History of the VenFest
The festival you are enjoying now wasn’t something planned from the start but emerged over the past 9 years
from an idea so different that it’s sometimes difficult to believe where we are now.
Here’s a short history of the VenFest; focussing on how it began, where it is now, and where it’s
heading in the future. I hope you will enjoy reading what we are all about.
Back in 2009 a few disgruntled inhabitants of the parish of Lytchett Minster and Upton decided a Town Plan
was needed to ‘put Upton on the map’. Being on the Poole/Purbeck boundary the parish seemed to fall between two
stools and was side-lined by both local authorities.
In population terms, Upton is the second largest town in Purbeck after Swanage, but, in terms of community facilities
and infrastructure, it lags far behind other towns like Wareham which has a far smaller population.
The group initially took the name of ‘On the Edge’; this being the best description of where they lived and what
they felt about it. They held consultations with the local population which resulted in deciding on a focus of
improving the quality of life for those living in a town ‘on the edge…’
In 2011 this group successfully applied for a Lottery Grant for the ‘Beacon Project’. A plan with a 3-year lifespan in which to achieve
their aims of developing community cohesion and spirit through supporting local traders and community groups to thrive.
The volunteers formed several ‘strands’ of the project, each focussing on a particular activity e.g. resurrecting the Upton Carnival,
Holiday Activities for local children, an Arts week for local performers and artists to showcase their skills, etc.
One of the strands was the Community Markets with the aim of supporting local producers to exhibit and sell their goods.
We held four general community markets in Upton over the life of the project with footfalls of 400-600 visitors at each.
The lottery funding ceased in 2014 and the Beacon Project was replaced by the
Beacon Association (a not-for-profit organisation maintaining the same aims as before).
It was decided that the Market Strand was definitely worth carrying forward but with a more distinct local focus.
Our consultations with local farmers and landowners highlighted that there was, and still is, a serious ecological problem involving a
glut of deer in Dorset which was being managed by culling. However, the venison produced was not entering the local food supply.
This was the foundation of the Dorset Food and Venison Festival which had its first successful run in 2015;
in 2014 bad weather forced a cancellation. Although venison was a main theme of the festival,
all food producers in Dorset were encouraged to take part in promoting and selling their goods.
We, also wanted the event to be family focussed so we organised a programme of activities involving local schools
and several of the community groups in Upton who showcased their activities.
The festival has grown in popularity with increasing numbers of visitors each year: from 2,000 to 2,500
All profits are raised for the benefit of the Beacon Association which is now in the process of merging with LUCA -
the local community association with has Charity Status. The merger will create LUBCA
(Lytchett and Upton Beacon Community Association) for which VenFest will act as a major fund-raiser.