Children’s story festival breathes life into the heart an island community

Elspeth Giddens has been a community activist for many years, working on environmental projects such as Green Gym, and promoting and enhancing local green spaces to benefit the health and wellbeing of the local community.

Then five years ago she says “I was inspired by the Big Lunch to increase multigenerational activities and bring play and fun and skills sharing to everyone, so knowing we had the perfect location for such an event, I helped to organise the Northwood House and Park Big Lunch.’

“Story telling can lift aspirations and open new pathways – when you encourage young minds and nurture their creative confidence, they can be inspired to contribute to the arts, cultures and communities of the future.”

Isle of Wight Story Festival

From the beginning the event proved very popular with people of all ages in the local community, bringing together charities and organisations, and especially families.

On the first weekend in June each year, thousands of people from the Cowes and surrounding area enjoy time together having fun in the historic house and surrounding park. 

Now six years on, with the support of talented and dedicated fellow volunteers, Elspeth has branched out becoming Director of the first ever Isle of Wight Story Festival for children and families, launching the live event in February 2020.

Made possible by the Newport and Carisbrooke Community Council and other generous benefactors, the team has seen a regenerative impact, supporting local authors and creatives making their debut at the festival. They sit alongside nationally acclaimed children’s authors and performers including global bestselling patron of the festival, Nicholas Allen - famous for The Queen’s Kickers and benefactor to the arts.

The Festival offers cultural experiences and an opportunity to family audiences. Faced with the pandemic the organisers have had to overcome massive logistical challenges, but have not given up. They’re adapting, making their second festival in the February half term virtual and free to all.

Elspeth says their ambitions hold no bounds! She said “I want to keep our project alive and kicking through the pandemic, and that’s why we’ve taken the bold step of going virtual, but next year we’re planning to get back to face to face.”

“We hope to grow using two large community hubs at the centre of the island so that we can expand our live offer to draw in both primary and teenage audiences. We’ll give them creative opportunities so that they can experience engaging performances, and readings from authors perhaps for the first time ever.”

She continued “the knowledge, skills and experience made possible by the performing and visual arts – story telling, reading, writing – are essential to young people’s development. Through cultural learning they can find inspiration and discover new ways to express themselves, changing and reimagining their lives in positive ways, helping them to shape brighter futures.'

Elspeth wants to involve new locations across the Isle of Wight. Her vision is to bring fun pop-up events to schools and other community hubs using The Big Lunch model, connecting people and introducing authors, storytellers and performers to even more islanders in the future. The Isle of Wight Virtual Story Festival is free and takes place on the 17-20 February. To find out more go to www.iwstoryfestival.com

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