New co-chairman for Shaftesbury Fringe

AN experienced Shaftesbury event organiser, businessman and photographer James Thrift, has become the co-chairman of the town’s successful fringe festival, now in its fourth year, running from 5th to 7th July.

“I’m probably the person who has been to more Fringe performances than anybody else,” says James Thrift. who has been volunteering as a photographer for the last three Fringes which means he has seen a huge selection of shows – music, drama, comedy, physical performance or spoken word.

James has been involved in festivals and events in Shaftesbury for many years, including the Chamber of Commerce Christmas events, the food festival and behind-the-scenes, helping out with the carnival..

James says his vision for Shaftesbury Fringe is simple – to do ‘more of what we are doing’. But he was keen to point out the important difference between Shaftesbury Fringe and general festivals: “We don’t book acts to come in. With the Fringe, we are a conduit. We put the performers in touch with venues. We let them come up with what they want to do and then we publicise it. I think that is where this Fringe has been so fantastic. It is not just music. There’s comedy, poetry and an amazing diversity of events.”

The Fringe has grown every year but it hasn’t grown massively, says James, “and we will get to the point where we don’t want it to be huge. The performers coming in are often not local. They come from all over the country. Some of them are saying it is like Edinburgh was before Edinburgh got big. It is good that it has grown and it will continue to grow but it’s important that it grows in diversity as well as in numbers.”

Many performers talk about Shaftesbury’s ‘friendly fringe’ and James know why: “This is a small town. We are definitely punching well above our weight in what we put on. We are the third biggest fringe in the country. Nobody is in this to make money. I think that is reflected in how we treat the performers and also how the audiences react to the performers. Performers love coming here.”

Fringe co-chairman Rob Neely asked James to share the chairmanship role following the resignation of Sue Allatt, who has been co-chairman for a year and a half. Sue wants to spend more time on her own business. “ We thank her for all of her effort and hopefully we will carry it on, to do her justice,” says James.