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Celebrating Letchworth Festival

PUBLISHED: 16:40 10 June 2016 | UPDATED: 10:14 14 June 2016

Letchworth Festival

Letchworth Festival

Archant

The seventh Letchworth Festival takes place this month - two weeks of showcasing a huge number of groups, clubs and organisations in the town, James Scott writes

The colourful festival paradeThe colourful festival parade

Celebrating Letchworth life is the key for a band of volunteers who make it their mission each year to put on a festival the town can be proud of. For the seventh annual event this month, the hard-working Letchworth Festival crew has pulled out the stops even further to create a packed programme bigger than last year. The effort to create a platform for a wide range of local groups is a substantial reason why the festival, which runs from June 11 to June 26, has woven its way into the the town’s fabric – offering many clubs, businesses, schools, dancers, actors, musicians and charities the opportunity to get involved and showcase what they do. As well as a determined army of volunteers, the festival’s success has been down to the healthy appetite from the community for the music, culture and entertainment the fortnight brings.

The festival’s roots are founded in a challenge set by the town’s Letchworth Arts and Leisure Group to create a season of entertainment to rival the summer offerings in neighbouring Baldock and Hitchin. In the summer of 2009 the festival sprang to life, and Ann Pegrum – who has been a steering committee member from the start – believes the spirit of those organising it has always been matched by the enthusiasm of the town’s residents. ‘The first festival was run on a shoe string and had about 30 to 40 events,’ Ann remembers. ‘It went well, demonstrating there are people who will organise events and also people that will go to them! The following autumn, the steering committee was formed and a fully-fledged Letchworth Festival with a reasonable budget, logo and about 100 events were held in 2010. We haven’t looked back since, with more ambitious events held every year as well as keeping old favourites such as Proms in the Park.’

The festival has now fledged from the Letchworth Arts and Leisure Group and Anne says that while it continues to support the festival, the group is pleased the event is now independent and stands successfully on its own feet.

Part of the festival’s rapid strength was getting cultural beacons in the town, such as the Broadway Cinema, Spirella Ballroom and David’s Bookshop, on board to host events. Last year, David’s provided one of the most innovative events on the programme, a 24-hour charity read-athon where bookworms delved into a novel of their choice in 15-minute slots in a bed in the Eastcheap bookshop. The Art-Deco cinema added another element to the summer event with a film festival featuring old classics, blockbusters and children’s favourites.

Titan the Robot makes a big impact (Photos: We Do Stories)Titan the Robot makes a big impact (Photos: We Do Stories)

There are now many cultural groups in the town involved in the festival, including more than 100 in the Letchworth Arts and Leisure Group’s portfolio alone.

The festival reflects the growing cultural strength of the town. Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, a charity that funds organisations in the town, has a focus on making the town a hub for the arts. A community museum opened in The Arcade last year, the Broadway Gallery and Studio was launched in February and the Broadway Theatre – incorporated within the cinema – is opening in the autumn.

One of the most highly anticipated elements of this year’s festival is the new Beyond Broadway programme which will bring live theatre, music and film to venues around the town – a move encouraged by the huge success of live screenings of Royal Shakespeare Company plays at the Broadway Cinema over the past year. An outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will take place at Standalone Farm and a Popup Opera performance of The Barber of Seville will be held at the Spirella Ballroom. Sue Scott Davison, who is the creative programmer for the Broadway Studio and Broadway Theatre, says. ‘We are thrilled to be presenting two very different, high quality productions under the Building Broadway umbrella as part of the festival. Our Beyond Broadway events, as we have christened them, are programmed outside of the theatre and studio spaces at the ballroom and farm to appeal to all ages. First, we have a fresh, fun and fast-paced adaptation of Rossini’s much-loved opera for those new to opera as well as the dedicated opera lover. This is swiftly followed by a unique, promenade production for all the family of Shakespeare’s comedy which will weave its way around the cow sheds, barns and gardens of the farm, brought to magical life by Butterfly Theatre Company.’

Ann Pegrum says that while the festival’s aim is to celebrate ‘the extraordinarily rich range of clubs and activities in Letchworth and the diversity of life here,’ the event has also raised thousands for charities, both local and national, and supported Letchworth community organisations. ‘These groups say the publicity has put them on the map and the networking opportunities have brought them new volunteers with important skills.’

The growth of the festival in just seven years has been dramatic and is an example to other towns of how to create an umbrella event that takes on a life of its own by attracting sometimes little-known groups and giving them a platform to show just what they can do. It all promises to be another rip-roaring festival.

Festival highlights

Digswell Arts Fair

Children’s Art Competition

Beyond Broadway season

Proms in the Park

Carnival parade

Letchworth Wine Festival

Sunset Festival at La Concha

The God of Carnage play

Open Gardens Day

Letchworth Sinfonia Summer Concert

A Victorian ghost hunter talk

The Great Letchworth Sewing Bee

For full details of events and times, go to letchworthfestival.org

A festival guide will also be sent to each home in the town.

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