A day at Ramsgate Festival 2016

A day at Ramsgate Festival 2016

It was Sunday 31 July, the last day of the 7th annual Ramsgate Festival 2016 and we’d been meaning to visit since the start. Expanded this year from a long weekend event to take in Ramsgate Regatta week, and other local events, the Festival started on Friday 23 July with a Littoral light exhibition on the seashore. This combined low tide with sunset to showcase improvised art and sculpture installations in a truly natural and local setting: white cliffs replacing the white walls of the safety of the studio.

The finale was played out a full nine days later to the pulsating rhythms of Rio as the Rhythms of the City band took the enthusiastic audience to the beaches of Brazil and back; creating their very own brand of Ramsgate rhumba. The festival atmosphere was more than completed by four exotic dancing ladies, dressed in stunning carnival costumes, topped with brightly coloured plumage and spectacular headdresses.

In between there was foraging trips on the seashore, all manner of creative workshops, sea life parades, talks and lectures with nautical themes, a celebration of local legends such as the Ramsgate Whale, as well as the Food and Arts & Crafts festival, not to mention, opera on the beach.

Catching up with Ramsgate Arts organiser Suzy

I caught up with Ramsgate Arts organiser Suzy Humphries outside the Victorian Custom House which overlooks the Royal Harbour.  It was an appropriate place to meet as the recent mixed fortunes of the grand building seem to sum up all that is good about the regeneration of Ramsgate.  Closed to the public until relatively recently, it now proudly hosts the Visitor Information Centre and a cafeteria as well as the Town Council and the RNLI.

Suzy’s helped run Ramsgate Arts for the last five years or so, and seen it and the Festival develop, in tandem. It takes up to six months of the year to help organise the arts side of things, all on a voluntary basis. A kick starter crowd funding initiative to raise the final 3k of the 10k or so, needed to fund the festival had only just been reached in time, but Suzy seemed to take these things in her stride.  She even smiled when she told me that the council had revoked at the last minute permission to finish the festival with a celebratory bonfire, citing the granting of a permit to a company to film on the beach. Co-operation with the town council had, though, led to funding and a brief to utilise previously ‘unloved’ spaces in the town such as Charlotte Court, and instill a more artistic touch to the surroundings.

When we visited later, we saw a game of boules taking place in the sand and several niche boutique shops in the square on the site of the old police station and pub.

A little detour to Nice Things

Suzy set up and runs Nice Things, a shop also in the Custom House which opened in 2010.  It sells ‘nice things well-made by real people, focusing on local talent and always with a unique charm.’  She explained that by 2012, she had over-run the space in the shop and started a monthly market just across the road by the Royal Harbour.  It may have been a short step but it was a long journey. Originally the shop had more of a gallery feel, but Suzy works with around 25 makers, around 80% who live or work locally, and all the goods are totally handmade.  Work is displayed on a sale or return basis.

Ramsgate Nice Things Shop

The shop hosts work from around 12-15 makers at any one time and collections are often rotated on a 4-6 week basis with artists taking it in turns to help staff the shop.  Suzy takes an active role in sourcing and promoting local talent as well as working with local artists to help them develop their work and ideas so that they can be accessible.

Wearing her high vis organiser’s vest, we left Suzy cheerfully sorting out a request for a ladder, and talking to traffic marshals and took up her invitation to step inside Nice Things.

The shop certainly lives up to its title. It’s a cosy little well managed space, and Irene Reyagin, who herself makes hand embroided decorative woollen yarns, took us through some of the many creative collections on display in cabinets, tables, on the walls and practically anywhere space allows.

Laura Dent’s vivid collection of textile mermaids and faeries immediately attracted the eye. Dressed in a range of various outfits from pirate black to glittering colourful party ball gowns, their various poses and exquisite attention to detail raised an appreciate chuckle and nod of admiration.

Displayed on the wall was Melanie Tong’s shoal of silver painted wire fish.  Other blue and orange ceramic fish floated by our eyes, as did the work of a selection of local talented painters and print makers such as Pru Cross, Rose Dickenson and Mike Childs.



We could have stayed and lingered for hours, but dragged ourselves away and ventured outside again to visit the stalls of the Feast of Food and Craft Festival lining the Royal Harbour. Talking with the owners some were regulars of the monthly market but many had come to the Festival for the first time.

The highlights were wonderful cupcake creations from Martello, tropical and marine soap combinations and flavours from Janice Gibbs which were well suited to their harbour setting. Lola’s old fashioned food van was doing brisk business while the huge whole hog roast was lazily turning over on its spit; fat cracking on the charcoal fire. It must have been the heat…

Ramsgate Festival Lola's Vintage Van

Martello Cakes

Deliciously looking (and tasting!) cupcakes.


