Community and education projects

Presteigne Festival

Community and Education outreach

Since 2010, the Presteigne Festival has worked hard to benefit parts of the local community that do not normally connect with the Festival itself. The work we undertake is orientated towards the younger and/or m ore senior sections of the community and we have built strong, long-term relationships with a number of Powys and Herefordshire schools and care establishments.

We believe that an essential part of the Festival’s role locally is to utilise our contacts and expertise to bring professionally led creative arts learning projects to the area.

A brief history of our community outreach work follows.

2022-2023 | Water’s Edge – Ymyl Dŵr

In 2022, we launched Stage 1 of an education project with local schools titled ‘Water’s Edge – Ymyl Dŵr’. This involved 80 primary school children from five schools visiting local rivers and lakes to explore, observe and to write about their experience of water in the landscape, at a time when the fragility of such environments is very evident. Sarah Zyborska, a bilingual workshop leader/lyricist helped them to create poetry in English and Welsh, extending their vocabularies about the natural world in both languages. This was followed with visits by Sarah Frances Jenkins, the current recipient of the Festival’s ‘Emerge’ composer development scheme, to take the words and form them into songs with the children in school.

Stage 2 took place during the spring and summer of 2023, bringing the project to a culmination that gave the children a chance to share their work publicly and to create a legacy from the project. We worked to produce a series of music teaching sessions in their schools, to prepare for a performance in front of family and friends. This teaching programme was supported by the creation of learning materials (including audio files), so that the schools were equipped with all they need to perpetuate use of these uniquely relevant songs with future intakes of children.

Parents and friends joined us at St Andrew’s Church, Presteigne on 28 June 2023 for performances by the children, with flautist Catherine Handley and harpist Eleri Darkins. Feedback from the Stage 1 work undertaken in 2022 tells us that the project is valued. At time of writing, we are working on evaluating the project, but one Year 6 teacher has told us ‘It is so important to provide such occasions for our children to experience. Not all children would ever experience attending a concert and hearing live music. Likewise, the opportunity to sing with others in a larger choir.’


2019-2020 | Lunch and Learn

This project, in planning during 2019 and put into action early in 2020 has, at time of writing, been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to this, the Presteigne Festival is exploring ways to continue the work online.

This was initially planned as a series of weekly events from February to April, intended to reach older sections of the community and to provide social and learning interaction, centred on the visual arts.

Our partners in the project are the Bleddfa Centre, who provided the venue, and East Radnorshire Day Centre, who helped with minibus transport. The project has proved extremely popular, with a waiting list for each session.

Artist Lois Hopwood has co-ordinated a team of workshop leaders, to cover painting, spinning, ceramics and singing. Home-made lunches served at each session have been hugely appreciated. They have helped the participants who, in the great majority, did not know one another or the workshop leaders, to relax and socialise whilst exploring new skills.

One of several complete novices said ‘I hadn’t done any painting before and was delighted to discover how much I enjoyed it. I now have a new hobby!’

The Lunch and Learn project is supported by PAVO Small Health Grants and The Oakdale Trust.

Thanks to generous COVID-19 resilience funding from the Community Foundation of Wales, this project was been moved online, with Lois Hopwood leading a series of weekly virtual art assignments with many of the original participants. We look forward to being able to share some of their work on this site and as part of the Festival’s social media in future.


2017 | Making Stories

During October 2017, 120 children from three Mid-Wales primary schools in years 3 to 6, worked with storyteller Michael Harvey to create stories at the Bleddfa Centre. The Centre occupies a restored barn and Victorian school next to the ancient village church.

Each school had one full day on site with Michael, where he worked with them using the whole complex of buildings and grounds, and the adjacent church and churchyard. He helped the children find new ways of experiencing and describing their environments, told them stories and helped them to create ideas for and evolve completely new stories of their own, working both in small groups and finally as a whole class.

Michael then led a further day of work in each school, when he invited children to choose passages from their own reading books and then analysed with them what made them engaging. From this, the children learnt how to choose language that engaged readers and listeners, and how to structure narrative.

Each class produced a fully written up story as the basis for art and animation work, led by artist Lois Hopwood. Both art and film work contributed to an exhibition at the Bleddfa Centre during the Easter period 2018.

Teachers commented specially that children who were quite withdrawn in class were far more communicative and engaged during these less formal sessions. One boy who had been especially withdrawn revealed huge energy and aptitude for dancing and for rhythm.

The project was supported by The Foyle Foundation, Hanfod Cymru and Radnor Hills.


2016 | Friday Afternoons

Our 2016 cross-border education initiative saw the Festival working in partnership with Aldeburgh Music for the first time, bringing their ‘Friday Afternoons’ singing project to the Welsh Marches.

Something of an innovation, ‘Friday Afternoons’ was set up to celebrate the Britten centenary in 2013. The programme aims to engage primary schoolchildren with contemporary music – Aldeburgh Music is committed to commissioning songs (for upper voices and piano accompaniment) on an annual basis, creating a song bank of repertoire, complementing Britten’s own group of songs, ‘Friday Afternoons’, completed in 1935. Sheet music and teaching resources are available for download, free of charge, for school use.

The Presteigne Festival extended and expanded Aldeburgh Music’s resource by employing specialist vocal animateur Fiona Evans to work with children in local primary schools; the resultant performance of Jonathan Dove’s Aldeburgh Music commissioned song-cycle ‘Seasons and Charms’ (conducted by Fiona and accompanied by Susie Allan) took place on 18 November 2016 at St Andrew’s Church, Presteigne, with 160 children taking part. This project shared and extended the commissioning ethos of the Festival’s regular professional work with children and teachers in the local community.


