History of Sheffield SPEAK, Part 2: Weaving the Yarn of the Big Dress

Ex-Sheffield SPEAK member Mike Bourne relates the spledid tale of the Big Dress Festival, perhaps the most ambitious undertaking in the group's history.

The Big Dress was such an incredible event, even the months of preparation were just amazing, we got so much support from so many wonderful people.

In Sheffield the Speak group was amazing, a real community. While I'd been away they'd moved our prayer meetings to Monday evening in the SU coffee shop, and they were so lovely for having good conversations and really getting to know each other.

We had such amazing support from a wide range of people. The leader of Synergy (a fellow Christian student society) told us that Synergy people (of which there were lots) would do anything we needed them to. We had some really surprising financial provision, some of it little short of miraculous - an anonymous cheque for £500 as well as funding bids that London and Sheffield people worked really hard on.

We had some really great community engagement, with the Lord Mayor coming to the opening, and a session for some local school kids to come in and learn about how their clothes were made.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. The Big Dress was essentially a 5-day festival in Sheffield’s Endcliffe Park in May 2008, with officially the World's (then) Largest Dress dominating the local skyline in its glorious purple, brown and blue, and hosting various events to raise awareness of conditions in the garment industry in the marquee underneath, and it was entirely a Speak event. There were concerts, debates, open days and art workshops, as well as the school visits I mentioned above.

A week before the dress was due to be put up, the park was waterlogged and more rain was forecast. We were being told by the council that it was highly unlikely the park would be able to cope with the dress, and that we should prepare an alternative, indoor, venue (unthinkable). We gathered in Endcliffe Park and prayed for sun. We scattered seeds and prayed that God would make it a prophetic action for the sowing of his seeds of justice. Some of us climbed the hill overlooking the park and commanded the rain to hold off.

It did. From that point until the end of the festival there was only glorious sunshine. The park dried out, the council relented, and the wonderful weather meant there was a huge amount of passing traffic in the park - picknickers, frisbee players, families, curious students enjoying the sun. We were pretty stunned to be honest.

It was a wonderful time. God was so good to us, and I feel enormously privileged to have been a part of it. Speak used it as the national gathering in place of Soundcheck, so people from all over the network came. We had a yurt off to the side of the main tent that formed a chill out/prayer zone for people to have some time out, and I had some great conversations with interested passers-by.

There's a line in the Simon Armitage poem that's written in huge letters on one of the Sheffield Hallam buildings that calls Sheffield "The city where your dreaming is repaid." That, for me, was the Big Dress (and my time with Speak Sheffield) in a nutshell.