Interview: Jim Willis

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What is your creative passion, Jim?

I am an amateur film maker I suppose you could say, well I’ve written scripts and had films made, and I help out Jack and Mhairi with the Ventnor Fringe.

How did you get into film?

I went to university and did a degree in creative writing which is where I learnt the process of script writing. I wrote a script for a workshop run by my university lecturer John Goodwin, here on the Island. All of our scripts were put into a kind-of contest and whoever had the best script would have it made into a film. John came up to me one day and said- Jim, your script is the best by far, we’re gonna make it into a film – so I was just happy to have that opportunity. We then filmed it nearby in Bonchurch.

How did you get involved with Fringe?

Well I’ve been connected from way back, before it first started 8 years ago. When Jack, Mhairi and Joe were just teenagers. Jack created a board of creatives to help him with theatre and script production. There were a few of us back then, but that was a long time ago now.

So Jack was determined from a young age; how did you meet him?

I used to help out with the local youth club, at the time it was the only thing to keep kids from hanging around the streets. Luckily now there are more opportunities for young people but there’s still some way to go (see the Fringe Forum article for more).

What did you help Jack with in the beginning for Fringe?

We all just helped to facilitate his vision I suppose, he said he wanted to bring art and culture to Ventnor and talking about a fringe festival and we just helped him do that, any way we could.

You’ve stuck with it all these years; how do you think the Fringe has effected Ventnor?

I think it’s been amazing for Ventnor, the amount Ventnor has changed since the beginning of the Fringe is amazing. It’s what Ventnor needed for so long.

Do you think of Ventnor is transforming into a place that people can start building businesses and be successful?

I think it’s come a long way. I think all the Ventnor Exchange guys have done an amazing job as well as the other young people that have been starting up business in Ventnor, like The Events Co. But I think it still has a way to go; I think there are varying reasons for this. One that I have been talking about today, is the number of holiday-makers with second homes. As much as we need tourism, I don’t think it’s productive having people who own homes that only live in them for four weeks of the year. It would be much better to have people living in these homes all year round. There is a ridiculous amount of these homes on the Island, and a considerable amount of them in Ventnor.

Yes, this has been brought up in conversation a lot over the last few years. Do you see this changing?

I hope so, I think that we have people that have been coming down, seeing the work everyone in Ventnor is doing and are decided to spend more time here. It’ll take time but I hope that this will happen with more people.

A big thank you to Jim and everybody that come in to have an interview with us this week. You can find the round-up of these interviews here.

If you’d like to listen to any of the interviews with artist and performers at the Fringe this week please visit our Mix Cloud here.

Are We There Yet?

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As mentioned in the first issue of this year’s Fringe Review; we’ve been talking to some of the creative people Ventnor has produced, maintained or incubated over the years. To recap we’re heard from…

Sophie Honeybourne: a home-grown thriving Ventnor business owner and artist.
Steven Sales: Ventnor-born artist, now living in Bristol.
Kate Powell: Wiltshire-born, nomadic puppeteer and travelling theatre owner.
Hannah George: Ventnor comedian and script writer, now moved to London.
Luke Joynes: Island born, eighteen-year-old music promoter.
Jim Willis: Life-long Ventnor resident, builder, amateur film maker and historian.

(You can read the original interviews by clicking the names above.)


So we’ve had quite a collection to talk to this week. From those actually making things happen here on the island, to those that felt the need to take their careers elsewhere. Not forgetting the people that keep returning to create and facilitate art here in Ventnor.

Hannah (scriptwriter) and Steven (artist) felt it necessary to move away in order to build their careers further. Unfortunately, this is the case for many here on the island, but is this going to change?

While there is a clear demand for cultural music and arts events such as the Fringe, there are still obstacles to overcome when considering career paths for young people. As Luke Joynes pointed out yesterday, the costs of getting artists over to the Isle of Wight are far greater than putting on a performance in somewhere like Southampton or Portsmouth. This is also hindered by the lack of a student population. For those that have never put an event on, it is far easier to sell tickets to student populated areas as there is always an initial demand.

It seems that this problem is dependent on which career path you choose. On our first day we spoke to Sophie Honeybourne, who has been incredibly successful with her jewellery business. Though the price of sending parcels is far cheaper than importing people and the business is blossoming, it is still quite a small one. Sophie has one apprentice at present and would find it difficult to take on any more due to the size of their work stations and volume of client work. In businesses like these you can generate enough money to sustain a family or two but beyond that is another ball game.

