WemsFest's story of success

Mark Ringwood
Mark Ringwood

WemsFest marks its fifth anniversary this year on the back of continuing success.

The festival, which brings together Westbourne and Emsworth, opens on Friday, September 30.

Founder and artistic director Mark Millington-Ringwood recalls it all started as a chance conversation among friends in The Stag’s Head in Westbourne .

“The initial aim was to introduce and promote more arts activity within the communities of Westbourne and Emsworth – hence the name ‘WemsFest’ which served to join the two communities of Westbourne and Emsworth. Sandwiched between Havant and Chichester, it was a conglomeration which really didn’t have much cultural activity going for it.

“With minimal funding but generous public support, WemsFest has grown and expanded over the years as a multi-arts festival bringing in internationally-known artists to the area and also developing venues so that people look upon them in a different light. The key objective has always been to present the best possible artists, use venues which people don’t always automatically think of but are ideally suited to the arts being presented there, and also to partner with existing organisations such as The Spring in Havant, and Stansted House. The opportunity to participate in Black History Month – much overlooked by venues outside of London – has always been taken since we started because of the desire to re-address this cultural imbalance but at the same try to highlight the importance of how the music from this continent has impacted on today’s music.

“This year we start with, as in the past two years, a female artist – Kiki Dee (Sept 30) – who has done so much to neuter the male domination in music. We also support, as always, Emsworth’s British Food Fortnight by staging the first-ever British Beer, Cider & Wine Festival (Sept 30-Oct 2). We welcome international artists Black Umfolosi from Zimbabwe, Femi & The Inrhythms from Nigeria, Eduardo Niebla from Spain, and Martin Alvarado & Mikko Helenius from Argentina and Finland respectively. Earlier this year we formed The Eclectic Music Club to present music with an edge. The inclusion of Eddie & The Hot Rods, and later in the year Chris Difford from Squeeze, is part of this promotion.

“I’d like to see WemsFest regarded as a catalyst for encouraging and delivering events which benefit our communities and thereby enhance the reason why people not only live here but also want to visit the area. We’re already working with Chidham & Hambrook Village Hall which to many people is a totally unknown venue but is fantastically atmospheric. This iconic old Maltings is right at the heart of a major new residential development and it’s a fabulous facility for this new community.”

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