Arts in Prescot is a voluntary community organisation promoting and organising arts, culture and entertainment events in the historic Lancashire town of Prescot, Merseyside. The highlight of its year-round programme is the Prescot Festival of Music and the Arts, which runs for 10 days, starting on the third Friday of June.
Dr Robert Howard is the Artistic Director of the Prescot Festival. Robert was raised in Prescot and returned to the town in 2003, having gained a PhD in Music and Composition from Goldsmiths College, University of London. After six years as Head of Music at Deyes High School, Maghull, he became Assistant Head of Music Faculty at St Edward’s College, the choir school to Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, in 2013. He is also a prolific conductor, performer and composer in his spare time.
Prescot Festival Committee
Chair – Robert Howard
Secretary – Dyane Basinger
Treasurer – Laura Bonnett
More about the background of the Prescot Festival
(Original at www.roberthowardmusic.co.uk)
Following the sudden death of his father, Robert Howard organised his first musical evening in Prescot Parish Meeting Room to raise funds for Cancer Research, in 1998. Such was its success that this created the idea for regular Prescot concerts. Then, following Rob’s experience in organising the Summer Festival of Music when at Birmingham University and in stewarding for the BBC Proms in London, the seeds were sown for a ‘Prescot Festival’. Indeed, visiting other music and arts festivals around the UK has always been a very enjoyable pastime for Robert.
In 2005, Robert was asked to present a short series of concerts – just two or three, back to back – and it was from this that the Prescot Festival was born. He is now well-known in the local community for pioneering a year-round programme of arts and music in the town. Rob’s vision for community arts and music is informed not only by his father’s legacy, but by his strong Christian faith, and his determination to improve the prospects of his ‘home’ town.
By 2006 the Festival had grown from three to four days, with a small fringe programme, and by 2007 it ran for 10 days, as it has done ever since.
A key factor in the founding of the Festival was the success of Liverpool’s bid to be the 2008 European Capital of Culture, announced in 2003. A town with an impressive historical and artistic heritage going back centuries, Prescot was well-placed to contribute to the momentous occasion. Thus it was that in 2008, the Prescot Festival held an unprecedented programme of concerts and art events, bringing together an astounding assortment of local, regional, national and international artists, including Korean pianist Young-Choon Park, singer-songwriter John Smith and local orchestra, the St. Helens Sinfonietta.
A regular feature of the Festival is a celebrity guest appearance. In 2007, actress Honor Blackman brought her one-woman show to Prescot, and in 2009 fans queued up around the block to see Peter Sallis, star of long-running BBC sitcom The Last of the Summer Wine. Festival Patron Professor Dr Ian Tracey has also given regular performances, and in 2010, the festival hosted the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, for the 400th anniversary of Prescot Parish Church. The Festival has also provided a platform for future ‘stars’, early in their careers, such as sopranos Kathryn Rudge and Laura Sheerin, and brothers Richard and Adam Johnson of Britain’s Got Talent fame.
The Festival regularly welcomes over 1,600 people and features the Prescot Festival Chorus, a Come & Sing choir of about 100 singers. The annual Mayor of Prescot’s Charity Christmas Concert’s entertains over 400 people each year. As Artistic Director of the Prescot Festival, Robert not only composes works especially for performance at the Festival, but commissions work from other composers. In 2010, he commissioned two new string quartets from local composers David Forshaw and Kevin George Brown, commemorating the 400th anniversary of Prescot Parish Church. Central to the vision of the Festival is the desire to bring arts to everyone in the community. Its steady expansion has seen an increasingly diverse audience, both young and old, turn out to hear orchestras, bands, choirs, singers, instrumentalists and performers from both near and far.
The Prescot Festival’s success has inspired other local communities, including Halewood, Heswall, Maghull, Pemberton (Wigan), and Rainhill, to found their own festivals, often with Robert in an advisory capacity.
The festival was named Knowsley Cultural Group of the Year for 2015/16 and Prescot Town Council’s Community Group of the Year for 2017 (the award’s first ever year). In 2016 Robert received the Exceptional Service Award from the British Arts Festivals Association (BAFA).