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Featherston Booktown BOT AGM - The Chair's Overview

SUNDAY 30 AUGUST 2020


Kia ora tatou


The last year has been an intensely busy but also hugely significant year for Featherston Booktown.

It was a year in which the Featherston Booktown Trust (FBT) took steps to ensure its sustainable future and relevance.


Following the outstanding success of the 2019 Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival, which was Featherston Booktown’s most ambitious and innovative programme to date (it was the fifth festival in four years), attracting over six thousand unique visitors and offering over 70 events with 65 presenters across a two-and-a-half-day programme (Friday night to Sunday afternoon), the Trustees adopted a strategic blueprint which recognised a new context for Featherston Booktown. This included the need for the Festival to keep innovating to continue to attract high-quality presenters/writers and increased funding support – plus the need to retain Featherston Booktown’s stature and distinctiveness, given a more intense competitive environment.


As a consequence, the Trustees agreed that the Featherston Booktown Trust (FBT) should expand its remit. Where the FBT used to be primarily focused on delivering the annual Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival, with an accompanying year-round programme of events, it was proposed that the organisation now see itself as being a year-round literature development organisation whose largest individual project is a book festival.


While remaining committed to the original founding “dream” of Featherston Booktown – “the world talking about, and drawn to, Featherston as a place which celebrates the artefact of the book, leading to Featherston being world-famous as a prosperous and innovative destination for lovers of books and literature – which has numerous bookshops, is a haven for writers and has an education centre focused on books”, the Featherston Booktown Trust now views itself as a national and regional resource which:

  • Promotes and celebrates the artefact of the book

  • Showcases New Zealand writers and their books – and helps them fulfil their potential

  • Facilitates access for all New Zealanders to New Zealand writing, books and reading

  • Develops new audiences for literature and reading

  • Creates opportunities for young people to enjoy and learn through writing and story telling

  • Develops emerging writers in New Zealand - particularly, the Wairarapa

  • Connects New Zealand writers and their work with international audiences

  • Builds the capability of potential arts/festival leaders

  • Engenders community pride, confidence, distinctiveness and resilience among the residents of Featherston

It was agreed that the FBT would achieve all of the above through the following initiatives:

  • Hosting and presenting the annual Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival

  • Organising a “writers in schools” programme leading up to the Festival

  • Including a “children/young adults” stream of events (mostly free of charge) in the annual Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival

  • Programming an “emerging writers” stream in the annual Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival

  • Programming a “Wai Writers” stream in the annual Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival

  • Collaborating with partner literary events and festivals (Verb Wellington, Wairarapa Word, Yarns in Barns) to bring prominent writers to the Wairarapa

  • Establishing the Featherston Booktown Residency for writers and arts leaders

  • Building the commercial/promotional capability of Featherston Booksellers

  • Initiating an international “guest writer” programme through which New Zealand writers attend overseas Booktown festivals and international writers attend Featherston Booktown

  • Enabling young potential arts/festival leaders to undertake an internship at Featherston Booktown and international Booktowns

  • Connecting Featherston and New Zealand with the International Organisation of Booktowns to create opportunities for local and national writers – in particular, having a very close relationship and MOU with Clunes Booktown (Australia) and Wigtown Booktown (Scotland).

  • Regular feedback sessions to the Featherston community, involving co-creation of the annual festival programme

  • Ensuring that the Featherston Booktown Trust Board of Trustees exercises best-practice governance, including the relevant skill-sets which will ensure long-term and sustainable success for Featherston Booktown and allied activities

  • Longer term, establishing a National Centre for Children’s Literature in Featherston – similar to the Moat Brae National Centre for Children’s Literature and Story Telling in Scotland (www.peterpanmoatbrae.org)

This proposed trajectory for the Featherston Booktown is driven by two things:

  • The need to keep innovating and to position Featherston Booktown as a national asset within the New Zealand literary sector

  • The need to respond to increased local and regional competition (e.g. Wairarapa Word, Yarns in Barns, the NZ International Festival Readers and Writers Festival, Verb Wellington and Kokomai’s recently announced “mini literature” festival. Note: While competition is intensifying, it’s vital that the Featherston Booktown Trust remains true to a core tenet in its founding document – “generosity”. We should seek to work collegially with the other literary entities/events surrounding us – namely, in a spirit of co-operation, sensible compromise and coordination. We should also re-double our efforts to lead the discussion about putting in place a regionally wide strategic approach to literary events and activity, aimed at reducing duplication, cannibalisation of audiences and confusion – for the wider benefit of all.

Over the last year, there have been many Featherston Booktown highlights including:


AUGUST 2019:

David Merritt is Featherston Booktown’s “Poet in Residence” for a week in the week leading up to National Poetry Day. He visits all the local primary schools, and Kuranui College.

23 August: National Poetry Day – poetry events throughout the day at the Featherston Bookshops and an open mic event on Friday night, organised and hosted by Featherston Booktown. Poets who came to this event Featherston Booktown include: Simon Fleck, Robert McLean, Phillip Scott, Mary McCallum, Tim Grgec, Burton Silver, Zac Keillor-Hawkins and Greg Stokes

SEPTEMBER 2019:

14 September: Featherston Booktown hosts the national book launch of Joy Cowley’s Gobbledegook in front of 200+ people, including Giselle Clarkson and Julia Marshall from publishers, Gecko Press.

22 September: Featherston Booktown Volunteers Huihuinga afternoon tea and feedback session regarding the 2019 Festival – including a co-creation session for the 2020 Festival, hosted by the Featherston Booktown Trust

Featherston Booktown is a finalist in the Wairarapa Business Awards

OCTOBER 2019:

The Chair and Operations Manager of Featherston Booktown attend the second Trans-Tasman Booktown Board Meeting in Clunes, Victoria


NOVEMBER 2019:

1 November – Sarah Moss in conversation with Mary McCallum event

8 November – Three Male Poets event: Dominic Hoey (New Zealand), Omar Musa (Australia) and Michael Pedersen (Scotland)

Both events were in conjunction with Verb Wellington

Featherston Booktown receives significant funding from Creative New Zealand for the May 2020 Festival


DECEMBER 2019:

7 December: Featherston Booktown Bookshop Collective joins in the Featherston Christmas parade, along with the Featherston Booktown Trustees


FEBRUARY 2020:

27 February: City of Trees event with Sophie Cunningham from Australia, with celebrated poet and Featherston resident, Vivienne Plumb, as interviewer. In conjunction with Verb Wellington


MARCH 2020:

Featherston Booktown Trust cancels the 2020 Festival and the programme launch on 31 March, due to COVID-19. New Zealand in lockdown

APRIL 2020:

Featherston Booktown moves into the online space:

  • 16 episodes, (one per night for 16 nights) of Tessa Duder’s Alex, read by Juanita McLellan

  • Kuranui students video themselves reading from their favourite children’s books for FBT littlies fan base

  • Interviews of Featherston Booktown key Volunteers on how they’re spending lockdown uploaded to our website

  • Children doing book reviews uploaded to Facebook

  • Children’s colouring in competition on Facebook

MAY 2020: our attempt to do a digital festival foiled by not getting funding from Creative NZ


JUNE 2020:

Featherston Booktown Words in Winter Series starts.

27 June: Sarah Gaitanos in conversation with Linda Clark on Shirley Smith: An Examined Life and

Alan Duff in conversation with Peter Biggs on A Conversation with my Country

28 June: Becky Manawatu in conversation with Mary McCallum on Auē

All these events were either sold-out – or close to it.


JULY 2020:

10 July: Elizabeth Knox in conversation with Noelle McCarthy on The Absolute Book

11 July: Gala Afternoon Tea and storytelling from her book Eat Your Heart Out with Peta Mathias - a fundraising event

Both events were sold-out.


AUGUST 2020:

Words in Winter events for National Poetry Day (Sam Duckor-Jones, Tayi Tibble, Jordan Hamel and Helen Rickerby in conversation with Lynn Freeman on A Poet’s Life); and Shayne Carter in conversation with Richard Langston on Dead People I Have Known cancelled due to Alert Level 2 restrictions.


My thanks go to the indefatigable Featherston Booktown Trustees over the last year: Liz Mellish, Pete Monk, Sam Duckor-Jones, Ross Vickery, Kate Mead and Noelle McCarthy. A special thanks go to Sam and Pete who are stepping down as Trustees – we thank them for their commitment, generosity, and significant contribution to the success of Featherston Booktown.


A hearty “shout-out” to Mary Biggs, our wonderful Operations Manager – who makes the miracle of Featherston Booktown happen. I want to recognise Mary’s sterling work following the cancellation in March of this year’s Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival due to take place in May – because of COVID-19 alert levels. The programme for this year’s Festival was looking to be our largest and most innovative yet and there was huge interest from writers/presenters and the public about it. Our thanks also go to Yvonne Way and Caroline Peren for their work on this too.


A heartfelt thank you to our many generous volunteers – Featherston Booktown could not happen without you.


We celebrate and thank our donors, sponsors and supporters. We are deeply grateful for your vision and benefaction.

Finally, we recognise and applaud our Featherston Bookshops – and we congratulate Joanna Ludbrook who opened Featherston’s seventh bookshop, Chicken and Frog, this month.

Peter Biggs CNZM

Chair: Featherston Booktown Trust

August 2020

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© 2020 Featherston Booktown Trust, New Zealand Charity Registration Number CC52369

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