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Creative Energy

As the International Youth Arts Festival Kingston prepares for another year, Creative Youth chief executive Phil Hetherington looks forward to a bright future

‘Maturing’ is perhaps the wrong word to describe a ‘youth’ arts festival, but that’s exactly what’s happening to IYAF as it enters its eighth year. The challenges scaled by the early years of the festival are still there, but IYAF is moving forward with a confidence and structure born out of those early struggles.

For Phil Hetherington, Chief Executive of Creative Youth (the charity that oversees IYAF), it’s a labour of love. Having worked in the corporate world as an executive at BT for 40 years, he jumped at the chance to do a charity secondment for a year. ‘I really enjoyed helping young people develop through the arts – trying to find the best in people. Eventually I took early retirement from BT and started working as a part-time freelancer for the charity in 2012.

‘IYAF has been in existence since 2009. In 2010 we decided to change the name of the charity to Creative Youth to reflect the fact that we do a whole programme of work and that the festival is just one of those things.

‘We’re all about structuring ourselves so that we can help young people in different ways. So, as well as IYAF, we run a creative talent programme where we mentor young people who are running small companies and help them make the change from a part-time hobby to a full-time business, and we get funding for that from various organisations. We help young people up to the age of 26.

‘For example, last summer we organised and created the Alice in Wonderland immersive experience at Wisley. We got actors, costume makers, a script writer to devise the script and we produced high teas – it was all done by young people. What we’re trying to do is make the charity more self sufficient so that we’re not reliant on fundraising and grants, and have a revenue generating arm of the charity.

Every young person who works on our commissions is paid, but we also add in a margin for the charity.’

Phil was appointed chief executive to give the organisation more structure. Working under him are a number of project managers, a marketing manager and an office manager. The appointment of the right Festival Director is vital to IYAF’s success and this year it’s Andy Currums.

‘It’s a lovely story,’ says Phil, ‘because Andy’s been engaged in every festival since the start of IYAF.’

Andy has been involved since the very first festival in 2009 when he started as a performer playing a tree. He then wrote and produced his own shows including Survivors in 2011 and The People’s Champion in 2013, both to great critical acclaim. He was also in Steven Berkoff’s extraordinary verse play EAST (IYAF 2012) in which he played Mum.

‘He’s a performer, producer, director,
marketeer and he understands the core values and what we’re trying to do as a
festival,’ says Phil.

‘Being involved with creative endeavours during my formative years has, for better or worse, made me who I am today to some degree,’ says Andy. ‘Not everyone who experiments with music, theatre, dance and film will decide to make it their career but there is so much to learn on a personal level from taking part in such things and it’s important to me to offer this opportunity to the young people of today. I’ll soon be going through all the applications for the 2016 programme and I can’t wait to see what amazing ideas they have in store for this year’s festival.’

Phil is keen to highlight the quality of the acts performing at IYAF: ‘What we’re delivering is quality arts delivered by young people. That’s why we get people coming from Brighton Festival and going onto Edinburgh Festival. IYAF is a good opportunity to see the artists of tomorrow at the start of their careers.‘

And, in what ways does he expect the festival to change and develop this year? ‘I think we’re going to see a consolidation. We’re honing it down from 12 days to ten days (8-17 July). We’re contracting it slightly but still have two full weekends with use of The Rose Theatre Kingston and things going on in Kingston Town Centre. We want to make sure that we are filling that time and that it’s buzzy, vibrant and full. One of the things that worked really well last year was the comedy and we hope to build on that this year. If you look at Brighton or Edinburgh Festivals, a huge part of what they’re all about is comedy.’

Other good news comes in the shape of three new patrons of Creative Youth – all big celebrities and all local. First up is Tom Holland, the star of the stage version of Billy Elliott and of the forthcoming Spiderman film. Kingston’s very own superhero joins fellow patrons Tom Chambers, Matt Lucas, Madeline Worrall, Chike Okonkwo and Sheridan Smith. ‘I am conscious that the arts have been very kind to me and I am delighted to able to support others in the pursuit of their dreams,’ says Tom.

Popular television presenters and Time & Leisure’s very own favourite columnists Angellica Bell and Michael Underwood also join the line up of patrons, recognising the value of the work that Creative Youth does.

As well as patrons from the world of the arts, IYAF also has royal endorsement. HRH Earl of Wessex has committed to a presidency for another two years.

‘His Royal Highness has been hugely supportive,’ says Phil. ‘His attendance and support is hugely important, it confers real respectability and authority on the charity and is a big draw. He’s very supportive and attends and speaks at events and knows what we do, which is wonderful. What I like above all else is that when he comes to things like the Gala Night, he takes the time to talk to the young people afterwards and they are a really engaged by him and he’s fantastic.’

The International Youth Arts Festival take place over 8-17 July 2016. Fundraising events taking place prior to the festival include a Riverboat Cruise on the 8th March and the British Bread Golf Open on 3 April and the Celebrity Golf Day on 22 April. For more details see www.iyafestival.org.uk and www.creativeyouthcharity.org

International Youth Arts Festival Kingston Andy Currums Angellica Bell and Michael Underwood Tom Holland