SETTLE Stories says this year’s Yorkshire Festival of Story, featuring guest director, writer Joanne Harris, was its most successful event yet.

The month long festival went ahead online, because of the coronavirus pandemic, and thousands from across the world logged on to listen and take part in 80 free online events, attracting three times as many as it would had it taken place in Settle.

Guest director Joanne Harris, writer of Chocolat, was joined by Radio 4’s Dame Jenni Murray, the Yorkshire shepherdess, Amanda Owen, and a wealth of other local and national talent.

Sita Brand, Settle Stories artistic director, said: “2020 was always going to be our biggest festival to date, but we never could have foreseen the amazing outcomes of delivering it online.”

Organisers reached out to a worldwide and closer to home audience using Zoom, Crowdcast and YouTube to stream mostly live events and workshops.

Ms Harris said: “What we created was not a substitute for the original festival. It became even better than what was first planned. I’m so proud of what the Settle Stories team have produced.”

Stories were used in a variety of ways to give audiences the opportunity to escape, to gain new perspectives and to get active.

Audiences were invited to travel to ancient lands with traditional tales from children’s author Kevin Crossley-Holland, Booker-prize winner Ben Okri wowed with his collection of short stories, and Mara Menzies delivered her sensational exploration of the legacy of colonialism in her much-celebrated storytelling piece, Blood and Gold.

Sita Brand said: “We built an online community. People from countries all over the world took part. Some audiences were logging in during the middle of the night to join. We always had a busy event chat box and had fun in the online festival bar after. Someone from Long Preston told me they’ve made friends with someone from

the US and they now attend other online festivals together.”

Fearing for its future, Settle Stories launched a fundraising appeal of £15,000, and following the last event, easily reached it.

Charles Tyrer, executive director, said: “Thank you to all of our supporters. It’s a terrifying time for arts organisations out there. You have given us a lifeline in our hour of need. Thank you.”

Settle Stories says it has had so many positive comments from existing and new fans about the digital festival it is looking to continue a digital element in future events.

The charity has paid tribute to individual donors, advertisers and supporters, including Settle Town Council and the Yorkshire Dales Millenium Trust as well as Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund.