Goodbye lit fest, hello to the all-new Swindon Spring Festival

21 Mar
Spring Festival Launch

Darine Flanagan, Matt Holland, Sara Jane Arbury, Casey Jane, Rahman Khatibi, Tony Hiller, Swindon mayor Junab Ali Image courtesy of Fernando Bagué

More than 175 years of Swindon’s rich cultural heritage has inspired a new festival of arts and culture, which was launched in the town today (Thursday) before a crowd of enthusiastic supporters.

The Swindon Spring Festival is an extension of the popular Festival of Literature, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.

Twelve months ago, festival director Matt Holland told us of his desire to expand the lit fest into “an all-encompassing combined arts festival.”

And at Swindon Town Hall, home to the internationally-renowned Swindon Dance, we were given their first glimpse of a program that includes dance, drama, music, film, art, and circus skills alongside literature, as well as enjoying Irish dancing from Casey Jane and Darine Flanagan, and a poem about the first day of spring, read in its original Azerbaijani by translator Rahman Khatibi and reconfigured into English poetry by Swindon poet Tony Hillier.

Sixty events across 14 action-packed days are bookended by two events that will be familiar to fans of the literature festival, beginning with the unique Dawn Chorus launch of bank holiday Monday, May 6 where your Festival Chroniclers and 200 other supporters will watch the sunrise over Lawn Woods to a soundtrack of poetry and music, and reaching its climax with the Festival Finale – a feast of music, dance, poetry, theatre, magic, and acrobatics – on Sunday, May 19.

Other events unique to Swindon’s quirky literature festival, including a 5k run followed by a talk by an author on all things running – this year it’s Bella Mackie, author of Jog On – and the Think Slam, where philosophers – including Chronicler Louisa – do battle to out-think each other, make a welcome return.

More braincell-engagement comes in the form of the Spring Festival Quiz, hosted by TV Egghead and six times world quizzing champion Kevin Ashman.

Also new for this year is Festival in the Park, a free day of family fun at Lydiard Park replacing the popular Family Day which has outgrown its Lower Shaw Farm home. Families will be treated to circus skills, a poetry jukebox, puppetry, and live music – and we’re looking forward to taking Mini-Chroniclers Sydney and Milo.

And BBC Wiltshire listeners will be invited to contribute lines and phrases to A Festival Poem for Swindon, which will be curated by performance poet and festival regular Sara-Jane Arbury.

Swindon’s most celebrated author gets an event in his honour – 132 years after his death. The first annual Richard Jefferies Lecture will be presented by broadcaster and Victorian literature expert Will Abberley.

Appearances from living authors include former education minister and home secretary Lord Kenneth Baker on the Seven Deadly Sins, Mike Berners-Lee on climate change, and mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy, on whether computers will ever replace artists. We suspect we won’t be the only people in the audience praying they don’t. All should be fascinating talks and discussions.

Swindon Arts Centre will host a number of film screenings, among which is Life is Wonderful, a documentary focussing on the legal team who defended Nelson Mandela during the Rivonia Trial – a team led by Joel Joffe, a longtime supporter of Swindon Festival of Literature and resident of Liddington, who died in 2017.

In dance, Swindon Dance will mark its 40th anniversary with The Rising, where dancers and musicians will explore what makes people feel alive, while in theatre, Everybody – a play written and performed by young Swindon actors – will explore what it means to be a teenager today.

“Swindon is culturally rich. it has a bedrock of culture to write home about, or better out of which to make a spring festival,” said Matt today.

“In the past six months I’ve had the privilege of mining the town’s bedrock of culture which traces back not only to writers like Richard Jefferies and Alfred Williams, but also to the phenomenal legacy left behind by Brunel’s railways: groups and individuals who are wedded to the arts in Swindon – singing, dancing, writing. Individuals who knew that monetary wealth alone are not enough for a full life. It is the arts that gives us extra pleasure.

“There’s also new blood in the town; groups and individuals emerging everywhere to do drama, music, art, films, and amazing circus skills.

“The town is alive with the arts and cultural activities, is longing for more, and has an appetite to enjoy them all. It is this festival’s aim to minister to these needs.”

Be sure to follow Swindon Spring Festival and Festival Chronicle on your favourite social media platforms for updates and reviews throughout the festival.

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