Jim made interesting points to do with the property on the island, how large numbers of houses are bought by DFL’ers (Down from Londoners) that stay vacant from 48 weeks of the year. He posed the question that while, yes, when these holiday-home owners are present they spend money here but if these homes were filled with people living on the
Island for 52 weeks of the year, surely these people would contribute so much more to the community.

Is this lack of financial support to the community why our business can’t succeed? And indeed, is this why housing prices are becoming so increasingly difficult for people to match? Yes, the houses on the Isle of Wight may
be considerably cheaper than those of London but the work opportunities or salaries available to people, particularly young people are far lower too.

On the other-hand you have people like Kate Powell, that have only made a connection with Ventnor through the Fringe and have returned multiple times throughout the year to nurture art on the Island. In the Fringe Forum on Thursday, Jack Whitewood stressed the importance of nurturing artists that come to the Island.

As Kate is essentially one of these artists; she originally came to the Fringe as a volunteer. Her talents were revealed when she was working as a volunteer here and she has stayed in connection with the Fringe and Ventnor Exchange productions ever since she started out back in 2013.

We need more of these people here in Ventnor, we have more people than ever trying to build their careers on the Island which is fantastic, but we’ve still got some work to do before everyone can get on this band-wagon. Let’s keep investing in our Island’s creative industries.


Debate Bait

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The Fringe Forum is looming closer, just a few hours and our latest panel will be
getting stuck into this year’s topic: The Power of the Arts and Creative Industries in creating positive change within the community.

Hosting this year’s panel will be Tim Goldman known in the VFringe program as Timfoolery, a London-based children’s entertainer, actor and drama therapist. Tim has spent many years running sessions for Music & Movement, Improvisation and Clowning. Panelists joining Tim this year will be Gill Wildman, Ian Boyd, Kate Powell and our very own Jack Whitewood.

A design strategist by day and an accomplished Creative Micro Business mentor by night, Gill started a company called Upstarter; an online incubator for microbusinesses. She’s been running one-to-one Creative Microbusiness Clinics in the Caravan at Parkside everyday this week. If you want to book yourself a private clinic with Gill, please talk to the Box Office.

Ian Boyd runs Arc Consulting on the Isle of Wight. At the forefront of environmental consultancy, Arc combine their ecology expertise with landscaping and community involvement. Working on multiple projects such as, East Medina Greenway, Addison Close and the Robin Hill Artificial Badger Set, Ian has helped to rejuvenate multiple areas of natural beauty across the island.

Kate Powell is a familiar face to the Ventnor Fringe, she has been volunteering and performing at the Festival since 2013. This year Kate returns as co-owner (with Jonna Nummela) of The Errant Stage; a traveling performance venue. She hopes to keep this traveling theatre an affordable, accessible and
sustainable business.

Jack Whitewood is just some guy that got together with some mates and made a festival back in 2010, called Ventnor asymmetric-bob or Fringe or something…

So as you can see we have quite an interesting bunch this year; a theatre performer/ tutor, a creative business coach, an environmental consultant, a theatre owner and a Festival Director. Who knows where this debate will go. Make sure you’re there to throw your questions into the pot, audience participation is extremely welcomed, if not imperative for a noteworthy debate.

Interview: Sophie Honeybourne

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Our first creative character interview this week is with Sophie Honeybourne, owner and artist behind Honeybourne Jewellery, with our very own Editor-in-Chief, Catriona Macaulay.

So to start things off – how long have you been making jewellery?

I think it’s over 20 years now, which is really scary! I started when I was 18 alongside studying for my degree in 3D design and during my first year I realised I wasn’t getting taught enough. I wanted to specialize in jewellery so I trained at Theodosia in Newport for 7 years. I had the apprenticeship at the same time as doing my degree.

Where did you do your degree?

I studied at Portsmouth and then did a final two years at the Royal College, followed by a Masters specialising in jewellery. I didn’t know until I was in my second year that jewellery was what I wanted to go into, because I was more fine art based with a love for sculpture, but I struggled with the idea of how to make a living out of art. But then jewellery put it all together; I could make pieces of art for the body.

Well they are like little sculptures when you look at them…

Yeah well, making anything in miniature was a real challenge. I saw a Japanese jewellery exhibition and it just completely sent me down the jewellery path. In this country we have such a rich history in jewellery-making. But at the same time, we’ve got set ways for ‘this is how you enamel’ or ‘this is how you make rings’ whereas the Japanese jewellery exhibition just opened up a whole new possibility that jewellery could be used as sculpture for the body.

