Look out for ‘kindness ninjas’ roaming the streets of Exeter next week as part of a new festival that aims to create cities of compassion and playfulness.
The Kinder Exeter festival is a week-long event from 14 June that aims to give local residents a playful experience to reimagine what a city of kindness, compassion and wellbeing could be like, and a glimpse into how things could be different for everyone – especially those who are most often excluded.
Co-organised by University of Exeter education incubator The Playful University and local arts organisation Maketank, the free festival consists of creative activities and online talks from the likes of wellbeing consultant Dr Vikki Barnes, playfulness guru Roy Leighton, the Seattle-based educationalist Andy Smallman, author Ted DesMaisons, leadership consultant Justin Featherstone and Dr Bryan Brown, a contemporary performance expert and Senior Lecturer in Drama at Exeter.
Then at the weekend the festival will take to the green spaces of Exeter for fun, games and music, with playful yoga in the park, origami, quizzes, a scavenger hunt – and ‘kindness ninjas’ spreading the word of kindness and compassion.
“The people of Exeter have been through a terrible traumatising experience in the last year,” said Olya Petrakova, a lecturer in MA Creativity: Innovation and Business Strategy at the University of Exeter and founder of Maketank.
“There is a need for a greater sense of care and support. We aim to show that the city centre is not just about shopping: it’s about human beings sharing public spaces, smiling and laughing, spreading small acts of kindness.”
The project started as part of the Communities and Students Together programme (European Union ERASMUS+), developed by University of Exeter students working with community-led organisations and local residents.
Then through partnership with the community-focused performance arts organisation Maketank it grew into the Kinder Exeter festival, twinning with Kinder Leeds.
The festival organisers hope it will grow into an annual festival for the city and have enlisted the help of 25 students from the College of Humanities at the University of Exeter.
Co-organiser Dr Maarten Koeners, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We have taken up the challenge to create through play, the awareness, skill and freedom to allow us to be compassionate – be that for ourselves, for others, an organisation or a community.
“Most of us can only be at our best, creative, generous, courageous, and productive selves when we find ourselves in a supportive environment where we feel we belong.
“We believe that with play we can create experiences where we all feel connected, energised, and regenerated. Through play, we can connect with others in a meaningful way to help us enjoy better mental and physical health and speed up the recovery from pandemic-induced trauma.”
The festival is free to attend but is ticketed and in person-events limited to smaller groups, in line with COVID-19 guidelines.
Sarah Campbell, Associate Director for Arts and Culture and the University of Exeter said: "We are so thrilled to see such fantastic University of Exeter projects – the Playful University Club and Education Incubator – bringing their playful and compassionate approach to this exciting festival.
“After such a tough 18 months we all need as much kindness as we can get, and this is a wonderful opportunity for the city to come together. The Arts and Culture University of Exeter team is really looking forward to taking part and wishes the organisers all the best.
Dom Jinks, Director of Exeter Culture, the city’s cultural development agency, also endorsed the festival, saying: “Cultural projects that illustrate generosity, connection, kindness and animate public spaces are some of very ingredients that the general public have been deprived of. Kinder Exeter is therefore welcomed as a much needed tonic to counteract the turbulent, complex and isolating last 18 months.”
Register for the events and find out more: https://www.kinderexeter.org