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COVID Fears Drive Asylum Festival to Newark-on-Trent

Friday, June 4, 2021
Newark Castle
Newark Castle. Photo by Jessica Paterson (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

The Asylum Steampunk Festival is moving to a new location in Newark-on-Trent this year due to concerns about large crowds in Lincoln, the usual home for the August gathering. Ministry of Steampunk director John Naylor announced the move Wednesday in a statement on the Ministry website and Welcome to the Asylum Facebook page.

“We will be putting features into both the [Newark] castle and marketplace with other venues to be confirmed,” he wrote. The organizers also plan to set up a base at nearby Kelham Hall for an expanded version of the group’s Sanctuary event, with a shuttle bus connection between the locations. The festival will be held over the August Bank Holiday weekend, which runs through Monday, Aug. 30.

The Ministry originally proposed a scaled-down festival in Lincoln that would be limited to venues with controlled entry, without any public or open-access programming. But local authorities expressed concerns that tourists might show up anyway, potentially leading to large crowds and public health risks related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Past festivals have drawn an estimated 100,000 visitors, making it the world’s largest steampunk gathering.

Asylum Steampunk Festival
Participants at the 2019 Asylum Steampunk Festival. Photo by Lara Ra / Shutterstock.com.

“Steampunk is a very attractive and welcoming scene but this brings with it an audience over which we have no direct control,” Naylor wrote. Previously, local government councils and the Lincoln Business Improvement Group (BIG) provided assistance, “but for 2021 we were told we would have to manage it all ourselves. As a volunteer based arts organisation this left us in an untenable position. We cannot control who comes to the streets of Lincoln but are apparently responsible for them if we bring some of our community for a gathering behind closed doors. We were therefore advised that we should not run the Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln this year but should look for an alternative location.”

He added that the festival hopes to be back in Lincoln in 2022, but “for this year we must ask the world’s Steampunks and interested visitors to please stay away.”

Naylor also asked for more patience as the Ministry works out the details for the new location. See the Welcome to the Asylum Facebook page for updates.

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