Settle Stories’ Festival of Happiness


The Emergency Poet

The first time I spoke to Sita Brand, the driving force behind Settle Stories, she told me that the event was in the business of changing the world through the medium of the story. A modest enough ambition, perhaps! Though the organisation continues to evolve, this pragmatic but far-reaching aim continues to be the focus.

Their latest festival is the one-day Festival of Happiness, which will be held at venues throughout Settle on Saturday 27 May. Sita tells me: “We have extended and moved on. It’s not just about story, but it’s about the things that we can do to change our lives, for the better. There’s still plenty of story within it, and I’m still very passionate about the power of story, but I think that in the current climate it’s really important to do things together and to celebrate what we have and do so using cultural opportunities that have story as a part of them.”

There are a number of highlights in the programme. Sita picks out the show The Rapper and the Griot, with Usifu Jalloh and Alim Kamara. “They’re both really strong and established African artists,” she says, “both from Sierra Leone. What’s interesting is that Alim is a rapper and he’s very contemporary in his storytelling style, and Usifu is a traditional African storyteller. To have a show that brings the two together is truly brilliant. I’m very excited.”


Usifu Jalloh

A second highlight that she picks out is Danish comedian Sofie Hagen. In keeping with the Festival’s emphasis on happiness and the mental health issues that underlie happiness, Hagen promotes her act as “anxiety safe”. Hagen herself suffers from anxiety, and therefore wants to make her shows as amenable as possible to fellow sufferers. Sita tells me: “I think it’s fantastic to have a comedian like her coming to the festival, because it shows no matter who you are or what challenges you face, you can still do things that make yourself and other people happy, and the arts is the way to do that. She’ll actually interact with you, which is pretty rare.”

Other highlights include the Emergency Poet, who comes with ambulance and will prescribe you a poem. There is also the Feast of Happiness. Based on the ideas of Oxford professor Theodore Zeldin, the Feast is an extension of the concept of ‘conversation lunches’. “The idea behind them,” explains Sita, is to get people talking to each other. We have, in some ways, lost the art of conversation, and even more so in a digital age. When you have your lunch, you’ll also choose a conversation menu.”

These are the day’s big ticket highlights, but as ever with Settle Stories, the wider community and small local groups are also involved. These include the premiere of a film resulting from work with people from different special needs backgrounds. “Last year,” Sita explains, “we did a wonderful film working with adults with learning disabilities. This year, we’ve been working with several groups of people in recovery, as well as the local community. We made short animations. The last time, the gala night went incredibly well, and lots of people said it was the best thing locally that they had seen. I’m hoping that this is going to be yet another wonderful celebration of local talent.”


Sofie Hagen

“When you’re in a small community and you’re limited by the group around you, with the amount of promotion we’ve had, it means that maybe people further afield might come and engage with different groups and different offers that are available in the area.”

Whatever the profile of the event within the weekend, the emphasis is firmly on happiness. Sita tells me: “In the current climate, we have to build our internal resilience and joy. One way of doing that is getting out and about and doing things with our neighbours and friends, enjoying the company of strangers and having a laugh. If there are a few people who feel that they’ve had a happier day than they might have done, and that they’ve smiled and laughed a bit more, as far as I’m concerned, job done!”

“Of course, we all want to change the world, and to have an influence to do so, but the first important thing is ourselves and the local community around us. If we can do things that make the community around us a little bit happier, then that can spread and there’s a ripple effect. I’m hoping that people who might not go to an arts event might be interested in coming to this, because it’s very accessible. I know there are lots of people who have received the programme who have gone, ‘I’ve ticked the things I’m going to do. I’ve worked out my day.’ That’s fantastic, isn’t it?”

The Festival of Happiness takes place at venues throughout Settle on Saturday 27 May. Details can be found at here.

Filed under: Written & Spoken Word