IVY makes

Unique handmade jewellery


Repurposing old maps and postcards


Melanies Creations

Bespoke handmade cards


Matt Dawson

Photography, cards and prints



Original paintings and cards

The Festival has taken in the whole town and it seems that the town had taken to the many events on show in equal measure. It was time stretch our legs and our visual imagination and visit Arch 18, Military Road, underneath the rising bridge on the road to Pegwell Bay and Silverland Studios.  It’s the home of painter Joe Allen and painter and print-maker Christine Henn. You are welcome to find out more about their workshops and what they do on their website here.

Their ‘The Sea Brings Life’ exhibition had been running during the Festival. They also run evening classes and will be running public painting courses during the year.

We climbed upstairs and admired Christine’s five painted landscapes made from natural fibres and inspired by the Red Sea and more local vistas. I’d read the programme notes downstairs and noted that there were six paintings on display. Where was the sixth, I wondered? Christine told me to step back and gently guided my eyes straight ahead to the front arch overlooking the harbour. There in front of me, was a long narrow post box type slit across a canvass between the window.

Outside I could see that the sea does bring life. A yacht sailed into view and then I noticed the clouds re-forming into different shapes.

Christine had cleverly created an ever changing landscape before my very own eyes.

We wandered back to the UK’s only Royal Harbour, an honour granted by a grateful George IV in 1821, in return for the sort of hospitality now shown during Festival Week.

Braceman was finishing his cool funky groove vibes. The sun hadn’t quite set but by now the stage was set for the glorious finale. A cacophony of carnival music provided by Rhythms of the City decked out in their blue t-shirts and white trousers. This was percussion of every conceivable size and shape from the 30 strong member band. The sound could probably have been heard across Pegwell Bay in Sandwich. The only whistles were ones of encouragement. Lilting it may have been to start with but it finished with a rum punch of kick helped along by the long legged Rio style carnival dancers.

All, in all, it may have been an Olympian task to organise. But on a shoreline which has had its fair share of shipwrecks, Ramsgate Festival rocks where others might flounder. Bring on the bonfire next year!


Talk about…Art

Talk about…Art

Talk about …ART, talk about the Pre-Raphaelites. It sounds like something mysterious, written in code, particularly when you consider that the Pre-Raphaelites, styled their early works with the initials PRB – adding Brotherhood after their name.

So much for the mystery but what is talk about … ART (TAA) and who were the intriguingly named Pre-Raphaelites? TAA promotes greater engagement to visual arts for schoolchildren, where access may be limited or discouraged. They’re currently putting on a display of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites at Deptford Lounge during June 2016.

So we’re halfway there. Now for a bit about those Pre-Raphaelites.  Founded in 1848, they were a group of painters, poets and critics, who set out to challenge the ideas of Baroque painters and all those classical, contrived and studied poses. They sought to recreate and revere nature and the relationship between humans and the environment; seeking inspiration in the art of the early Renaissance artist, pre- Raphael, hence the name.

Their paintings are characterised by striking use of light, intense colours, vivid imagery and complex creations.  They draw on Romantic poetry and art, as well as religious themes and a deep love of English literature and the work of Romantic writers such as Keats and Tennyson. Its influence reached beyond just art and can be seen, in the creation of the Arts & Craft movement with its emphasis on handmade traditional beauty.

But back to the aims of the exhibition. Melanie Jones, CEO, of TAA, talks about promoting a ripple effect out into the local Deptford community by setting up workshops with schools and wider engagement with local ethnic groups such as the Afghani community.

Year 10 pupils at a local school, St Matthew Academy, have contributed to the exhibition with a selection of visual images featuring their own interpretation of the paintings. Head of Art, Jo Cregan, says that the students have been keen to give a contemporary feel to the art, particularly the themes of the idolised view and  objectification of female beauty, both now and then.

Students responded enthusiastically to the exhibition through painting and drawing, photography and analysis and augmentation reality filming. The photo-shoot, in particular, featured a GCSE art student, Angela Obando, recreating her own interpretation of a Pre-Raphaelite model self-portrait. This involved researching period costumes, themes and motifs as well as getting to grips with light, tone and shade to provide a modern look based on well-known images.

At a time when time for art itself is severely limited in the classroom, to around two hours a week, on the back of contributing to the project, its pleasing to report that Angela has secured a place at an art summer school course.

The students imaginative use of modern art in all its various forms, showed off their level of interest in the works of the Pre-Raphaelites. The sound and voice montage featured students using the medium creativity to demonstrate their own views of the art on show and its relevance today.

