A NEW book festival is to take inspiration from next year’s 200th anniversary of the Paisley Radicals. In celebration of their efforts, the first Paisley Book Festival will focus on grassroots rebellion, revolution and activism.

The programme for the February festival is still to be announced but co-producer Keira Brown said it was “ambitious”.

“We are taking some risks with some of the programme and we have some interesting names in there, names that are recognisably connected to Paisley,” she told the Sunday National.

Rikki Payne, arts manager for Renfrewshire Leisure, said the anniversary of the Paisley Radicals was an appropriate occasion to start a new book festival.

However, he added that while radicalism is the theme, the festival was not about looking back but about what being radical means today.

“We are using the Paisley Radicals as our inspiration and looking at how we honour their ideas and energy now,” he said. “A book festival is a good way of creating a space to look at ideas.

“There are things in the present that need to be addressed and we will be using these voices of the past as the inspiration to pick a way forward.

“I think the radicals of 200 years ago would look at some of the white upper-class male leadership in the world now and ask what we have been doing for the last two centuries.”

In 1820, the Paisley Radicals agitated for better wages and conditions for workers and, as part of a movement in weaving and industrial centres across the UK, they helped to force political reform.

Payne said Paisley was an ideal place to hold a book festival with a radical theme as the idea of radicalism had always been strong in the area from the time when William Wallace was educated in the town right through to the radical wars of the 19th century and the case of the Paisley snail in the 20th century. That saw the notion of duty of care established in law after May Donoghue successful sued the manufacturers of a bottle of ginger beer she drank which made her ill and was found to contain a snail.

“Now we have our MP Mhairi Black who is young, gay and radical, so Paisley has always been a radical place, it has always pushed these ideas forward and one of the things for me that resonated about this festival is that we find out about ideas and explore them through reading and discussing what we have read,” said Payne. “The weavers revolted because they read what going on in elsewhere – reading was fundamental to their thinking and way they decided to act.

“The radical notion is really strong in Paisley and people feel a close affinity to that particular piece of history. The Paisley Radicals were part of a process of political change which culminated in universal suffrage and the world we see today, which ironically is now more under threat than ever before.

‘‘I think we could do with some of that radical energy and spirit now as people are still struggling for the right to be recognised.”

The festival is part of a cultural regeneration programme sparked by Paisley’s bid to become 2021’s City of Culture.

The bid failed but Payne said the Renfrewshire Council and Renfrewshire Leisure were continuing to take a radical approach to cultural regeneration as it was intended to continue the energy and drive that had come to the fore during the campaign.

The book festival is part of a programme of arts events that will take place over the next three years.

“Whatever radicalism is it must involve people and the book festival is part of that radical approach,” said Payne.

“And although Paisley is not city of culture in 2021 it is worth keeping an eye on – it is going to lead the way in regenerating culture.”

As well as around 30 public events and a programme for schools, the new festival is to award a Janet Coats memorial prize for poetry with the theme of climate change.

The daughter of Thomas Coats, one of four brothers who inherited the Paisley-based thread making firm, Janet was a philanthropist whose legacy created one of the longest-running UK literary prizes, the James Tait Black prize, as a memorial to her husband.