2015 | Writing with Dylan

The Festival’s 2014 project involved over 150 children and twenty staff from local Primary schools – workshop sessions in individual schools culminated in a work-sharing day with all the children at Presteigne Primary School in October 2014.

Workshop leader Peter Read (a Welsh writer, poet and actor whose show Dylan Thomas’ ‘Final Journey’ formed part of the 2014 Festival programme) worked with the children throughout, helping them to create their own ‘mad town’. With Peter’s guidance and taking Thomas’ poems as an inspiration, they created their own work, learning from the techniques, character drawing and language of ‘Under Milk Wood’ (working title ‘The Town that was Mad’) in the poet’s centenary year.

We helped children relate to Dylan Thomas’ work in ways they would enjoy and remember, especially in the context of the media coverage of his life and work, and the feedback suggested that with Peter’s leadership, the project succeeded in doing that.

Each school started work with Peter to create an imaginary town full of characters with odd habits, interactions and foibles. The children continued this work with their own teachers and presented visual art, poetry and prose at a final sharing session, when everyone joined together in Presteigne.


2013 | Unlocking Memories

In 2013, the Festival’s community project ‘Unlocking Memories’ focused on enagement with the elderly; we worked with residents and day care patients at several local facilities. The aim was to give stimulation and pleasure to elderly people with serious care problems which, in many cases, necessitate residential nursing care or attendance at a day care centre.

Live music has long been shown to be helpful for people whose experience of life is limited by memory and communication difficulties. Interactive sessions of the type that professional musicians Rebecca Rudge and Marcel Zidani led during the project, are carefully designed to stimulate participation.

It was clear these encounters with live music gave much pleasure, and the undoubted zest with which residents joined in, singing and playing percussion instruments, demonstrated the success these two young artists achieve in engaging their audience.

One resident gave a solo performance of a song she had sung publicly during her thirties and another played a piano solo and talked about her career as a music teacher. Others recounted times when they had sung with friends in schools, choirs and at social events.


2012 | Singing Histories

‘Singing Histories’ was a cross art-form, cross-border initiative that involved a composer, musicians, a poet and children from primary schools situated either side of the Herefordshire/Powys border. The stimulus for the project was a hugely important and influential historical event which is embedded in the cultural heritage of the Welsh Marches – the Battle of Bryn Glas, Pilleth, which took place on 22 June, 1402.

In addition to literature, music and singing workshops at local primary schools led by composers Liz Lane, Liz Johnson and writer David Lewis, the project had a lasting cultural legacy:

A new cantata, ‘Old Stones Remember’, with music by Liz Lane and words by David Lewis directly resulting from school workshops and with impressive input by the children themselves;

The publication of a new descriptive poem, ‘The Priest’s Song’, written by David Lewis and based entirely on children’s ideas from extensive literary workshops;

Two special community performances of ‘Old Stones Remember’ which took place in St Andrew’s Church on 12 July 2012 with a massed primary school choir of over 160 children from the participating schools accompanied by a quartet of professional musicians;

A further performance of ‘Old Stones Remember’ and ‘The Priest’s Song’ as part of the 2012 Presteigne Festival, with performers including actor Crawford Logan and the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir.


2011 | Sounds New

June 2011 saw the Presteigne Festival working together with older people in the Presteigne area for the first time. Flautist Candice Hamel and harpist Ruby Aspinall gave hour-long performances at the East Radnorshire Day Centre in Presteigne, Knighton Hospital and care homes in Kington and Lyonshall. The musicians presented a selection of captivating new works, alongside more familiar repertoire.

The participants were encouraged to join in with the musicians and were also given a special pre-performance presentation with interesting insights into the music and the composer’s craft provided by education project leader, Liz Johnson. The duo included excerpts from Huw Watkins’ ‘Suite for Harp’, John McCabe’s ‘March Sonatina’ and David Bruce’s ‘Gigue’ for flute and harp, three works that had been commissioned and premiered by the Presteigne Festival previously.


2010 | Creating Landscapes

‘Creating Landscapes’ was our first ever cross-arts project which brought together composers and visual artists of international repute to create new pieces of music and art for the 2010 Presteigne Festival. The project also gave young people from primary schools in rural Herefordshire and Powys the opportunity to work with professional artists, providing valuable learning activities. The inspiration for ‘Creating Landscapes’ was the rich heritage and natural beauty of the Welsh Marches. In broad terms the project developed participants and audiences’ appreciation of the arts and local heritage, combining art and music in a unique way, enriching the cultural life of the area and bringing a wider audience to the Festival.

Children worked together with professional artists and composers to create their own artwork and music inspired by the rolling landscape of the Welsh Marches, exhibited as part of the 2010 Presteigne Festival, when five new wind quintet commissions were also performed by the Galliard Ensemble.

Schools visited specially chosen sites, and these visits were followed by workshops which took place either side of the 2010 Festival. The culmination of the whole project was a special community concert, when all five new commissions were presented alongside artwork and musical performances by the children themselves.

The professionals involved with the project were composers Mark Bowden, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Cecilia McDowall, Paul Patterson and Lynne Plowman, visual artists Veronica Gibson and Ashley Davies, photographer Gareth Rees-Roberts and the Galliard Ensemble.