Ashford’s ArtiGras Arts Festival – Interview With Betsy Aidinyantz

Mar 27 2015

Artigras Arts Festival, 15 & 16 May 2015

Above Caffè Nero in Ashford’s town centre, plans are being hatched amid a flurry of activity masterminded by Betsy Aidinyantz – the organiser of Ashford’s yearly ArtiGras Arts Festival. After seeing a shout out for volunteers, I went along to the Centre of Creativity and Enterprise (CCE) to speak to Betsy and find out what ArtiGras is all about.

Sensing Betsy is – like me – a non-native of Ashford, I asked her how she ended up here. She told me, ‘I lived in London for about thirty years, then I developed a serious illness and needed some peace and quiet. I thought Kent would be the best place to go to.’ She looks thoughtful for a moment, then says, ‘I don’t want this to sound like a sob story but I had cancer.’ I say nothing but, as if reading my mind, Betsy continues, ‘Do I have cancer now? I don’t know, but I live every day as if I am clear.’

Betsy Aidinyantz

Betsy Aidinyantz

Although she came to Kent for the peace and quiet, Betsy has thrown herself into Ashford’s creative scene, being immersed in it since 2007. ‘It got to a stage in my life where I knew exactly what I wanted but I hadn’t found it in any jobs I had done previously, so I went back to university and did a degree. While I was doing my degree I set up Joining Hands, which was my first social enterprise.’

Betsy’s love of the arts is obvious. The CCE’s walls are adorned with paintings by local artists, and handmade cushions, bags, scarves, jewellery and other crafts drape every available surface. There’s even a huge painting taking up one wall in Betsy’s office created by her artist mother. I wondered how ArtiGras came to be.

‘ArtiGras was something that I came up with with Becky – a volunteer who worked for me – and we were already doing a festival called Ashford Festival of Arts and Technology but I really wanted something to be the festival that reminds people of spring. A festival that says sunshine, happiness, rebirth, rejuvenation. ArtiGras says all that.’

Artigras 2014. Credit: Doug Harman Photography

Artigras 2014. Credit: Doug Harman Photography

Loving the name ArtiGras, I asked Betsy where it came from. She smiles and says, ‘Becky came up with the name. It was the coolest moment – it was this eureka moment – where I just had a blank, I just couldn’t think of any names, then Becky ran up the stairs shouting, “I’ve got it, I’ve got a name! ArtiGras!” and people just love it.’

Betsy is keen to emphasise that ArtiGras isn’t about her, it’s about bringing together and showcasing the talent within Ashford. It’s also totally not-for-profit, as Betsy explains. ‘I don’t personally make anything out of it. It’s run by volunteers and it’s for the creative scene in Ashford. It’s to enhance the town culturally, it’s to get people into Ashford to see the art. We have amazing artists and amazing art and it’s also to showcase local talent. It’s about the art, the makers, the crafters, the dancers, the musicians, the theatres, the schools, the film groups. It’s nice to get us all together doing something with a common theme.’

Artigras 2014. Credit: Doug Harman Photography

Artigras 2014. Credit: Doug Harman Photography

Speaking of themes, this year’s ArtiGras theme is ‘Heart of Ashford’. Creating the piece de resistance is award-winning artist Phillip Long who, as part of Nagual Creations, helped design and make the giant urinal in Herne Bay for the Duchamp Festival which created a lot of interest in the national press. Betsy asks me if I saw it. I nod knowingly. She tells me, ‘Phillip’s creating the piece de resistance but we’re not going to tell the public what it is because it’s a surprise.’ She then shows me a photo of what it is and if I were you, you should definitely make the effort to come and have a look. It is – as the young people say – awesome.

The giant urinal created for the Duchamp Festival. in Herne Bay

The giant urinal created for the Duchamp Festival. Photo: Phillip Long

So what will be happening in Ashford over the two days? The High Street and Park Mall will be taken over with craft stalls, live music, pop-up galleries, workshops for children and adults, and 3D printing, along with a parade along the High Street on the Saturday. Anyone is welcome to walk or cycle in the parade as long as they make and wear a mask or a costume. If you’ve got no idea how to make a mask go along to one of the free mask-making workshops specifically for this purpose on Saturday 2 May at the CCE from 10am to 4pm or Friday 15 May. Register for the free workshop here.

