For the festival organisers it will be the happiest return to something very close to normal – and proof positive that we have more than survived an astonishingly tough couple of years.
In truth, we were always very confident that we would. This is a festival which grew out of the community and retains the strongest, deepest roots it can in that community.
I remember very clearly the moment it dawned on me that a Chichester summer without a festival was just unthinkable.
Amid great sadness and a fair amount of recrimination the old Chichester Festivities went into liquidation in the autumn of 2012 and the liquidator very kindly extended an invitation to us at the paper to attend the meeting which pretty much wound everything up.
It was never going to be a happy meeting but what was particularly striking was the sense that the Festivities staff felt the Festivities board could and should have held out longer but it was all too late by then. I dashed back to the office, started writing a report of the meeting and on the spur of the moment turned round to our then editor and said: “Do you know what, it’s up to us at the paper to start a new festival” – to which the editor replied with three simple words: “Go on then!”
In the meantime Barry Smith, who has been our festival co-ordinator throughout (I am the chairman) was independently thinking along very similar lines. He too could not bear the thought of a Chichester which did not have a festival and so we got together and called a public meeting.
Our little stroke of genius was that we got Kate Mosse to chair it. The other stroke of genius was to ask Chichester City Council – who have been fabulous friends to the festival since the moment of its inception – to let us hold our public meeting in the council chamber.
It was packed. We even had a waiting list. The response was emphatic. A huge number of groups and organisations, of creative people of all kinds were right behind us on our new adventure, and so we started to plan the inaugural Festival of Chichester for summer 2013.
Rapidly we assembled a fantastic committee of people and we have met every month since then. It is a measure of our continuity that to this day our committee still retains three of those founders: me; our absolutely indefatigable Barry; and Anne Scicluna, former mayor of the city, a city councillor and someone who mixes wonderful common sense with a total knowledge and understanding of Chichester.
Our committee is the bedrock of the festival and as we approach our tenth festival it’s fair to say that we have got probably the strongest line-up we have ever had.
We have always enjoyed a very close relationship with the cathedral and the Rev Canon Dan Inman keeps that friendship alive; Katie Bennett is a total whiz with social media and a bundle of energy; Simon O’Hea has brilliantly overhauled our festival website and superbly keeps all our minutes, making sure we always remember to do what we plan to do! Completing the committee is our treasurer Nick Sutherland, a hugely reassuring presence, a very experienced businessman who ensures we are always on track financially.
But not even the finest committee could achieve terribly much without brilliant support all around, and we have been incredibly fortunate to have the Chichester Observer right behind us every step of the way. I often think that there isn’t a single newspaper anywhere else in the country that is so enthusiastically and supportively behind its key community festival.
Also central to our hopes and all our activities is the very strong bond of friendship I’m hugely proud to say we share with Chichester City Council who are not just generous financially but also completely and instinctively understand everything we are trying to do as a festival.
We are also incredibly lucky to count Dame Patricia Routledge as our patron. No one understands the value of the arts better than Dame Patricia does, and her encouragement and warmth of personality are integral to all our endeavours. She remains as ever an inspiration.
Put this all together and we are in an excellent position as we contemplate our tenth festival this summer – a huge achievement, an achievement secured because we have remained so tightly connected to the community and because we have been blessed with such excellent support on the back of our own hard work.
And so, we are nearly there. The festival runs from June 11 to July 10, and if you look at our website it will even tell you to the second just how long it is until we open. Maybe more importantly the website will give you a full run-down of everything that’s happening and let you know how to get your tickets. festivalofchichester.co.uk.This year’s programme includes Jess Gillam, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the Stradivarius Piano Trio, the Camarilla Ensemble, She’Koyokh, Chichester’s David Bathurst singing every Beatles song from memory at Boxgrove, Olivia Stevens at Chi Inn and Pavlos Carvalho’s Greek Band at St Paul’s.
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