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WOW: Women of the World

This project is now complete

A project with the Southbank Centre to support communities in five UK Cities to develop their own Women of the World festivals.

The project in numbers


Project spend

Jan 16 – Mar 19 and Jul 19 – Apr 20

Project duration

WOW Spirit

  • Project spend: £722,708

WOW festivals celebrate women and girls, bringing people together to discuss the obstacles stopping them from achieving their potential. Our WOW Spirit festivals aimed to build on the success of the Southbank and international festivals, by bringing the event to five cities across the UK. WOW Spirit was part of £2m of funding we invested in projects to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage.

The first regional WOW Festival was held in Bradford in 2016, with a further eight festivals held in Exeter, Perth, Norwich, Cardiff and Bradford (again!) between 2016-18. The evaluation was published in spring 2019.

Across the three years, the project trained 107 women in cultural leadership, and supported 68 young women and girls to volunteer as ‘WOWsers’, shaping the festivals themselves. 650 people took part as facilitators, artists and speakers, and more than 9,000 people attended the events.

The festivals had a strong focus on diversity, and audience and speaker data suggested the project had been more successful than average Southbank events at attracting disabled people to attend – 16% of the audience identified as disabled, compared to 6% of the audience at the London WOW.  Partly this was due to conscious programming, including the fact that 21% of speakers and facilitators identified as disabled. WOW Spirit also had protected access budgets in place.

WOW: What Now?

  • Project spend: £20,000

In 2019, Women of the World set up as an independent organisation (The Wow Foundation), separate from the Southbank Centre, its home since the inaugural WOW in 2010.  Southbank Centre continues to host the London WOW.

Spirit supported the WOW Foundation to fund WOW: What Now?  The project funded:

  • the development of a theory of change to explore the ways in which its programme has turned the ‘moments’ of its festival events into a movement for change.
  • a series of ‘Think-Ins’ across the UK – roundtable discussions with women in cities hoping to host a WOW festival in order to develop plans for the future.

Alongside the project, WOW staff contributed to  ‘From Moment to Movement’, a piece of action-research designed to identify the factors that helps events lead to longer lasting change, alongside Springboard and the Jo Cox Foundation.

Project outcomes

  1. The festivals supported the growth of the WOW movement, and ultimately the development of the WOW Foundation.
  2.  The wellbeing of adult volunteers and the WOWsers (young volunteers) improved over the course of their participation in the programme.
  3. There is good qualitative evidence that the activities inspired participants and volunteers to get involved in more campaigning and community work, or in festivals and events more generally.
  4.  The organisations that hosted a WOW festival were able to open up their venue to new audiences. “The demographic that attended the festival are not the usual faces that you would see within the venue – in this way I believe the festival offered a community space for people who would not usually inhabit the same space and gave the theatre a different kind of narrative outside of its use as a traditional theatre venue” (Louise, Perth Programmer)
  5. Several activities that started at the festival continued once the funding had finished. In Bradford, the young volunteers developed Speakers Corner, a “political, creative collective of women and girls who bring people together to create positive action” which is still going strong at the time of writing (2023!)



Visit WOW Foundation’s website

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