The VAULT Festival Story So Far

VAULT Festival was created by the Heritage Arts Company in 2012 as a one-off project. A fascinating, underground labyrinth of tunnels owned by Network Rail (now The Vaults, a diverse year-round venue programmed and managed by its own team) wasn’t in use – so Heritage Arts populated it over three long weekends in February with a handful of cutting edge productions, a couple of big parties, and a pop-up cinema. 7,000 people joined us underground. Flash forward to 2022, and the Festival is eight weeks long and welcomes more than 85,000 people.

Scroll down for a look back at each year of VAULT Festival so far, going all the way back to 2012. And make sure to click on the links for downloadable brochures, highlights videos, all the award winners, and more.


A record-breaking year

VAULT Festival celebrated a record-breaking year in 2023, welcoming more than 81,000 audience members to 1,860 individual performances of 553 shows, performed by more than 4,000 independent artists. 2023 marked the return of VAULT Festival for the first time since the festival was cut short in 2020 due to Covid-19. The festival celebrated over a decade of exceptional live performance and showcased VAULT Festival’s incredible impact on the UK’s cultural landscape.


A 10th Anniversary that should have been

It was with broken hearts that we made the decision to cancel VAULT Festival 2022 to prioritise and protect the mental health, wellbeing, and safety of our staff, artists, and audiences following the emergence of the Omicron variant. We’d worked hard over the previous 21 months to recover from the devastation caused by the lost week of 2020’s Festival and the full postponement of 2021, towards delivering the safest, fullest, and best version of VAULT Festival 2022. It would have been our 10th anniversary, and with 600 shows from thousands of artists it was set to be our most exciting festival to date. It wasn’t all bad, though. In January of 2022, we launched VAULT Creative Studios, a new, dynamic programme of opportunities for artists and freelancers affected by the cancellation of 2022’s Festival.


A festival cut short

The 2020 Festival was cut short by a week due to the global outbreak of Coronavirus, but before that, it hosted 513 productions across 2,135 performances featuring more than 2,129 artists. This included more than 230 never-before-seen shows, with 170 full professional premieres. All in all, we welcomed 75,670 audience members in our seven week run.
While the early end of the Festival was unforeseeable and incredibly hard for our staff and artists, it was followed by a tremendous outpouring of support from our audiences. The “lost” shows of the final week will get their chance to perform at the next VAULT Festival and you can learn more about them here.


Takeovers & International Talent

Our second crack at an eight-week Festival saw an eight week takeover by the internationally acclaimed Canadian/Ukranian production of Counting Sheep. 2019 was a year for collaborations, and we were delighted to work with the New Diorama Theatre, and the charities Help Refugees and Child.Org. We hosted 425 Productions across 3,126 performances, welcoming 79,851 audience members.


Eight weeks? Let's do this!

For 2018, we took our biggest leap of faith since 2014, and expanded the Festival by a fortnight to eight weeks long. Applications to take part in the festival had been continuing to grow and we wanted to programme more shows, and try to counter the ever increasing costs of staging the Festival. The result? We almost doubled the number of productions we hosted to 351 shows (exceeding 3,000 performances for the first time). We got away with it: 70,508 people came to watch, meaning that the eight week festival was here to stay.


A comedy launchpad

In 2017 we introduced our first comedy festival. We’d had comedy in the festival lineup before – and some bloody good shows too – but 2017 saw the first dedicated comedy strand of programming – and we’ve never looked back. It’s funnier with comedy, after all. It struck a chord with our audiences too: more than 46,000 people made their way to the Festival to see a total of 180 different shows.


Surging onwards

VAULT Festival returned in 2016, still growing, featuring 137 different shows over six weeks. More than 35,000 people joined us underground to enjoy our most varied programme to date. We had family shows, comedy, cabaret, alt-entertainment, even a free film festival featuring 30 outstanding films from all over the world, as well as an onsite restaurant. And we introduced VAULT Surge, a cutting-edge series of educational activities and opportunities aimed at inspiring our artists and audiences. 2016 was also our five year anniversary, though none of us can remember making much of a fuss about it at the time… just goes to show how little time there is for reflection when things are moving so quickly.


The biggest arts festival in London

We walked away from 2014 having learned some big lessons. We decided to move away from producing our own shows and focus on the festival itself. We also learned that a six week festival seemed to work, and there was no shortage of talented artists looking to fill the weeks. The number of productions almost doubled to 117, and managed to attract just over 32,000 audience members to a Festival which featured, for the first time, an on-premises immersive-dining restaurant (Marco’s Meatballs, from the folks behind Peckham’s Forza Win) and a brand-new programme for under 11s, Mini VAULT.


We're back!

There was no festival in 2013, but we kept coming back to the idea and seeing if we could develop it further. We wanted to improve, expand, and try and make it into a sustainable opportunity for artists who were struggling to find affordable, flexible spaces to get their work in front of an audience. So VAULT Festival returned in 2014 for six weeks, hosting 64 different events, including two in-house shows (click ‘More’ below to find out about that!). Once again – thanks to the efforts of an incredibly committed team, curious and supportive audiences which more than doubled to over 19,000, and a new group of talented artists – it worked.


So it begins...

This is the one that started it off, all those years ago. Created by the Heritage Arts Company, VAULT Festival was supposed to be a one-off project, lasting for three weeks in February and featuring 24 events – a mixture of cutting edge theatre, a pop-up cinema and a couple of big parties. Thanks to the hard work of a very small team, the belief and goodwill of the artists, and the cultural hunger of the audience (all 7,000-ish of them) the first VAULT Festival was a success, and set us on the amazing and winding journey to where we are today.


1987: VHS Revolution

Back in the 80s, long before VAULT Festival was even a dream, the VAULT Video Club was a sweet tape rental place on the high street. Not far from where you grew up, actually.
You know the kind of place: shelves filled with fingerprint-smothered video cassette boxes. Cartoons down low, horror (and the rest) up high. That strange thrill when the cornucopia presents itself, and the comforting disappointment of knowing you’re just gonna ask mum to get you the same Transformers video as last time, and the time before that. Unless the Land Before Time is back in stock, but you know what? It never is.


Please Wait
Talking to the Box Office...