Bringing Arts to the People

Roger McGough

Roger McGough

Standfirst: With its mix of big-name attractions and home-grown talent, the Sydenham Arts Festival promises something for everyone, whether you’re into poetry, music, dance, visual art or literature. By Kirsten Edwards

Now a regular fixture on south east London’s calendar, the Sydenham Arts Festival starts with a bang on Sunday 1 July with Arts in the Park, a family fun day in Home Park. There’ll be music and dance acts on the main stage throughout the afternoon, including vocal percussionist Randolph Matthews at 5pm. There’s also storytelling, free arts activities, children’s games, street performance, theatre, puppetry and walkabout acts, as well as a funfair and food stalls.

The festival was set up four years ago by local theatre producer, Jonathan Kaufman. ‘It’s about bringing the community together and showing people that the arts is for everyone,’ he says. ‘This year we’ve got more than 50 events, and lots of them are free.’

At the centre of this year’s festival is Word Explosion!, a celebration of children’s literature. ‘Guardian columnist Lucy Mangan has agreed to host a debate with three high-profile authors on the future of reading and writing for teenage girls, which is very exciting,’ says Jonathan. ‘I’m also very pleased that we’ve got the brilliant Roger McGough, who’ll be reading poems from his book That Awkward Age at Forest Hill School on 14 July.’

Other Word Explosion! events include Dear Mr Dahl, in which professional actors will read extracts from the books of Roald Dahl, and an open-air production of The Jungle Book by Jonathan’s theatre company, Spontaneous Productions, on Albion Millennium Green.

A regular feature of the festival is Sydenham Unsigned (13 July, Tudor Livesey Hall), in which local bands battle it out to win the audience’s vote for best unsigned band. Special guests Ziegler Company were last year’s winners – they’ve now been signed and are about to release their first album.

There’s also the popular Visual Arts Trail, in which around 50 artists from all over Sydenham and Forest Hill open their studios over two weekends, and a free film screening of The Little Shop of Horrors in Mayow Park on 8 July.
Well-known comics such as Owen O’Neill and Lucy Porter will be trying out their Edinburgh Festival material at The Hob on 1, 8 and 15 July and, on Sunday 8 July, you can watch and join in with traditional folk dancing at Horniman Gardens, courtesy of Trinity Laban and the Horniman Museum. To round things off, the South London Jazz Orchestra will perform jazz and swing classics at St Bartholomew’s Church on 15 July.

The Sydenham Arts Festival runs from 1 to 15 July. For the full programme, pick up a brochure at the Kirkdale Bookshop, 272 Kirkdale SE26, or at your local library, or visit