Lochwinnoch Takes It All
A small village in Renfrewshire is home to one of Scotland’s best and brightest arts festivals.
When the Lochwinnoch Arts Festival was established at the turn of the 21st century, it was a modest single afternoon affair devoted to local authors. Over the years it’s gradually grown into an eighteen day event encompassing literature, music, comedy, drama, design, crafts and the visual arts. Its ongoing success is rather heart-warming.
“We’re not a big organisation,” says cofounder Dr Morag Thow, “we’re just a bunch of volunteers who enjoy doing it.”
What inspired you to start the festival back in 2001?
It was a chance for people to meet authors, buy their books and have a bit of a chat. We just took over the village hall and it all came together. It went so well, the following year was a wee bit bigger. Bernard MacLaverty was our invited, recognised, well-published Scottish author. Then it just seemed to get bigger every year, we added music, the local drama group wanted to be involved. We realised that this was something people really liked and looked forward to.
How has it changed since then?
We’ve got better at running it, we’ve got a bit of funding and we’ve tried to get as much art into the village as we can. We’re not trying to put anybody else down, but we pride ourselves on being the only arts festival in Renfrewshire that covers everything. We’ve had film, photography, visual arts, music, writing, creativity, you name it we try to do it. There’s classical music, rock and roll, something for everybody we hope. We also try to showcase a lot of local talent; there’s a real buzz about the arts in the village.
Lochwinnoch is fairly remote. Has that caused problems for you?
It’s lovely to be out in the country away from the hubbub, but there is a downside. The problem for rural areas is we really have terribly little public transport. We only have one wee tiny bus that takes us to Johnstone, so it’s a bit of a bind trying to get into Glasgow. That’s why one of our things is trying to get the entertainment to come to the village. It lets OAPs, single parents, students and the unemployed to at least get the chance to have a bit of an experience. We really push a lot to keep the prices as low as we can so that people can maybe go to five or six different events. Let’s allow people to have a right blast of music and arts of all kinds on their doorstep.
On a local level, what are the benefits of organising an annual arts festival?
We’ve realised that this event brings people out from the village itself, but a lot of people come in. Last year maybe two to three thousand people came to the village for events and a lot of them are using local businesses and shops, particularly the food and coffee outlets. There’s a kind of payback for the village so we’re helping to sustain our own economic community.
What, for you, has been the highlight of the festival so far?
Dougie MacLean was an iconic moment for me and a lot of people. He’s an awfully nice guy and he loves playing in small venues. It was quite hilarious as he’d just come back from Australia and his last gig was Sydney Opera House, and here he is in Lochwinnoch village hall! He loved it, he stayed overnight in this ginormous motorhome and joined in with the pub sessions. It was delightful.
What’s the best thing about living in Lochwinnoch? Having the lochs beside us, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Castle Semple. We’re just really lucky. We’ve also got route 7 that comes right through the village, so you can just jump on your bike and before you know it you’re out in the country. It’s great having these nature facilities right on our doorstep.
Best place for coffee? The Junction Café and La Dolce Vita.
Best place for dinner? The Three Churches, The Brown Bull, The Loch House and the Bowfield Hotel. La Dolce Vita is also a proper Italian ice cream and chip shop; a lot of villages don’t have that.
For more information on the Lochwinnoch Arts Festival, visit their website. This feature was published in Mill issue 4, March/April 2019.