Have you ever been to Japan?

No, but I’d love to go! It’s just so out of our comfort zone, it seems like everyone I know that has been says that it’s just so different to our culture.

When did Honeybourne Jewellery come to life?

I graduation from the Royal College and I made my End of Year Exhibition and sold nearly the whole lot which was really a shock.

How many pieces did you have in your exhibition?

It was probably nearly 20 or 25, and from that I gained lots of interest from exhibitions and galleries so it just snowballed! I imagined I’d go travelling or do something in-between, but literally a week after finishing, I graduated, came home and set up in my mum’s shed and started making. Every time I sold some jewellery I bought another tool, so all of these tools are 20 years old [gestures towards her work bench filled with sculpting tools].

It has become a right of passage for people to have a Honeybourne piece; when people graduate, finish Sixth Form or get married – it’s very much, “Have you got your Honeybourne?”. Is this something that you’ve realised?

Thank you, yeah I think working for Theodosia helped. My studies didn’t give you any help in business experience or how to deal with real-life customers or clients. So to have a mix of the two, working for Theodosia with customers and having to design and make for them rather than just being taught at uni.

I’ve been able to make 16th birthday presents, then graduation gifts and in some cases, their engagement and wedding rings then their christening gifts, and it’s been beautiful. You actually see people grow through jewellery. It can be a celebration, it’s a real marked point through their lives and a real honour to do that.

Are all these documented on your social media?

We have a bespoke archive (on the website) and each piece has a little text about what the customer wanted, what we discussed and what the piece became.

We actually just added a subsection on the website about the remembrance pieces, and that’s been really beautiful. So, if people have lost a loved one we can incorporate hair and ashes into the piece so that it’s not just celebrating the good times but also marking really important life moments. That’s been in the last two years and we’ve been working really closely with clients and customer and making something that means the world to them.

How many commissions do you tend to get through a week?

It can really vary, I’d say in a day – there are three of us now – we can do from 5-10 commissions and in the really busy times like Christmas we work 10-12 hours daily to keep up with demand. It can be anything, from really tiny to a massive wedding piece and everything in-between, and each one needs attention and time.

Do you work with any other companies?

When I was on my own I used to exhibit at about 20 galleries around the country and a few major exhibitions but because of the success of the shop which is unbelievable – I always imagined some little open workshop that people could come in and see what I did and they might leave with a pair of earrings – and we were totally blown away by how successful it became.

We’ve done a few collaborations with Sherlockology, which was the fansite for Sherlock Holmes. We made a piece for Steven Moffat and his wife Sue Vertue (directors of Sherlock and Doctor Who) and we stocked their online shop. We’ve done some work for Rockkins, a friend of mine who makes beautiful silk scarves, that was the Kate Moss piece that we made. We’ve worked with Charnwood, I made a miniature wood-burning stove and we’re about to possibly work with another island company but we’re still working on it at the moment so, quite exciting.

Can we ask who it is?

I can’t say right now. You’ll have to keep watching our page.

What is your take on The Ventnor Fringe?

We love the Fringe. I can remember when I got my first email from Jack and he said, ‘Hi, my name is Jack, and I’m at university. We’re looking for unusual spaces and we’d love to use the archway’ and I immediately just said ‘yes definitely, whatever you like; we’ll give you cables, use our electricity’ and we’ve just supported it from day one. It’s so wonderful to see people so passionate coming together, not to mention the unusual and creative people it brings to Ventnor. Just to see that was like ‘Go Jack, go!’ and to see it growing a growing has been amazing. To have Ventnor Exchange as our neighbours is great and we’re wholeheartedly behind it.

Is there anything on the program that you’re really looking forward to this year?

We’re going to see the Parrots and Childhood, so that’s going to be really exciting. I loved last year, seeing Stealing Sheep was brilliant, because I’ve loved them for absolute years so it’s so lovely to see that one amazing band and then find loads of little bits around the Fringe and Rex [Sophie’s son] likes to wonder around.

Will you be taking Rex along to any of the kid-friendly events this year?

Yes! Rex loved Seska, he was brilliant. Rex was sat with his mouth hanging open, he’d never seen anything like it so we’ll definitely be going back to see him.

Thank you to Sophie for speaking to us, you can find the Honeybourne Jewellery website here, and Facebook here.