Returning home to the town where he grew up has given Thomas Wales, founder of festival and events company Baccanalia, a new sense of purpose to make art accessible to local communities in County Durham and the wider North East.

Wales, 28, is about to launch his first ‘multi-gen’ (multi-generational) entertainment festival for North East audiences, taking place over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Baccanalia Festival is being staged in partnership with Bishop Auckland Town Hall and features acts from the world of TV, theatre and stand-up comedy; including Paul Sinha of ITV’s The Chase.

Audiences are invited to spend the upcoming Bank Holiday enjoying comedy, cabaret, magical performance, storytelling, family-friendly workshops, burlesque, drag, silent disco and club nights.

His inspiration has come from Bishop Auckland’s past, including one of the greatest names in the history of film and comedy. Stan Laurel, one half of comic duo Laurel and Hardy, lived in Bishop Auckland from 1902-3 while his father was manager of The Eden Theatre.

Laurel attended King James School, where around a century later, Wales enrolled for his secondary education.

“Growing up in Bishop Auckland, I always knew about the town’s links to Stan Laurel and the fact that we went to the same school. The town is transformed now and has carved out a place for itself on Britain’s cultural map.

When I got home, I started to think about events that would make arts and culture accessible for all and engaging for local communities, which is how Baccanalia was born,” said Wales.

Baccanalia Festival also draws inspiration from Bishop Auckland’s ancient Roman heritage and the lavish events thrown to honour Bacchus, the Roman God of wine and good times.

“Baccanalia is a different kind of entertainment experience. It’s a locally produced festival aimed at local people of any age and generation with high quality acts that tour the national live events circuit.

We want to provide the people of the North East with the best possible opportunities for social, cultural and creative engagement. This element of community engagement is at the heart of what we hope to achieve with our events programme.”

Wales, a drama graduate, spent years working in live theatre and at festivals and events in the UK and Australia, including managing front-of-house at venues for The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and London Coffee Festival, and in producer roles for touring theatre companies.

“Baccanalia is the perfect expression of all my experiences learning to produce fun and exciting live events mixed with inspiration from all the history that makes Bishop Auckland so special.

Bacchus was Rome’s party god and Baccanalia is a celebration of freedom, expression, fun and good times and we want to recreate that experience for local communities today,” added Wales.

Baccanalia Festival is supported by Bishop Auckland Town Hall and further funding has been received from Bishop Auckland Town Council to stage Bishop Auckland’s Christmas Town, as well as multi-day celebrations for the Queen’s Jubilee extended Bank Holiday weekend from June 2 to 5.

All Baccanalia Festival events take place at Bishop Auckland Town Hall with the programme running from Saturday April

30 to Sunday May 1. Performances are individually ticketed and are available online at or by calling the Box Office at Bishop Auckland Town Hall on 03000 266600.