Artigras 2014. Credit: Doug Harman Photography

Artigras 2014. Credit: Doug Harman Photography

As mentioned above, ArtiGras is a not-for-profit festival but as we all know, festivals need money and people behind them to enable them to happen in the first place. ArtiGras desperately needs funding to pay for the volunteers’ expenses and food but they especially need funding to pay for the marketing, e.g. the flyers, banners, posters, etc.

Betsy also needs donations of timber, plywood, aluminium, Perspex, fibreglass, lycra and LED lighting for the secret project as well as any loans of bicycles for the parade (don’t worry, they won’t be painted or adapted and your bicycles will be returned to you safe and sound). Donations of raffle prizes will also be gratefully received.

If you can help with the funding (a sponsorship pack is available with more information), would like to volunteer to help out on the day or would like a stall, please get in touch with Betsy by:

emailing her at:;
calling her on 07837 896122;
popping into the CCE at Castle Buildings, 2C New Rents, Ashford, Kent TN23 1JH (above Caffè Nero) Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm; or
booking a stall online.

ArtiGras Arts Festival is taking place in Ashford Town Centre throughout the day on Friday 15 May and Saturday 16 May 2015 with live music taking place in various venues throughout the evening.

For more information:

Visit the ArtiGras Ashford website
Like ArtiGras Ashford on Facebook
Follow ArtiGras Ashford on Twitter


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Be Kind For A Month – Accidentally Made The Charity Shop More Money

Nov 07 2014

Yesterday I went to the Pilgrims Hospice charity shop I’d given my clothes to, not to see if my clothes were there (although, obviously I had a glance around to see if any were for sale. None were – either they hated my clothes, or they’d all been sold. I hadn’t seen anyone in town walking around in my clothes though, which is probably just as well. That would be a tad weird. Okay, a lot weird) but to get Shaun a toilet book (like a lot of men, he only reads on the toilet. Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?) There wasn’t anything I thought he’d like, so I popped across the road to the PDSA shop and had a look in there instead. I picked up the Eric Sykes’ autobiography and had a flick through and saw a bookmark nestled between the pages. It wasn’t just a crumped up old piece of paper or a train ticket, but a beautiful metal Celtic bookmark, still in its wrapper, with a £3.20 price label on the back – which made the bookmark worth more than the book, which was priced at 99p.


I decided not to buy the book (I’d flicked through it and it looked a bit boring – sorry Eric) but thought I should probably tell the woman behind the till that it had a bookmark in it, which she could sell separately and therefore make more money for the doggies and other animals but I was having a shy day and just wanted to put the book back on the shelf and quietly walk out and not have to do any kind of communicating with other humans thing. But my conscience got the better of me so I took the book over to the woman and showed her the bookmark. She didn’t seem too bothered about it but sort of said thank you and I left thinking I should have bought the 99p book and then I’d have a pretty bookmark but that would sort of be stealing and then I’d feel guilty about it for the rest of my life, like when I stole a boy at junior school’s ruler but felt too guilty to use it so it stayed hidden in a box forever. I eventually confessed my crime to him when we hooked up on Friends Reunited (if you’re under 30, Friends Reunited was similar to Facebook, but like watching it on a black and white television instead of a colour one) and he said I’d be hearing from his lawyers.

Anyway, yeah, so, yesterday’s kindness was accidentally making the charity shop more money by being honest and not stealing a bookmark they didn’t know they had in the first place.

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Be Kind For A Month – Giving Away Protein Drinks

Nov 05 2014

A while ago, Upbeat sent me five vouchers for their high protein dairy drinks. I’d bought a couple but then didn’t drink them by their use-by dates and although I’m quite happy to eat things that are years (hello spices) out of date, I believe if you drink out of date dairy, you die.  So, to prevent me wasting the other three vouchers, I gave them away on my fitness blog, JogBlog.

I drew the winners yesterday and posted the vouchers off today (and got extra bonus kindness points because I got my slippers wet when I went in the rain to the post box).


I’m giving people protein. Protein is good for you. That makes me a nutritionist or something.