But what of the paintings themselves? The nine panel display, featuring principally the works of founders, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, include several major works such as Millais’ Christ in the House of his Parents, which attracted criticism at the time, by Charles Dickens amongst others for its non reverential depiction of religious scenes.  An early example of secular art, perhaps? Dramatic and dreamy images abound, particularly in the works of Rossetti and his painting entitled Beata Beatrix, of his wife and muse Lizzie Siddal. An especial favourite of mine is Holman Hunt’s The Lady of Shalot. It was this painting that I found myself returning to time and time again. So, here’s a personal interpretation.

Painted over a twenty year period, the contrasting swirls and curls of the woman’s hair and the vivid colour schemes of several different intersecting scenes represent uncertainty and disorder. It’s a vibrant and intense piece, that stands out. Within the rich tapestry of re-assuring colours there’s a restless anxiety as shown in the fluid pose of the standing female figure. With her head down, and body arched, and cords wrapped around her woven gown, it’s as if she’s a bull about to charge an unseen matador. Is this a duel to the death? What haunts her, taunts her? The bonds of inner turmoil are captured in physical form and scattered possessions about the opulent floor indicate perhaps that wealth doesn’t always bring happiness. Also she’s standing behind a low level guided railing. Fenced in despite herself, perhaps? Will she ever reach the tranquillity of the green open fields and light shown in the partial circle behind her?

It’s disturbing in its very own re-assuring way. Intense in nature and in background imagery. Complicated and elaborate yet strikingly simple in form.

First talk about …ART and then you’ll find there’s plenty of life in art. After that, just look for the art in life.

Have you enjoyed this publicity review? Do you have your own launch or open day coming up, that you’d like us to review? You can find out more about what we offer here.

Magdalena & Nick

Co-founders of Handmade Kent

Launch Night at Blue Bengal – Indian Restaurant in West Wickham

‘Indian food, like the sub continent, itself is all about contrasts. Contrasting flavours, shades and textures. And above all, contrasting colours. ’Hina Karamat Ali, told me this recently at the re-launch of the Blue Bengal, the restaurant she manages on the High Street in West Wickham.

Entering the Blue Bengal, I was immediately impressed by the fusion of colours. Striking deep fuscia subtly mergers with burgundy and orange throughout the various walls and alcoves. It’s one continuous long mood movement. This mirrors the colours of the Indian flag and the indeed, the rich texture of its food.

In contrast, drops down ocean blue waves provide cool curves and elegant clean lines. All this is cleverly offset by concealed lighting, soft pink in places, which gives a vibrant yet cosy feel to the restaurant. The seating is plush with elegant high backed chairs and blue and white upholstery with contemporary low level glass divides for added privacy. At the back, green grey tiles provide a neutral tone next to the unobtrusive kitchen entrance

So far, our gaze had been held by the intimate surroundings, all chosen by Hina herself, but we soon turned our attention to the food. The onion bhaji was crisp, always a good sign and the vegetable somosa was a little packet of flavours which exploded onto the palate. Start as you mean to go on, and this was a good, traditional, opener.

For mains, I chose the Harali Chicken. The chicken pieces were as generous in size as they were tender on the tongue. This came with plain rice and was accompanied by garlic, ginger, mint and onion spices in a rich sauce. Served medium hot, it was just to my liking. In contrast, my wife found her Lamb Biriyani a little on the drier side.

We both shared the succulent Chicken Buna Special and enjoyed the lovely mix of marinated flavours fizzing away at our taste bids. The naan bread was warm and perfect to mop up the simmering juices.

Later, I managed to catch a few words with the owner, Abu Chowdhury. After 11 years in charge, he told me that independent high street traders face continual challenges to attract local custom – hence the time for a re-branding. And on the evidence of tonight’s meal, I can tell you that he has chosen wisely in both his new menu and choice of new chef in Salik Uddin.

Not to mention the fabulous new look of the restaurant. I would echo his plea that local customers support their high street traders. You don’t have to travel into the West End or even Brick Lane to get an authentic taste of the east.

Blue Bengal Opening Day

There’s a wealth of talent and colour on your local high street with fantastic restaurants such as the Blue Bengal offering delicious food at affordable prices. And all served up in a contemporary stylish atmosphere that wouldn’t be out of place in central London itself.

One of two finishing touches wouldn’t go amiss. Such as the signage and shop front which doesn’t perhaps do justice to the sumptuous interior. So, look out for the new look Blue Bengal and feast your eyes on the décor and your stomach on the delicious portions of tender Harali Chicken on offer.

Have you enjoyed this publicity review? Do you have your own launch or open day coming up, that you’d like us to review? You can find out more about what we offer here.

Magdalena & Nick

Co-founders of Handmade Kent