Mike Wilson is the Founder of the East Anglian Festival Network, which aims to connect the festival and events Community in the region. Here, he shares who won the latest Festival of the Year awards
I used to have what my late father called ‘a proper job’ travelling all over the UK and Europe with the MOD. During those 30 years I was bored silly unless I was organising various community events and fund-raising for local groups and clubs in the local Cambridgeshire community where I lived at the time. I was lucky to be able to take a very early retirement and became an event professional to follow my passion full-time.
What led to the setting up of the East Anglian Festival Network and what’s the thinking behind it?
I started the Gigs Out pages on social media in Cambridgeshire to publicise the wealth of local events. When I moved to Suffolk, I realised just how lucky we are to have so many events right across the region and extended Gigs Out to cover East Anglia.
I noticed just how many Festivals, Fairs and Fundays our region had and how many excellent venues, suppliers, traders and performers were based locally. There is a huge wealth of knowledge across the region, and I founded the East Anglian Festival Network (EAFN) in 2018 to publicise and connect our region’s events community so all this information, knowledge and resource could be shared. The network has since expanded to cover the whole East of England region.
How is the Network connecting the events community in the region?
We run a Membership Scheme and an Events Directory of the region’s events, venues, suppliers, traders and performers. Our Festival listings promote the 750 plus Festivals, Fairs and Fundays held each year across East Anglia (Cambs, Essex, Herts (from 2024), Norfolk and Suffolk. We also publish useful events information and links, surveys and promote sustainability.
We launched the EAFN with a conference and exhibition (the EAFN Show) in 2018. It has been extremely popular and became an annual event held each October. For the last two years it has been held at Ipswich Corn Exchange with hundreds of Festival Organisers, Venue Managers and Suppliers attending the Conference and Trade Exhibition, networking and enjoying the food and entertainment provided.
Another popular annual event we organise is our EAFN East Anglian Festival Awards where thousands vote for their favourite events in the region.
Who won this year’s award and what’s the main aim of the awards?
The awards are an annual thank you to the people that put on the hundreds of amazing events across our region and publicise all the events and the Network. Events provide so much fun, fulfilment and funds for our communities and charities, and have a huge positive impact on the local economy.
The top ten East Anglian Festivals (including the four award winners) in 2023:
1. Anti Loo Roll Festival (Essex and overall East Anglian Festival of the Year 2023)
2. St Neots Festival (Cambridgeshire Festival of the Year 2023) – EAFN Member
3. Secret Island Festival
4. Buckfest Music Festival – EAFN Member
5. Weird and Wonderful Wood (Suffolk Festival of the Year 2023) – EAFN Member
6. Frisking the Whiskers
7. Yarmageddon – Legends Of Rock (Norfolk Festival of the Year 2023) – EAFN Member
8.= Bring the House Down Fiestaval
8.= Thaxted Festival
10. Southend Jazz Festival
Any new festivals for this year you are particularly looking forward to?
I try and attend as many EAFN member’s events as I can each year and look forward to presenting the EAFN award trophies to each of the winners.
Any plans for the Network in 2024 you can share?
Last year we became partners with several other organisations including the Power of Events, the Event Production Show and Suffolk New College as well as working more closely with councils in the region. We will be doing more with these partners to promote our region’s events with a particular emphasis on recruiting more people to our amazing events industry.
Featured image of Mike Wilson at Ely Folk Festival by Andrew Moore