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Be Kind For A Month – Update

Nov 04 2014

I think I need to do a bit of a catch up – so, what have I been doing? The other night, I went to London for a Betty Crocker baking thing. It was a bit of a disaster and Helen and I did the only thing appropriate under the circumstances and escaped early and went to the pub. Then karma got us for escaping early, when we walked a mile to Pizza Express, only to find they’d closed early because their oven had broken or something. But, that was okay, we’d find a nice, quiet pub to sit in and hatch a culinary Plan B. We found a gorgeously cute little bar with a nice empty corner, which unfortunately wasn’t empty for long as, as soon as I sat down, immediately a group of loud people stormed in and plonked themselves next to me. And if that wasn’t bad enough, my wine was revolting. We ended up in Wetherspoons. Classy. (Actually, I have no problem with Wetherspoons, they do cheap alcohol, nice chips and their veggie roast goes down well after a race.)

On my way back to the station, a man asked me for some money. I assumed he was homeless and not a polite mugger, so I decided to be kind and give him some money. Then he asked me where I was going and I said Kent. Then he asked me, ‘whereabouts? Ashford?’ and so I said to him, ‘HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?’ and he said he’d heard of it, that’s all and could he come home with me? I said no, it’s too far and he said he’d come to the end of the world with me. Aaah. Sweet. Karma restored.

The next day, I braved Girl-With-An-Attitude-Problem in the Post Office and anonymously sent a friend a homemade bracelet.



She wouldn’t have been expecting anything from me as a) I don’t think I’ve seen her since the 80s; and b) didn’t have her address until I messaged her husband and asked him for it. I think she liked it though, yay. (If the recipient is reading this and you’re allergic to metal that’s not proper silver, I won’t be offended if you give it to someone else.)

Keeping with the ‘send stuff anonymously in the post like a weirdo’ theme, I’d received a few bags of vegetarian/vegan marshmallows to review on my vegetarian blog, Planet Veggie. I remembered that last time I’d been sent some, a friend said VEGETARIAN MARSHMALLOWS? WHERE DID YOU GET THOSE FROM? TELL ME NOOOOOOOOOOOOOW and so I thought I’d share the marshmallowy love and send her a packet.


She had absolutely no idea who had sent them to her so she’s obviously not been keeping up with this blog and therefore I’m going to ask for them back. (Not really.) By the way, that’s not a typo (can you make a typo in a handwritten card?) on the card, Louise really did run 100 miles.

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Be Kind For A Month – Posted A Note In The Post Box For The Postie

Oct 28 2014

I’m still doing kind things – I swear -  I just haven’t blogged about them. I have, along with Helen, given notes to strange men in pubs (or should that be strange notes to men in pubs?), posted a picture of a kitten wearing a tiara on Bernadette’s Facebook page (Bernadette was the one who inspired me to join in with the Be Kind thing in the first place, after she did her 366 Days of Kindness), and, um, other stuff I can’t remember right now.

And today, when I posted off my tax return, I also posted an envelope containing a little note for the postie. Posties are cool.





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Be Kind For A Month – Posted A Penguin

Oct 22 2014

Once again, I didn’t get to the post office before it shut and then kind of forgot about the Be Kind thing until 11pm, so I posted a pic of a penguin on my friend Helen’s Facebook wall, because she likes penguins.


The note I left sellotaped to the bus stop on Tuesday had finally gone (it had been there all day – I know this because I kept looking out the window through my binoculars like a weirdo, checking up on it). I’m hoping one of the schoolchildren picked it up in the morning when they were waiting for their bus and drew a penis on it (the note, not the bus – although that would be funny, especially if they did it on the windscreen, right above the driver’s head), like we would have done in my day and didn’t just say ‘lol’, then chuck it on the floor.

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Be Kind For A Month – Left A Note At The Bus Stop

Oct 21 2014

I woke up with a plan in my head for today’s Be Kind thing but that plan was scuppered before it was even eight o’clock in the morning, dammit. Still, that didn’t let me off the kindness hook, especially as I haven’t been kind for two days because, as I said in my previous post, I had food poisoning all day Sunday and wasn’t up to much yesterday, either. But I’m all better now and decided to leave a little note at the bus stop for someone to find. Originally, I was going to write that I hoped they were having a nice day but then I thought, what if they were having a really shit day or they were on the way to a funeral or something? The note might really piss them off then along the lines of wanting to punch people who say, ‘Cheer up, it might never happen’ when something actually has just happened and you have no intention of cheering up, especially just because some wanker in the street told you to.

