Posted on 01 March 2023

Women and non-binary people are invited to play an integral part in the first WOW - Women of the World Festival to take place in Leeds during the city’s Year of Culture.

‘The WOW Barn’ will be a new temporary event space on Cinder Moor in Woodhouse, Leeds and the project team are on the lookout for women and non-binary people from across West Yorkshire to help literally raise the roof – building the structure from the ground up in a true city spectacle over 24 hours.

One of 12 signature projects for LEEDS 2023, The WOW Barn is a partnership between LEEDS 2023 and WOW, Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority [WYCA], created to break down the barriers that remain to women and girls when contemplating a career in construction at every level.

The 2021 Office for National Statistics census showed that only 1% of skilled trades are filled by women, up just 0.7% in 10 years. However, when asked, 23% of women and girls want to get involved in the construction industry.

The search is now on to recruit 300 Barn Raisers – including professionals in construction, architecture, engineering, building and STEAM, as well as novices and DIY enthusiasts – to create this fun, safe and positive project.

Full training will be given at Bootcamps at Leeds College of Building during March and April, culminating in a 24-hour ‘Barn Raising’ on 30 April. Once The WOW Barn has been built, 300 people of all genders from across West Yorkshire are invited to become Dream Builders, each creating a bespoke wooden tile, conceptualised by Artist Emma Hardaker, that will be used to decorate the exterior of the structure.

Over the following month, The WOW Barn will be a venue for events and activities including the first WOW Festival in Leeds on 13 May and a programme of evening events (8-21 May), both in and around the Barn. The full line-up will be announced soon.

Jude Kelly CBE, Founder and CEO of The WOW Foundation, said:

“WOW provides a time and place where people can come together, to celebrate and make moves towards gender equality. I’m excited to see how The WOW Barn will manifest that this spring – a place built by and for the people of West Yorkshire. It’s perfect that this year we can bring WOW to Leeds for the first time – a city where I have spent a significant part of my career – at a time when the whole city is coming together to celebrate culture in its many forms.”

Kully Thiarai, LEEDS 2023’s Creative Director and CEO, said:

“It is incredibly important that LEEDS 2023 is for everyone, that every person in the city can feel part of it and get involved if they want to. The WOW Barn will be a safe and creative space made for, by, and with women, girls and non-binary people and it will host a world class, inspirational series of events that will be open to anyone at all. I feel incredibly privileged that we are delivering this project in partnership with WOW and that 2023 will see their internationally recognised festival come to the city for the first, but hopefully not last, time.”

Leeds is a city with a rich history of activism and this powerful collective action is inspired by the dream of an equitable world; a world in which all women, girls and non-binary people feel like they have the space, time, support and permission to be, do and achieve whatever they wish.

The WOW Barn will serve as a catalyst to new levels of activism around gender justice, bringing together everyone of all genders who are already engaged through their own organisations and activities, plus people who have a hunch that they would like to get involved.

The WOW Barn Festival Day will convene an intense day of WOW Big Ideas, making, networking, skill building and large joyful ‘rallies’ highlighting key themes and sourcing new suggestions and initiatives for change making in the region. Activists, artists, community leaders, musicians, young people and members of the audience will present their Big Ideas for change. There’ll be local, national and international participation from women, men and non-binary people both on stage and in the audience, and the event will be MC’d by Jude Kelly, WOW’s Founder and CEO.

Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin said:

“There are significantly less women and girls working in skilled construction roles, and this initiative aims to break down the barriers. Bringing the professionals and amazing artists together with our volunteers will no doubt provide inspiration, boost skills, and open new doors.

“We’re going to build a spectacular barn that will raise the roof for our cultural celebrations, proving once and for all that construction can be an industry for everyone, no matter what.”

Women and non-binary people interested in taking part in building The WOW Barn should register their interest here.

The WOW Barn is supported by West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Council and delivered in partnership with Civic Engineers and Leeds College of Building. Original concept commissioned by UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK with funding from the UK Government.

The WOW Barn timeline:

  • February/ March: Barn Raiser recruitment
  • Dream Builders Workshops: March - April
  • 2, 18, 30 March & 6, 15, 20 April: Bootcamp training
  • 30 April: The Raising of the Barn over 24 hours
  • 1 May: Topping out ceremony to complete the Raising of the Barn
  • 2-7 May: The WOW Barn interior fit out, Dream Builders exterior installation
  • 8 – 21 May: Evening events in The WOW Barn as a Pop Up venue
  • 9 - 12 May: Schools Days - Schools Takeover the Barn!
  • 13 May: The WOW Barn Festival - A celebration, filled with talks, workshops, food, WOW Big Ideas, performances and more.