Shute Festival aims to be engaging and diverse

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:04 28 August 2019

November 01, 2016 - Syria: Christina Lamb seen in the Old Town of Damascus, (Dmitri Beliakov/ Sunday Times)

November 01, 2016 - Syria: Christina Lamb seen in the Old Town of Damascus, (Dmitri Beliakov/ Sunday Times)

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Launched in 2016, Shute Festival offers a diverse range of activities, writes co-director Samantha Knights.

Shute Barton.Shute Barton.

Now in its fourth year, Shute Festival boasts a truly diverse array of events and speakers.

Held this year on the weekend of September 13 to 15, this boutique festival in the stunning village of Shute, near Axminster, bills itself as the small festival with big ideas.

Shute Festival was established in 2016 to bring inspirational and stimulating speakers - including botanists, biographers, explorers, documentary makers, gardeners, historians, poets, novelists and travel specialists - to a stunning corner of the West Country.

In the intimate, beautifully lit venue of St Michael's Church, Shute, audiences have, over the years, been treated to an extraordinary selection of speakers, among them Esther Freud, Sir Anthony Seldon, Sophie Hannah, Anna Pavord, Annie Freud, Anne Swithinbank, Tahir Shah, Rachael Boast, Stephen Calloway, William Ryan, Laurence Anholt, Greta Stoddart, Sir Ghillean Prance, Hilary Bradt and others.

Tim Pears. Picture: Rory CarnegieTim Pears. Picture: Rory Carnegie

In addition to talks, visitors have also enjoyed film showings and music events, as well as food cooked by local chefs served in the village school.

"We have had such amazing feedback from our audience and speakers each year. We definitely seem to be doing something different that has captured our community," said Paddy Magrane, one of the festival's co-directors.

One of the highlights this year will be the UK premiere of Free Men, an award winning documentary film about the life of death row artist Kenny Reams, who has spent more than 25 years in solitary confinement in his 9 x 4 foot cell in Arkansas.

Kenny, who has spoken widely in the US, will dial in after the film for a Q&A.

Jaz O'Hara.Jaz O'Hara.

Continuing with the theme of law, order, crime and punishment, the festival will also welcome Dr Angela Gallop CBE, one of the UK's leading forensic scientists, who will speak about her role in some of the country's most notorious murder cases, including Stephen Lawrence, Rachel Nickell and Damilola Taylor.

The festival will also have talks by garden designer Isabel Bannerman on her new book Scent Magic: Notes from a Gardener, writer and journalist Owen Matthews on An Impeccable Spy, Tim Pears on The Redeemed (the third in his West Country Trilogy), and Sunday Times war correspondent Christina Lamb.

Owen's recently published book has already made its way into the Sunday Times top 100 reads for the summer and all the authors have had excellent national reviews of their books.

Each year the festival has had a poetry event, which this year will be Fiona Benson on her Penguin published collection Vertigo & Ghost.

Esther Freud (left) and her sister, Annie Freud in conversation. Picture: JESSE ADLAMEsther Freud (left) and her sister, Annie Freud in conversation. Picture: JESSE ADLAM

The landscape is an important and integral part of the festival.

It opens with a free landscape walk led by Legacy to Landscape to the King John Oak in the former medieval deer park at Shute, now on private land.

There is also a wonderful array of free children's activities, including a ceramics workshop run by Lyme Regis-based Fiamma Montagu and Sam Bazeley, as well as land art, film-making, bushcraft and wild activities.

From the beginning, the festival has run a separate and impressive outreach programme for the local primary school, which has, to date, included creative writing, calligraphy, a Bollywood dance workshop and an opera workshop leading to a performance by the local Grassroots Opera company.

Its outreach continues this year with two after school clubs at Shute Primary funded by East Devon AONB.

The festival was set up by three Shute residents: crime fiction writer and psychotherapist Paddy Magrane, barrister Samantha Knights QC and historian and writer Bijan Omrani.

The aim was to bring excellent and diverse speakers to a stunning location near the Jurassic Coast to allow an intimate and engaging festival where speakers and audience can mingle in a way which is not possible at bigger festivals.

The venue is a medieval church in Shute dating back to Saxon times, overlooking the historic manor of Shute Barton, now owned by the National Trust.

Another strong theme for this year's festival is regeneration and concern about the future of the planet.

David Jones, founder of Just One Ocean and behind the much acclaimed documentary Plastic Ocean, will be speaking about plastics in the ocean.

This is a theme which resonates strongly in the local area with a number of local groups actively working to engage the community including Turn Lyme Green and Plastic Free Axminster.

Of equal global concern is the issue of migrants and refugees.

Jaz O'Hara's talk should be an inspiration in this context.

As a 20-something she gave up her job in the fashion industry and set up The Worldwide Tribe which works directly on the ground globally providing practical assistance to those who are displaced.

Shute Festival will take place September 13-15.

The full programme is at www.shutefest.org.uk including advance tickets.

Tickets are also sold through Archway Bookshop in Axminster.

To read more features from East Devon Resident, click here.

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