People gathered beneath the arch at Whitworth Hall.

Festival announces first speakers, performers and events


The University of Manchester has announced the first speakers, performers and events for Universally Manchester Festival; a 200th birthday celebration like no other, with 150 free events across four captivating days at its iconic Oxford Road campus from Thursday 6 – Sunday 9 June 2024.

The once in a lifetime interdisciplinary festival will welcome up to 60,000 people to more than 150 imaginative and immersive events, featuring contributions from Professor Brian Cox, Professor David Olusoga, Ed O’Brien (Radiohead), international supergroup GRRRL directed by Laima Leyton (Mixhell / Soulwax), Professor Michael Wood, Dr Sarah Crowther (member of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Sample Analysis Team), immunologist Professor Sheena Cruikshank, exonerated postmaster Tom Hedges and many, many more.

The launch

The festival opens with Universally Manchester x the Whitworth, a very special Thursday late, with a showcase of music marking 200 years of The University of Manchester in collaboration with festival partner Manchester Histories Festival 2024. This free event is open to all and includes everything from a world premiere of new music inspired by Manchester’s history of broadside ballads performed by members of the BBC Philharmonic, to an audio visual experience, celebrating the legacies of Manchester computing genius Alan Turning and music pioneer Delia Derbyshire.

Ideas and discussions

Professor Brian Cox will lead a guided journey to far-away galaxies, alien worlds, supermassive black holes and the latest theories on the origins of the universe, while Professor David Olusoga, Professor Michael Wood, Ana Carden-Coyne and Sadiah Qureshi will explore how TV and film shape cultural narratives and reflect societal diversity.

TedX speaker and immunologist Professor Sheena Cruickshank will debunk the myths behind ‘immune boosting’ products and regimes, revealing the science behind our immune system, while Earth and Environmental Sciences Research Fellow Dr Sarah Crowther will share the secrets of the asteroid Bennu and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission.

A Universally Manchester edition of the Talk 200: Lecture and podcast series will tackle inequalities in access to justice, with contributions from the University’s Chancellor, Nazir Afzal; exonerated postmaster Tom Hedges; barrister and advocate Thalia Maragh (UK Covid-19 Inquiry, Grenfell Inquiry); and Suzanne Gower, PhD researcher, and former managing director of the legal charity APPEAL.

A Guardian Live event, led by Professor David Olusoga, Cotton Capital: Slavery and The University of Manchester will explore how transatlantic slavery shaped The University of Manchester.

Creativity and performance

The diverse programme includes a panel talking us through two decades of creative activism with independent international charity In Place of War and its ambassador, Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien.

This will be brought to life with a performance from GRRRL, an international supergroup brought together by In Place of War and directed by Brazil’s Laima Leyton (Mixhell / Soulwax). Featuring women of colour from international conflict zones, GRRRL express themselves on their terms, in their languages, with their stories.

The Whitworth will present The Carnival, a celebration of art, culture and Manchester’s dynamic community through live performances, interactive workshops, delicious street food and live music, while Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, a mischievous, revolutionary New Orleans Second Line will pay homage to the diehard days of the Hacienda, 90s club culture and Mr Tony Wilson.

Further musical performances come from Kantos Choir, a trailblazing vocal ensemble, who perform music by everyone from 11th Century visionary saints to genre-bending, experimental rock stars; Grammy-winning multi-percussionist, educator, arranger and composer Carlos “Carly” Maldonado; and Senegalese afrobeat musician Sens Sagna.

Community and families

There will be a whole host of family-friendly events including a Community Fair taking place across Engineering Building A, University Place and Alliance Manchester Business School, full of interactive activities.

Budding scientists can drive a Lego Mars Rover, peek inside our brains, or enter a world of virtual reality. Creative and crafty activities include screen printing tote bags, clay making and face painting, and sporting challenges including circus skills from The Circus House, a climbing wall and helter-skelter. The Shoopery will deliver a series of positive, upbeat, ambitious, ‘out of your comfort zone’ experiences that are all about letting go.

A visually stunning Flash-Bang Show, for kids and adults, will demonstrate the explosive power of chemistry, from basic knowledge about atoms and molecules to the innovative research produced at The University of Manchester.


The Festival will close with a Celebration Day in partnership with Manchester Histories Festival that will see 50 stalls take over the historic Whitworth Hall, giving those of all ages the chance to find out more about the unique history of Greater Manchester and the North West from organisations that celebrate, preserve, and explore our histories and heritage. During the day there will be everything from craft activities and walks through to performances and talks – even a chance to hop on a heritage bus.

With support from partners including BBC Philharmonic, Factory International, The Guardian, In Place of War, Manchester Histories Festival and many others, Universally Manchester Festival will be taking over Manchester Museum, the Whitworth and The University of Manchester Students’ Union, and creating pop-up stages on Gilbert Square.

The Festival Village on Bridgeford Street, in collaboration with Pop Up Market Co, will showcase Manchester’s finest independent artisans, makers, performers and businesses.

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