Our story

Kay Dunbar and Stephen Bristow

Before founding Ways With Words Kay taught English and studied for an MA in English in Education. Stephen taught science and mathematics and completed a PhD in the Psychology of Learning. Together they founded Park School – a progressive primary school on the Dartington Estate.

Kay launched Ways With Words in 1992: the first festival took place at Dartington Hall in Devon with David Astor as the President. Kay and Stephen wanted people to meet and debate with authors, journalists, and experts on a wealth of subjects. In those early years they organised everything from their kitchen table. Friends and family were often enlisted to stuff envelopes with programmes and tickets.

What started life as a seven day festival at Dartington Hall in Devon has flourished into four annual festivals across the UK. Along the way, Ways With Words has run festivals for children, weekend festivals in Bath, York, London and Bournemouth, writing courses in Italy and France, and bespoke events for the National Maritime Museum, the Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy Societies.

Ways With Words has brought enormous joy to many people – not least Kay and Stephen. Ways With Words has been a way of life, creating a myriad of connections which have enriched their world.

After 30 years of hard work, Kay and Stephen felt it was time to put their feet up. In February 2019 Leah Varnell, who previously had been the General Manager and Festival Curator, became Managing Director with responsibility for the future of Ways With Words. Kay and Stephen support Ways With Words as consultants. Together with three non-executive directors, they offer advice and guidance.

And then…

And then a pandemic happened and we were unable to share our usual offer with you. Our festivals were cancelled and we were left wondering how to navigate the situation. This has led to an unnerving but innovative time for Ways With Words. In some ways we are returning to the kitchen table as we explore different ways to reach out and help people enjoy the Ways With Words experience.