It was standing room only last night at the Garden Museum for the first general meeting of the Chelsea Fringe 2013. Despite the chill outside, the atmosphere inside the redundant church of St Mary at Lambeth was toasty warm – although this was perhaps down to the sheer body count as much as any conventional heat source – with a friendly congregation of gardening minded folk. A few of the 100 strong gathering were veterans of the first Chelsea Fringe in 2012 but most, according to Festival Director Tim Richardson, were newcomers, and all were keen to find about more about the world’s first gardening fringe’s festival, aptly described by its creator as the ‘fringe of fringe festivals’.
Tim began by giving a quick overview of what the Chelsea Fringe is all about before some of the Fringe’s team of volunteer organisers and event co-ordinators introduced themselves and some of the projects they are involved with. The mic continued its peregrination around the nave with questions from the floor - there were projects seeking venues, an artist in search of dead trees, a theatre producer looking for a location with a tree (perhaps trees will be something of a theme this year?) and someone wanting to get in touch with TfL. But serendipity was in the air and requests were met almost immediately with offers of help – the name of a friendly nursery that might be able to help with trees (dead and otherwise) was suggested, and lo, there was someone from TfL in the audience, and by the way, did the Fringe know that its launch day, 18 May, coincided with Fascination of Plants Day? Already in the space of less than an hour, the scope of this year’s Fringe was emerging with tantalising glimpses of possible venues and locations… Battersea Power Station… Lambeth…Tower Hamlets…Kensington…Kew…Brompton Quarter…the City. There was talk of trails, hubs and satellite Chelsea Fringes in Brighton, Bristol and yes (why not?) Vienna, and the announcement of the forthcoming launch of the Chelsea Fringe Friends organisation.
Although the Chelsea Fringe is just a baby compared to the Chelsea Flower Show (which celebrates its centenary this year), if the palpable fizz of creative energy in the Garden Museum last night was anything to go by, the early signs are that the 2nd Chelsea Fringe will be bigger, bolder and better than last year’s festival.
Tim concluded proceedings by urging prospective projects to register early – projects that did so last year found that it helped them attract good press coverage. Registration opens on this website on Monday 21 January, although in true freewheeling Fringe style, and in the interests of spontaneity, registration will remain open until the very last day of the Fringe.
And then, with final thanks to the Garden Museum for hosting the meeting, the evening gave way to general milling with the nave of St Mary’s resounding to a sociable hum as cards were exchanged, meetings arranged, contacts made, and acquaintances renewed. And then, it was back out into the cold and, as with the best meetings, off to the pub to continue the conversation…