Looking back: Spotlight on Citizen Events

If back in the summer you didn't get the chance to see all three of our Citizen events, you can catch up with them online now. Themes discussed include community, responding to Covid-19 and our changing digital horizons, as well as a celebration of the creative work produced by our Citizen collaborators.


First up, it’s Power to the People with Jo Hunter and John Loughton.

When Jo Hunter established 64 Million Artists, an organisation that aims to encourage everybody in the UK to discover their creativity, little did she know that in 2020 she would have to dramatically change the way they reached people. The ‘Covid-19 pivot’ has been performed by thousands of third-sector organisations, as they race to get back to serving their communities in such unforeseen circumstances.

In the case of John Loughton, his organisation Scran Academy flipped from training young people in catering skills to becoming a crisis-response catering company, providing more than 100,000 free meals to people across Edinburgh.

Hunter and Loughton join the Book Festival’s Communities Programme Director, Noëlle Cobden, to discuss how they made the necessary changes to support and serve their communities during the pandemic and what ‘community’ means in the context of the Coronavirus crisis.

Trigger warning: this event contains reference to attempted suicide.

Our second event was Healing the Digital Divide with Ian MacRitchie and Rich Thanki.

2020 has seen a huge surge in online content. From festivals to healthcare, and from galleries to schools, the internet is providing services, resources and networks to connect us to each other, from the safety of our self-isolation bubbles. But with 41% of the world’s population without access or tools to get online, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed a cavernous digital divide.

Rich Thanki, Co-Founder of Jangala, the organisation that delivered WIFI to the refugees in the ‘Calais Jungle,’ joins Iain MacRitchie, CEO of MCR Pathways - who provided 300 laptops for digitally excluded young people across Scotland - to consider what can and must be done to remedy the digital divide.

They discuss their ideas with poet Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Co-Founder and Development Director of Open Book, an organisation that seeks to connect communities through a shared love of reading.

Finally, Stories & Scran was a unique Citizen event that provided an opportunity for our audiences to break bread together, even though we were unable to gather in person in Charlotte Square.  Scran Academy, a North Edinburgh-based catering social enterprise which teaches catering skills to young people, delivered 60 free, delicious meals to participants across the city, while others cooked along with recipe cards from home. Over 300 people tuned in to watch the event live, from as far afield as Switzerland and the USA.

While enjoying our tasty meal, we celebrated the excellent, insightful work our Citizen collaborators have created with Leyla Josephine and Eleanor Thom, our Writers in Residence. There was a large array of contributions, including poetry, song, self-portraits, and reflections about what it means to be a citizen in the world today. We heard from people who had been shielding over lockdown, including The Warblers, a choir for those who suffer from chronic lung illnesses, and People First Scotland’s Musselburgh group, a user-led organisation for adults with learning disabilities. Over the course of the event, participants contributed their ideas about citizenship to a poem, which is now available to read here.

We are so grateful to everyone who contributed work, our community partners who made our local connections possible, and everyone who tuned in to experience this platform for local creativity.

We hope that you enjoy this summary of our Citizen events from August 2020. We remain committed to amplifying local voices, making partnerships with cultural and social organisations in Edinburgh, Musselburgh and beyond, and our work continues throughout the year.

Citizen is our long-term creative programme working in partnership with organisations across Edinburgh and Musselburgh, offering local people a platform to explore identity, connection and place. The project is part of Edinburgh International Book Festival On The Road, and is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and through the PLACE Programme (funded by the Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council, and the Edinburgh Festivals, and supported and administered by Creative Scotland).

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