Loughton: Festival fever
PUBLISHED: 10:11 31 May 2016 | UPDATED: 10:11 31 May 2016
There is a point at which Essex almost gets absorbed into the great metropolis that is London. Almost, but not quite. Loughton may well feature on London's underground map but it is very much part of Essex
Loughton is part of the Epping Forest district and dates back to the Iron Age as an earth fort in Epping Forest. The town initially developed in the mid-19th century with the arrival of the railway, which also opened up the area to visitors from London’s East End looking to enjoy the forest.
A large part of Loughton’s housing was built during Victorian and Edwardian times and the town became something of a magnet for the middle class with academics, scientists and artists taking up residence.
The suburb of Debden (situated north east of the town) is a purpose-built development commissioned by London County Council to house families left homeless after the war, which significantly increased the population of Loughton over time. Today it stands at 31,000. The part of Loughton around the High Road – and an area referred to as The Hills – retains plenty of village-like charm with pretty houses, many of which are reminders of the town’s medieval history. The buildings are also reminders of Loughton’s famous former residents such as Sir Jacob Epstein, writer Arthur Morrison and the poet John Clare, who was an inmate in the local lunatic asylum for a period of time.
Clearly, literary and artistic influences remain deep-rooted in Loughton, a fact not lost on one particular resident, Sue Taylor. Director of the annual Loughton Festival, Sue has managed to motivate the community into action in a celebration of the arts for the last ten years and this year the festival looks like being the busiest yet.
So how did it start? Sue explains: ‘David, my husband, had been invited to speak at the Hay on Wye Literary Festival about his latest book and I went along. On our return, I said to David that I couldn’t see any reason why we could not do something similar. I asked a few friends and they all thought I should go for it, so I did.
‘Unlike Hay on Wye, we could not afford to pay for top authors to come to Loughton so, to begin with, our programme included talks by academics and speakers from various societies about authors with Loughton connections, such as Alfred Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, John Clare and Arthur Morrison.’
So what is the secret to the festival’s success? ‘We have such a fabulous community and people want to get involved, so much so that I get calls as early as November from people wanting to put forward ideas for the following year’s festival.’
It is a massive organisational feat and, although she is a volunteer, Sue has to take a few weeks off work each year as planning reaches the crucial stages. Nevertheless, she speaks with such enthusiasm, it is clear the fun and enjoyment prevails over the nail-biting final stages and bulging in-box she has to regularly wade through.
‘This year we have so much going on that all the proposed events wouldn’t fit on the programme, in spite our best efforts. One talk has had to be put on hold until next year!’
The festival this year features something for everyone and runs from May 1 to June 4. Heritage events, walks, talks, music, bake offs, classic bikes and a charity football match are all being organised, with one end aim.
‘Every event, including associated events run by professional organisations, will be raising money for local charities. Different charities are chosen each year and this year it is the Chigwell Disabled Group and Haven House Children’s Hospice,’ says Sue.
Chigwell Disabled Group is a social group which meets once a week in Loughton’s Methodist Church and provides activities and support for physically disabled people. Sessions are held throughout the day with arts and crafts, boccia, chair aerobics, quizzes and music groups on offer.
Sue elaborates: ‘Ray Harris, who works for the group, has worked with the Loughton Festival since it began and we are delighted to be supporting his charity this year. He is also an artist and he has been the driving force behind our Haven House event at the Kings Oak on May 18. It’s a networking opportunity featuring work by disabled artists from the group which will be showcased and up for auction to raise money for Haven House.’
Chigwell Disabled Group is desperately in need of donated laptops or tablets for computer training and as tools for artwork.
The festival is clearly a great chance for people to visit Loughton and get involved in what appears to be a committed and motivated community, as well as giving visitors a chance to visit some of the town’s key locations and places of interest including The Postal Museum Store, Minns Tea Hut and, of course, Epping Forest.
Sue adds: ‘There are many groups that chip in and get involved, including the Historical Society and the Residents’ Association supporting events that reveal a lot about the history of Loughton as well as the activities of the town today.’
The festival is pulled together by Sue and a main organising group of around 25 people, but, of course, over the period of the festival, many volunteers are needed to make it a success and Sue is always keen to hear from those keen to get involved.
‘People really do get into the spirit when fundraising for good causes and this year our big gorilla Event is going to need a lot of help, so if anyone wants to join in the fun, please get in touch.’
The festival is also dependent on donations from Loughton Town Council and also Haslers, a local firm of chartered accountants and business advisors, who sponsor the cost of the printing of the programme.
With so much going on throughout May and into June, what is Sue looking forward to the most?
‘I am most excited about the visit of Mark Felton, an author and historian who is providing a Day School on May 4, while the classic bike show in Epping Forest is sure to attract several visitors, but there will be plenty over the days and weeks to enjoy.’
Find out more
To get involved and to view the full visit festival programme please visit www.loughtonfestival.org.uk