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The Maidstone River Festival through the years

The last weekend of July has long been a time for merry Maidstone residents and visitors to make the most of local waters at the town's annual River Festival.

First established in the 1980s as a small gathering of boats, the event has blown up into a celebration adored by its fun-loving community.

Gathering of boats for the Maidstone River Festival in 2015 Picture: Matthew Walker
Gathering of boats for the Maidstone River Festival in 2015 Picture: Matthew Walker
Maidstone River Festival several years ago
Maidstone River Festival several years ago
Maidstone River Festival several years ago
Maidstone River Festival several years ago

Boat owners come to pitch up along the rivers edge, creating a border of vessels miles long.

The family friendly event was set up for all to come down and take part in the 715 metre raft race and relax on decorated boats.

As well as dressing up their boats, attendees themselves are encouraged to dress up and get involved in water fights on the water.

From left, George, 13, Sammy, 12 and Edward, 10 handing out leaflets for Snowflakes, a charity at the Maidstone River Festival 2019. Picture: John Westhrop
From left, George, 13, Sammy, 12 and Edward, 10 handing out leaflets for Snowflakes, a charity at the Maidstone River Festival 2019. Picture: John Westhrop
People on boats throwing buckets of water over the other dingies during the River Festival 2009. Picture: John Westhrop
People on boats throwing buckets of water over the other dingies during the River Festival 2009. Picture: John Westhrop
During the Maidstone River Festival 2011, 42th Highland Regiment re-enact senarios from 1815 Picture: Ruth Cuerden
During the Maidstone River Festival 2011, 42th Highland Regiment re-enact senarios from 1815 Picture: Ruth Cuerden

For the event's 30th anniversary in 2009, the organisers decided to extend the one-day celebration to two days and announced the event would be 80s themed in commemoration.

As the festival grew, a range of musicians have performed, including tribute acts to Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and Freddy Mercury.

Performances from the 42nd Highland Regiment and the Bloco Fogo samba band have also entertained visitors with historic reenactments and energetic music.

From left, Marcus Nibblett and Clairey Suzanne, both Maidstone River Festival Committee members at the Maidstone River Festival 2019. Picture: John Westhrop
From left, Marcus Nibblett and Clairey Suzanne, both Maidstone River Festival Committee members at the Maidstone River Festival 2019. Picture: John Westhrop
Maidstone River Festival 2008. The Guinness Gangers on the river. Picture: Matthew Walker
Maidstone River Festival 2008. The Guinness Gangers on the river. Picture: Matthew Walker
Maidstone River Festival 2010. Lady Gaga Experience Clare Maghi on the Purple Monkey stage. Picture: Matthew Walker
Maidstone River Festival 2010. Lady Gaga Experience Clare Maghi on the Purple Monkey stage. Picture: Matthew Walker

Some years, a fireworks show over Fremlin Walk has closed the festival with a bang.

From 2017, it has been kept afloat through the support of sponsors such as Weston Homes and Clive Emson after Maidstone Bourough Council withdrew support.

At the time, Cllr Matthew Burton (Con), said while he would support in principle the return of a family-friendly festival but added: “We have a responsibility to consider the costs to the taxpayer.”

River Medway in the Town centre of Maidstone 2007. The Leeds Castle team use a smoke screen to distract other teams
River Medway in the Town centre of Maidstone 2007. The Leeds Castle team use a smoke screen to distract other teams
Bloco Fogo provide some samba beats along the river bank. Hundreds enjoy this years Maidstone River Festival 2013. Picture: Martin Apps
Bloco Fogo provide some samba beats along the river bank. Hundreds enjoy this years Maidstone River Festival 2013. Picture: Martin Apps
During the Maidstone River Festival 2011 the 42 Highland Regiment re-enact scenarios from 1815 Picture: Ruth Cuerden
During the Maidstone River Festival 2011 the 42 Highland Regiment re-enact scenarios from 1815 Picture: Ruth Cuerden

Ever since, organisers have been playing a balancing act with health and safety measures on the water and keeping the festival as lively as it has always been.

Last year, 87 boats lined up the Medway River and 330 people visited the County Town to enjoy the festivities.

After being scheduled to go ahead this weekend, the festival had to be cancelled due to the dangers still posed by coronavirus.

The Maidstone River Festival 2009 on and around the River Medway in Maidstone. Picture: Matthew Reading
The Maidstone River Festival 2009 on and around the River Medway in Maidstone. Picture: Matthew Reading
Maidstone River Festival 2010. In the thick of the battle action. Picture: Matthew Walker
Maidstone River Festival 2010. In the thick of the battle action. Picture: Matthew Walker
Maidstone River Festival firework finale Picture: Chris Brunt
Maidstone River Festival firework finale Picture: Chris Brunt

Those who are sad to miss out this year can still look forward to it being bigger and better than ever next year.

David Naghi, chairman of the Maidstone River Festival Committee, said: "It's a fantastic day, it's the only time where the people of Maidstone can come to a free event.

"If we do put the festival on and it looked like Brighton beach I would be accused of being irresponsible and spreading coronavirus. And we have got to think of our own safety.

"We were hoping it would all be sorted by the end of July. Because we have got so much time now we should be able to make it bigger and better next year."

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