Youth Festival Unveils 30th Anniversary Programme & New Award in Memory of Liz Balmford

The Henley Youth Festival launched their 30th anniversary ‘Favourite Thing’s themed programme (2-10 March) last night at the River & Rowing Museum with musical performances and unveiled a new bursary award and an art competition for older artists.

Kate Swinburne-Johnson, HYF Trustee announced the new award, she said, “In the year that we are celebrating our 30 years and to reconnect with people from the past who were involved in the festival, it is really nice that the family of Liz Balmford who sadly passed away last year wanted us to organise an award that would be really fitting for Liz’s memory.  This year we are introducing the Sing, Speak, Be Award and we will be offering a bursary for a group of students for a workshop, masterclass or training session.  Liz herself was an amazing performer and encouraged young singers and performers.  We are going to be offering this to Valley Road School this year, and it is fitting that Liz was a pupil herself at this school.”  Liz’s husband Tim and Mum, Mary Dickinson are pictured above with HYF Chair, Laura Law.

In advance of the Henley Arts Trail on the early May Bank Holiday weekend, Wendy Penrose, new Chair of Henley Arts Trail announced a new collaborative partnership for the art competition for older artists (16-18 year olds) called ArtSpark. Wendy said, “I had an idea that older children in this area could do with a bit of extra support with their art. My children took part in art competition when they were younger.  As the new chair of the Henley Arts Trail I’m very keen to give something back to the community and encourage the next generation of budding artists. It was inspired by the needs of my own two very creative children who really wanted to try new media, not taught in school. But it’s so hard to find appropriate classes for older teens.  The prize for the winner will be one to one tutoring with a professional artist in their choice of 8 different specialist media – including lino printing, animal sculpture, textile and jewellery making.”

Guests included Henley Mayor, school teachers and Headteachers, past and present volunteers, sponsors and partners, community organisations and local children. Musical performances were from Valley Road Choir, the Violin Suzuki group and Amelia and Leo (Just the Two of Us).

This year’s programme will include performing arts, HYF run, art, film and photography competitions, school workshops and shows.  New for this year are Senior Proms on 6 March at The Kenton for Years 7-13 and an anniversary celebration event at Henley Town Hall on 8 March when schools will be invited to sing their favourite song and then join together to sing Jewel in the River which HYF Founder, Alfie Hay wrote specially for the HYF in 2000 for the Millennium.

Favourite performance shows will be returning including the Young Shakespeare Show, Rude Science and Scarlet Oak Theatre along with artists Emily Couling and Camilla Shelley who will be running art workshops.   New shows and workshops for this year include a bhangra dance workshop and An Inspector Calls show for senior schools.

Chair of HYF Laura Law said, “It’s so nice to look back at all the photos of what people did over the years.  It’s been a testament to the founders who started it 30 years ago and for the people that keep volunteering, wanting to take part and to embrace all of Henley’s talent.”

Alfie Hay who founded the Henley Youth Festival 30 years ago with Janine Fitzgerald, and Felicity Rutland said, “I think the model was a simple one.  Just get the kids to come out of the woodwork and show the adults what they can do.  That’s still the case.  The trouble is so many parents are now both working and getting that energy from them into the children to get them to come out and be brave and show what they can do is hard.  Originally we had a programme book that went home from schools that children looked through.  Everything is online now so parents need to show their children the website and see what they would like to do.  We’re not talking about high powered competition, its pure pleasure and it’s just to have fun.  We need the comedians, the acrobats, the jugglers and we need the recorder group that plays together to come out of the woodwork.”

To find out more and see the full programme of events and how to enter the competitions go to


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