About Us

‘Happy proof that the most ambitious and adventurous arts programming is south of the river.’ Michael Hodges, editor-at-large, Time Out magazine

about us
about us

Sydenham Arts Festival is an annual celebration of music, theatre, dance, art, film, spoken word, outdoor and family events – taking place in venues both familiar and unusual in and around Sydenham for two weeks every July. It transforms non-conventional spaces into performance and exhibition venues: Pubs, churches, halls, parks, shops, libraries, schools and the high street. And more than half of its events every year are completely FREE!

Now in its 6th year, Sydenham Arts Festival is an innovative commissioning and producing festival that thinks big. It provides free participatory workshops engaging the public in new arts skills: Dance, drama, singing, film-making and poetry to name just a few. It also mentors young people and new writers through its ongoing projects, creates open–air theatre for all ages and brings big names such as Benjamin ZephaniahRoger McGoughSir Andrew MotionRoy Williams, and Glenn Tilbrook to a small suburb.

In 2014 the festival will feature more than 65 events including a prestigious poetry event with Jackie Kay and John Hegley; community musical, Till the Boys Come Home, marking the centenary of WW1; another Stage Write Playwriting Showcase, free theatre on the bus 202 x 12, and a high-profile open-air music event, Arts in the Park Till Late to close the proceedings. Invited artists at this closing event include Glenn Tilbrook (of Squeeze) and Janet Kay & Carroll Thompson (“Silly Games”).

In the future SAF has grand ambitions of linking up with other South London festivals, to share resources, ideas and publicity. It also hopes to develop an ongoing mentoring programme for new artists, writers and performers, especially young people. And lastly, it plans to develop a permanent home – an arts centre for Sydenham and the surrounding area that will showcase the festival’s work every year and provide a home for its resident theatre company Spontaneous Productions.

History of Sydenham Arts Festival


  • Sept 2008 – Jonathan Kaufman and Geraldine Cox of Kirkdale Bookshop moot the idea of a festival and a volunteer committee is quickly formed
  • Jan 2009 – SAF Ltd formalised with Juliette Grassby-Lewis as assistant festival director and Jonathan, Geraldine and Pat Trembath MBE as directors
  • May 2009 – Lewisham Council awards £10,000 to SAF Ltd through its Mayor’s Fund
  • July 2009 the first Sydenham Arts Festival runs for two weeks in July – over 50 events throughout Sydenham and Forest Hill. Events include London Bubble’s The Odyssey, John Hegley and Sydenham’s Got Talent – and it is deemed a great success, with excellence attendance and feedback from audience and participants
  • Autumn 2009 - SAF Ltd begins planning its next festival
  • July 2010 – Sydenham Arts Festival’s Summer Season starts – 90+ events take place over 3 ½ months – including original theatre shows Alice in Wonderland and The Three Musketeers
  • Autumn 2010 – SAF Ltd decides to revert to its two-week format and begins planning SAF 2011. Applies to Arts Council England for the first time
  • July 2011 – Sydenham Arts Festival 2011 – 70+ events including a Playwriting Workshop with Roy Williams, former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Take Part in the Arts free workshops, the Pop Up Theatre Project and open-air The Wind in the Willows. Considerably boosted by its Arts Council grant and local business sponsorship, the festival is another resounding success, with attendance at many events increased by up to 50%
  • July 2012 Sydenham Arts Festival 2012, again funded by Arts Council England, features even more prestigious events including Liverpool poet Roger McGough, on original open-air adaptation of The Jungle Book, a showcase of short plays by new, local writers mentored by Winsome Pinnock, and a triumphant closing event by South London Jazz Orchestra.
  • July 2013 – the fifth Sydenham Arts Festival, by far the biggest and best yet, features 90+ events over two weeks including performances by Benjamin Zephaniah and protest-singer Dick Gaughan, the Stage Write Playwriting Workshop with Judy Upton, free events The Remarkable Race of 1913 and Street Celebration, classical Indian music and dance event Colors of India, and the ever-popular Artists Trail featuring 120 artists over three weekends. The festival culminates in the sell-out 21st Century Folk, featuring Keston Cobblers Club. Also for the first time SAF partners with the brand-new TNG Youth Centre to stage Launch Pad, a showcase of events created by and for young people.