The Festival of Chichester gets under way on Saturday!

Welcome to our very first Festival of Chichester, a month-long extravaganza of arts, crafts, music, spoken word and community events of quite staggering diversity.

It opens on Saturday.

Roger Redfarn

Roger Redfarn

On a sad day last year, the Chichester Festivities folded, having served our city so well for the best part of four decades. For some of us, the thought of a summer without a festival was unbearable.

Chichester is such a vibrant, fun and exciting city, full of rich and varied talents, that we felt it would be wrong to let them lose their chance to shine.

And so a group of us got together and started to plan a new festival. Importantly, we decided that it was going to be a new kind of festival – one in which Chichester itself took centre stage.

No longer would it be about bringing in big names that you could see at any other festival anywhere else in the country. Our vision was to create a festival which would be unique to Chichester, which truly belonged to Chichester and which was thoroughly rooted in Chichester.

There were a few people who sniffed and suggested we would end up with something dull, worthy and a tiny bit parochial. How wrong they were.

Just glance through our website, and you will see that we have pulled something genuinely special out of our Chichester hat: an unparalleled chance to bring the whole community together in a four-week celebration of everything that we love about Chichester and the people that it breeds and attracts.

We hoped we were on to a winner when we held a couple of public meetings late last year. The interest was definitely there, but as the events poured in during the festival registration period earlier this year, we realised we were creating something beyond our wildest dreams.

In effect, we have delivered a wonderful clean sweep. It is difficult to think of a single organisation of importance that isn’t involved. Everyone has united behind the festival idea; everyone has contributed to a festival which really will be a Festival of Chichester. And the star names have signed up too to join our new-look celebrations.

Beavering away behind the scenes, we have had a superb committee which itself underlined the breadth of interests involved. Phil brought the power and influence of the Chichester Observer to the table; Barry is a man with the contacts, with the ability to organise and a track record in staging successful events.

We were delighted too to have the full and enthusiastic support of Anne Scicluna, Mayor of Chichester, a Cicestrian through and through and someone absolutely passionate about Chichester.

Distinguished theatre director Roger Redfarn is someone with the surest of touches who knows what works; Felicity Masters, of the West Sussex library service, is another person who gets things done; and Chichester Cathedral Chancellor Anthony Cane made sure the Cathedral was part of it all.

We got together and we asked you all what you could contribute to our very first Festival of Chichester; your collective response confirmed that Chichester is a rich and wonderful place, filled with bright talents –and enhanced by a few visits from the stars.

Let the festival begin!

Phil Hewitt, festival chairman, and Barry Smith, festival co-ordinator.

The festival will open on June 15 with the Chichester Singers, closing on the weekend of July 14 with events including the Chichester Symphony Orchestra, Love Games at the Vicars Hall, the final of a new Battle of the Bands competition, a new community choir summer concert and From Baroque to Classical at Chichester University.

In between times, there will be the Chichester Cycling Festival, a beer festival, a full range of walks, no fewer than eight events organised by Bosham’s Jazz Smugglers, an Artworks Exhibition, dramatic readings from Cherie Lunghi, the Hanover Band with a programme of Gluck and Mozart, The Poetry & Jazz Café with Sir Andrew Motion, the Kosmos Ensemble, memories of the late Chichester artist Peter Iden, world premieres with Simon Brett and Benjamin Wolf, an exclusive event with Chichester novelist Kate Mosse and a musical celebration entitled West End To Broadway.