WemsFest is much more than just a volunteer-run annual arts festival. We organise a wide range of concerts, drama and comedy at venues in and around Emsworth and Westbourne throughout the year, and founded the annual Emsworth Beer Festival which in September 2019 celebrates its fourth anniversary.
The venues we use include the 90 seat Brook Hall in Emsworth, atmospheric Chidham Village Hall (110 seats), Emsworth Sports & Social Club (140 seats), Emsworth’s contemporary Baptist Church (300 seats) and the Parish Room in Compton (60 seats).
Our ethos is that if you live in a community then you should endeavour to contribute to your community and to that event we’ve staged more than 300 events since our inception in The Stag’s Head in Westbourne in January 2011.
In 2014 we staged a massive commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day with a specially written outdoor theatre production, shops dressing their windows a la 1944, talks, and music thanks to a sizeable Heritage Lottery Grant which helped us recognise the huge local support given prior to the invasion forces embarking from nearby Portsmouth.
Emsworth’s connection with P G Wodehouse is annually remembered and we’re working on recognising this with a statue. The demolition of the iconic gas holder was marked by projecting images onto it (prior to demolition!), and we were behind Emsworth becoming The World’s First Ever Red Nose Town in 2015 – raising over £15,000 for Comic Relief – working in partnership with Emsworth Business Association. We’ve had a long and happy association with African Night Fever and Yaram Arts by bringing a superb selection of African musicians to an area of England which experiences very little in the way of Cultural Diversity – which is shameful given the presence 2 RFO in the immediate vicinity.
Artists we’ve presented include: Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, Breabach, Djabel Cissokho, Ray Cooper, Guy Davis, Fairport Convention (acoustic), Fara, Imar, Kanda Bongo Man, Dave Kelly & Maggie Bell, Namvula, Pentangle, Ella Rundle, Martin Simpson, Tchad Limberger & The Budapest Gypsy Orchestra, The Dime Notes, Tunde Jegede, Hat Fitz & Cara, and The Red Dirt Skinners. There are obviously many more artists involved than space permits.
We are undeniably a catalyst for arts activity and established the ‘Up Close and Personal’ series at The Spring’ in Havant, which featured Nick Harper, Charlie Dore, Chris Difford, the Ric Sanders Trio, Chris Jagger with Kit Morgan, and Dave Hatfield, Jeff Lang, Sean Taylor, Carol Laula, Eddie Martin, and Jaimi Faulkner.
Over the past couple of years we’ve lost a few people without whom WemsFest would not be what it is today. Our 2018 Festival was in memory of Julian Sluggett who was such a catalyst in bringing interesting theatre to the area and it’s a great shame that Rogues & Vagabonds’ is no more. Communities need catalysts and drivers like Julian – he is sadly missed. RIP Julian. On a positive note we’re fortunate that The Emsworth Players – led by Jim Strudwick have emerged to carry on this work. Future collaborations with Greg Mosse, and Lucy Flannery promise exciting theatre !!