DESPITE the dark clouds hovering over large sections of the arts community, the new co-ordinator of Wigan’s largest literary festival remains upbeat about spreading the literary word in Wigan.
Sharon Lowe took over from Gillian Forrester at the helm of the Words Literary Festival in time to mark a decade of bringing the finest writers to the borough next month and is enjoying the challenges of steering the event forward at a time of widespread budget cuts.
Due to this, the 10th edition of Words marks something of a return to the grass-roots origins of the event, with the committee getting as many amateur and community projects involved in the fortnight-long programme in order to expand the schedule to 35 events.
Sharon, from Poolstock, is well placed to help the festival draw on local talent, with an extensive network of contacts in the Wigan arts scene through her work in organisations including Wigan Community Theatre Company and the Book-Cycle Beech Hill.
She is also a writer and performance poet who has stepped up to the microphone in poetry slams organised by venues including The Tudor and penned short stories and a pantomime.
After attending more than half of the events at last year’s Words festival, Sharon joined the committee as secretary but soon found herself stepping up into the top job to help secure funding from Arts Council England.
Sharon, 44, said: “I really enjoyed the events last year, and I went to a lot as a volunteer.
“My other previous experience of the festival was with the community theatre company, which always put something on at the very end of the festival.
“I was appointed secretary but it was decided quite rapidly we needed someone to run the show, and as I’ve got experience of organising events and knew how Gillian had worked last year I offered to do it.
“It’s all been a baptism of fire, but through my contacts in community groups it’s come together and I’m excited about the line-up.”
The festival’s headline events will see newspaper columnist and Booker Prize-shortlisted author Will Self arrive in the borough to talk about his most acclaimed fictional work to date, Umbrella, and poet Lemn Sissay, who was brought up in Atherton, travel to Hindley YOI to work with young offenders.
Beyond the big names, there will be a packed line-up of discussions, workshops and performances from a host of community groups and local artists, with new venues such as the book cycle in Beech Hill, which took over the running of the library due to council cuts, and Cadence Cafe in Tyldesley coming on board.
Sharon says it is these events, which offer Wiganers the chance to get involved in the arts themselves, which excite her as much as bringing renowned authors to the borough.
Sharon said: “I don’t seem to get much time to read. I prefer writing and performing things much more than settling down with a book or a Kindle.
“It was things like the performance poetry, the acting and the improvisation events that really drew me in to the festival.”
Sharon is also planning to increase the publicity of the Words festival and ensure everyone in Wigan who is interested in literature gets to find out about it.
She is particularly determined to make this year’s event a success due to the challenging funding landscape arts organisations and festivals are currently operating in.
She said: “Public funding is being completely obliterated, especially for the creative and cultural industries, and one of my long-term projects is to approach the private sector for income streams such as advertising in the programme.
“I think for the scale of the festival Words does very well. People know about it but we don’t get the same impact as watching TV chefs cook at the food and drink festival, which also has wider appeal.
“A lot of smaller festivals are doing incredibly well, because you’ve got a group of passionate people wanting to put them on and an audience out there wanting something different. I think Wigan is the same.
“I do want to bring the marketing into the 21st century, I’ve started a Twitter feed and we’re updating the Facebook page. We’re going to be doing a lot more social media networking to advertise the festival.”
The Words Literary Festival starts on April 1. To see the full programme of events and book tickets visit www.wlct.org/words