership, they support a strong platform for new, diverse outdoor theatre which includes Preston as part of national touring programmes and gives us access to a menu of high-quality new work. This network provides access to a range of training opportunities and a network of fellow festivals delivering in similar settings and to similar communities nationally. Diversity across the programme continues to be a high priority, ensuring the programme authentically represents Preston’s diverse population.

At its heart, Encounter brings the city to life offering audiences a range of great quality performances alongside opportunities to participate. The majority of these events are free and are in central, open, accessible locations. The festival showcases Preston as a cultural city, a city where arts and culture are a normal part of everyday life. It offers an opportunity for residents and communities to gather in the centre and to engage economically with businesses and hospitality.


Encounter Festival's Team

Encounter Festival has recently appointed a new Executive Producer, Esther Ferry-Kennington, to take the lead on programming and organisational development for the festival.


What's On at Encounter Festival

Sept 15-17th 2023 will be their 7th Festival featuring over 50 events throughout central Preston. Through deep knowledge of place and community, they will engage the many participatory groups who create cultural activity in Preston and the North West all year round and platform these alongside nationally renowned Without Walls shows and other outdoor arts professionals.  


Encounter Festival’s event will be steeped in English tradition but will herald the make-up of England today and the broad, complex histories of these traditions including those of the many diaspora communities for whom England is, and always has been, home. 


They will work with legends such as the Liverpool Lantern Company to ensure our Torchlight Procession is an iconic event which will bring much-needed economic activity to the city centre.  


Audiences at Encounter Festival

Encounter Festival engages audiences through participatory activity throughout the year such as parade workshops and choir rehearsals. We are consistently seeking new audiences for all of our events and the entire festival is presently free to ensure access for all the county’s communities. In 2021 we will begin to develop earned income through new, ticketed events, but these will be programmed to sit comfortably alongside the present programming.

Through partnerships with organisations throughout Lancashire such as Preston Caribbean Carnival and Preston City Mela, we will continue to prioritise diverse artists, participants and audiences over the coming years to ensure our festival is relevant and exciting.