So, I kind of hedged my bets and wrote something in between and hoped it came across neutral and didn’t provoke anyone into finding me and punching me.






I’m beginning to feel like the Banksy of Kindness, leaving all these anonymous notes around. Well, I say ‘all’; what I mean is, ‘two so far’.

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Be Kind For A Month – Took Brownies To The Pub

Oct 18 2014

No, not these kinds of Brownies,



but these kinds of brownies.



Yes, I took some homemade chocolate brownies to the pub and very well they were received, too. Look at the happy smiley I’ve-got-brownies-yum face.



Unfortunately, I couldn’t be kind on Sunday or Monday because I had food poisoning. And no, it wasn’t because of the brownies. Cheek.

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Be Kind For A Month – Gave Clothes To Charity

Oct 17 2014

My wardrobes – like most people’s I would imagine – are bursting with clothes I either a) have never worn; b) haven’t worn for years; or c) can’t fit into any more. In fact, on seeing some of the clothes I pulled out of my wardrobes today I wondered how I ever managed to squeeze into them in the first place. Was I really the size of a five-year-old, five years ago? I had a good sort through and got a bundle together to give to a local charity shop. There were clothes I was sorry to see go (dresses I like but would feel too muttony in), clothes I’d worn once and wouldn’t wear again (dresses from Jigsaw and Bench), clothes I have no intention of wearing again (a suit and ‘officey’ type trousers) and various other items.


But which charity shop to take them to? I’m fussy about my charity shops – any that fund animal testing are definitely off my list, so I walked past the Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation shops and went straight to the PDSA shop; partly because, you know… animals… and partly because the last time I took clothes in there to donate, the old lady behind the till was so grateful you’d have thought I’d just changed my name to Noah and personally saved not just two of each animal but every single animal in the world.

Then I had a dilemma. The PDSA shop was shut for refurbishment (my cast offs had obviously made them a lot of money) and was empty except for a man cleaning the shiny new wooden floor. The sign on the door said it was re-opening tomorrow but I couldn’t see how unless they were planning to put all the furniture and stock back overnight but, still, I wasn’t going to lug all the clothes back home and bring them back tomorrow (I’m not that charitable) so I had to find a Plan B charity shop. Ashford is full of charity shops and I thought about giving them to Oxfam but then thought, don’t they get lots of funding and make loads of money anyway? Then I pondered taking the clothes to the YMCA shop but I’m not really sure what the YMCA does and doesn’t the C stand for Christian? I don’t want to give my clothes to some dodgy God thing and then I spotted up a side street a Pilgrims Hospice shop. Hooray!

I unloaded my rucksack full of clothes and gave them  to the woman behind the counter, then went over to the bookshelves and filled my rucksack back up with books. (When I say ‘fill’, I mean ‘three’ and yes, I did pay for them first.)



These books were a bargain – just £1 each, and the Complete Bread Machine Cookbook has been in my Amazon wishlist for approximately forever. I was also mega-tempted to buy the ‘200 Best Panini’ book (yes, really, such a book exists) but as I only like mozzarella and tomato panini, I left it on the shelf.

I think I’ve found my new favourite charity book shop. Yay.

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Be Kind For A Month – Blog Commenting

Oct 16 2014

You know I mentioned on the first day of Be Kind For A Month that I’d made a list of ideas of kind things to do this month and a few of them involved not leaving the house? Well, today I decided to do one of the kindnesses that didn’t involve leaving the house. I told Twitter I would comment on anyone’s blog post if they asked me to. Surprisingly, only one person asked me (and even that was more of a ‘okay, if you really want to’ than a ‘yes please’) – Twitter’s usually full of links to blog posts but it seems bloggers turn shy when you actually ask for links to blogs. Ho hum.

So, I asked on Facebook too and a couple of friends left me links to their blogs, so I duly commented on them.


Thanks to Stefan, Gene and Diane for helping me complete today’s Be Kind For A Month thing.

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