Normal? Festival Of The Brain

Normal? Festival Of The Brain has been an event in Folkestone’s calendar since 2015.  At the time the festival began the town was under a rapid period of growth. Over the years, the festival has brought neuroscientists, artists, writers, and many others to the town to talk about how the brain works.  This year the festival takes place on December 8th and 9th, in various locations around Folkestone.  One of the curators, Susanna Howard, talked through the plan for the weekend.

“For me, and the work that I do with Living Words, it’s about being non-judgemental.  I wanted to open up the routes of communication and exploring how this change is having an effect on our brains. What happens in our environment does have an impact on our brain.  So, we started a festival that focused on wellness and the brain.”

Community mind

“Every year it’s grown.  We’ve tried to theme the conversations; one year neuroplasticity was a big topic, other years have focused on sleep, death and so on.  There is a community that’s grown up around the festival and we keep in touch. It’s also worth noting that when we started in 2015, the term ‘mental health’ or ‘mental wellbeing’ wasn’t really mentioned.  That’s why we called the festival Normal? 

We feel, in 2023, that focus on community is all the more important and significant than its ever been.  Since Covid things have changed.  We might be more aware of our mental wellbeing and know what we need to do in order to keep us happy.  But it seems that people are becoming frantic in their efforts to do yoga, or run, or sea swim ‘for our mental wellbeing’ and ignore any signs and symptoms that might indicate issues that need addressing.”


“It seems also though that coming out of Covid we are recognising we need to be resilient.  Life is hard, and sometimes things don’t go our way.  Having spent quite some time cushioned inside it’s been easy to get used to not venturing out, not being adventurous and that has had its repercussions.  We thought the most important focus for Normal this year was to be present, be positive and take everyone as they come.  If you want to join us in your pyjamas and duvet then that’s all good! 

“This time of year can be really stressful, and this year there’s the added issues of the cost of living crisis and pressures to make everything jolly and lasting wonderful memories.  Let’s just have a cosy acknowledgement of the resilience in all of us, and hunker down, let go of the weight of those pressures on us.  Normal this year is going against the noise and speed that December brings, so each event there will be hot chocolate, cushions, blankets and the chance to stop and reset.”

Anil Sebastian
Disco Neurotico Folkestone
Arthur Miller
Wormhole in our Formation Normal

a series of fortunate events

Inspired by the Lemony Snicket novels, we’ve turned the title around and called it A Series of Fortunate Events (instead of Unfortunate!).   The main partners of the festival are Living Words and Screen South.  We’ve also teamed up with other groups in Folkestone for the festival.  The first event on Friday 8th December from 3pm to 5pm is with a group of neurodiverse gamers. You can bring an object, or create a 3D one that afternoon which will appear in a video game these guys are creating. This is happening at Glassworks, Mill  Bay. 

Our events hub is at the Brewery Tap on Tontine Street. Here there’s a VR View made by Cath Hoffman who’s a prolific local artist.   You can watch it all, or just a bit of it, or find a cosy place to sit and get warm.  Then there’s a short performance about the resilience Cath has had to show this year.  She’s a theatre performer and in one show the lighting rig fell on her.  She’s had to pick herself up from that and other personal tragedies so we’ll be talking about that with her too.”

letting go

Events in our lives can take over and become overwhelming, or something that we can’t stop thinking and talking about.  On Saturday you can visit the ‘Letting Go Lair’ at 62 Tontine Street.  There’s a bit of writing involved and this session goes on all day.  Its free, but please book so we know to expect you.  You can record some of your words; Tom from Screen South is helping with this.  He can film you or just do an audio recording, or you can leave your words on the page to be read.

“In The Folkestone Bookshop you can join our conversation about the ADHD and Autism Acceleration.  There has been a huge acceleration in diagnosies of these neurodevelopmental disorders.  We’ve got two people who’ve been diagnosed in the last couple of years, and last few months, and we’re going to be talking about how they’ve managed the mental health services offered to them.  We also have a representative from the NHS to help explain what’s on offer.  The Bookshop also has a lot of books that can help too, so that helps build the resilience around these diagnosies.”

Arthur I Miller

We’ve always been fortunate to attract great minds to Folkestone to help with our discussions and this year we have Emeritus Professor Arthur I Miller from UCL.  He’ll be talking at The Machine Merger session and signing his book afterwards.  He’s talking about AI and creativity and its creative potential as a creator.  We’ll be covering AI in healthcare and in music and the arts too.  

“Throughout the weekend there are opportunities to talk, write and listen to all of these speakers and conversations.  For some Covid seems a long time ago, and others it feels like just yesterday.  What’s clear is the reported increase in child and adult mental health issues and the toll that’s taking on the services we have on offer. Can a solution be found, even if just by talking to a few people?  It’s clear voices need to be heard.”

cosy cabaret

“There will also be the opportunity to eat wonderful food from the Vegan Habit, and join in with our cosy cabaret.  This is hosted by Angus Chai, Cath Hoffman’s drag alter ego.  We’ve also go a first with Disco Neurotica.  This is going to be at the Southbank next year but we’re giving it a go here first.  In F51, on Saturday evening, you’ll be able to experience three local neurodiverse DJs, and another three from out of town.  They will be playing in different spaces around the ground floor of F51.  There will also be stewards and mental health support there too.”

To see the full programme visit the Normal website, and book in!

discover more about folkestone below

Susanna Howard – Living Words Folkestone
Urban Rooms Folkestone – A Place To Discuss The Future Of Our Town
Banksy’s Art Buff – The Folkestone Plinth
The Warren – One of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth

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