Exclusive: Bedford River Festival to be replaced with annual family festival

Image: Bedford Borough Council

The Bedford Independent has learned of plans to replace the Bedford River Festival with an annual summer ‘family festival’ that organisers say will “celebrate the rich tapestry of cultures, businesses, organizations, and groups that make Bedford Borough truly exceptional”.

Bedford Borough Council say the new festival will be a “spectacular celebration of local culture and community” designed to “reignite the spirit of community”

The Bedford River Festival has been an important part of the fabric of Bedford for 45 years.

Founded in 1978, to celebrate the completion of a navigable route by water, between Bedford and The Wash, it was originally an annual event held on the late May bank holiday before becoming a biennial festival in July.

It’s said to have been the second largest free outdoor event in the United Kingdom, after the Notting Hill Carnival, attracting up to 300,000 people over the weekend.

While the festivities centred along Bedford’s Embankment, recent years included live music and events on St Mary’s Garden, Riverside North, the High Street and the town centre.

A street carnival and parade were also a regular fixture of the event for many years but were scaled back and gradually replaced with other events.

In 2022, for the first time in the River Festival’s history, Bedford High Street was closed for the whole weekend, with live music on the town bridge and a Festival of Motoring, which saw hundreds of vehicles on display along the high street.

Read: Bedford River Festival 2022 in pictures

“We want to bring together families across the Borough and provide them with a start to their summer holidays they will cherish forever,” said elected Mayor Tom Wootton (Conservative).

“Whether you’re a resident or visitor to the Bedford Borough, we invite you to mark your calendars and join us for an unforgettable weekend that celebrates the essence of our community,” he added.

“Fun and excitement”

The Bedford Borough Family Festival will take place over the weekend of 20-21 July 2024. It is unclear whether there will still be river activities as part of the event or if other parts of the Borough will be included.

A council spokesperson told the Bedford Independent that the new family format replacing the river festival is “set to be a “refreshing return to the roots of a local festival”.

They added, “Our primary goal is to offer families a memorable and enjoyable experience while celebrating the rich tapestry of cultures, businesses, organizations, and groups that make Bedford Borough truly exceptional.

“This fantastic weekend event promises something special for every member of the family. From captivating performances to engaging activities, there will be no shortage of fun and excitement.

“With an array of diverse talent hailing from the Bedford community, we are dedicated to showcasing the remarkable creativity and expertise that our town has to offer.”

This is a breaking news story. More information and reaction will be added as it comes in.