The festival is by the people of Swindon, for the people of Swindon and offers many performance opportunities from the very young to those in their golden years. Commonweal School have been actively involved with the Old Town Festival since 2004. The school provides a large marquee for the festival’s Family Day which takes place each year on Lawn, Old Town and in return the school’s PTA hold a very successful mini fete alongside. Josie Williams our Community Arts Development Officer has been the Chair for the last two years. Josie works closely with Screaming Media, Swindon Advertiser and Swindon 105.5 to help promote the event, produce the festival programme and encourage local businesses and organisations to participate.
“The committee is a very strong team of volunteers who are committed to the festival and without them the festival simply wouldn’t happen! Thank you one and all for your services to the community, you are unsung heroes! Thank you also to our Patron Sheila Harrod for her continued support which is very much appreciated by us all.
"In my capacity as Community Arts Development and Press Liaison Officer at Commonweal I feel I have got a lot to bring to the festival. I have over twelve years’ experience in Commonweal organising events and leading teams both in school and in the wider community. Thank you to Headteacher Keith Defter for seconding me and thus enabling me to be free to stand for election as Chair,” said Josie.
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The first Chairman of the Old Festival was Neil Hillier, Arts and Leisure Officer for Swindon Borough Council. The very first Festival was held in the Summer of 1991.
In order to get the Old Town Festival started Neil required the help of the Old Town Business and Professional Association (OTBPA) who’s Chairman at the time was my late father Michael Deacon. An augural meeting took place in the Cross Keys in Wood Street (now Bakers Street) and it was decided that the businesses would help to establish the Old Town Festival. The first festival was in the summer of 1991 and in keeping with Old Town architecture it was decided to have a Victorian theme with both the public and business owners encouraged to dress up in Victorian costume. The very first event was enhanced by Queen Victoria herself (Mary Ratcliffe) and although beginning with a small finance budget it was deemed a great success.
The committee of Neil Hillier and Richard Deacon decided that for 1992 we would need a lot more help with more entertainment with a full programme of events both in the streets of Old Town and Town Gardens. A local committee was formed with Neil Hillier as Chairman and Committee members of Richard Deacon, Sue and Alan Benfield, Ted and Shirley Ludford and Michelle Taylor.
The 1992 Festival was a huge success and fully established the event in the Old Town calendar. Over the many years since the Festival has become an integral part of the community of Old Town and many Old Town residents and personalities have contributed to its success over all the years.
This year, once again, the Old Town Festival is in the capable hands of the new Chairperson and Old Town resident Josie Williams.
By Richard Deacon from Deacons Jewellery shop in Wood St, Old Town.