It takes patience and a slow, steady approach to catch crocodiles or count birds – experience that stands the owner and manager of the Sedgefield Slow Festival in good stead as she puts the small Garden Route village on the tourist map and advocates wholesome family living.
WORDS Jacques Marais PHOTOGRAPH Desmond Scholtz
“The Sedgefield Slow Festival is so much more than just a collection of events. It’s about having fun the old-fashioned way, making lasting memories and celebrating the generally undiscovered beauty of this special town,” says festival owner Amanda Dixon.
Since its launch in 2010, the festival has grown from five to 30 events planned for this year’s festival, taking place from
3 to 5 April. With a budget of only R20 000, last year’s festival raised R8,2 million in media public relations exposure for Sedgefield. Attendance and participation has also steadily increased each year.
“The festival’s success is based on people’s desire to relive the quality things they did in their childhood – a time when there were no cell phones, laptops and electronic games to be distracted by. Activities include family-orientated events such as a sandcastle-building competition, drive-in movies, anything that floats, barefooted bowling, a fashion show featuring recycled attire and a street parade – all things that express the light-hearted spirit of Sedgefield locals who like to savour life the ‘slow’ way while taking care of the beautiful environment they live in. Proceeds go towards local charities, schools and non-profit organisations.”
It all started when local residents and friends Jean Wright and Di Young envisioned a way to put Sedgefield on the Garden Route tourism map. The town was also in the process of registering for international Cittaslow Town status*. Together with Amanda and her husband Mark, the friends brainstormed a way to give the town its own brand and identity, and to showcase the stunning beauty of the town as a whole. “Initially we thought of hosting a single event, but then realised that a handful of events would make a festival,” Amanda explains. “And we knew that with a captive audience already in Sedgefield during the Easter weekend, this would be the perfect time to host a new festival. The religious connection also fit in perfectly with a festival based on family and, essentially, Christian values.”
Amanda chaired and organised the inaugural Slow Festival in 2010. She spent of her own money and resources to market and organise the event, believing it would ultimately reap benefits for the town and region. However, the Garden Route was still reeling from the effects of a worldwide recession, and funding and sponsorship was one of the immediate challenges. By the end of 2013 the festival was in danger of closing down and, while locals all jumped in to save the day, the finances remain in the red for now. “We need a title sponsor who can ensure the festival’s sustainability for the foreseeable future. Our dream title sponsor is one who understands and supports the ethos
of community, slow living, wholesome food produce and quality family values.”
While best known locally for her event managing skills, Amanda’s talents and interests range more widely. After completing a Sports Science degree at Stellenbosch University, her passion for wildlife, nature and conservation prompted her to work for the Endangered Wildlife Trust for a year. She also completed the CCAfrica (now andBeyond) ranger-training course and worked as a ranger at Phinda Forest Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal. After a short stint of aerial game census and capture, she joined the University of Florida in the United States in conducting research on Morelet’s crocodiles (Mexican crocodiles) in Belize, Central America in 2003. “It was the most incredible year. It was absolutely amazing learning how to pilot airboats and going out at night to catch a crocodile by hand!”
A year after her return to South Africa, an adventure race in the Garden Route changed her life forever. She met Mark Dixon, who was marshalling the race, and was later employed by event managers Magnetic South, hosts of the event. “Before I knew it, I was living and working in paradise!”
In 2009 Amanda started her own company, Tumbleweeds Events, which now owns and manages Sedgefield’s Slow Festival. Between events she and Mark work on bird census projects across the country.
“It has been very rewarding to see the festival grow each year, and especially wonderful to see the community getting so involved. I believe the reason their support keeps growing is because this festival is not about making money.
It gives back to the community, celebrates family life and promotes good, old-fashioned fun. It’s unique and warm, and embodies a whole lot of heart.”
* Sedgefield was declared Africa’s first Cittaslow Town in October 2010. Inspired by the concept of ‘slow food’, Cittaslow is a worldwide membership organisation promoting quality of life and resisting fast-lane lifestyle. Cittaslow (meaning ‘slow city’) originated in Italy in 1999 and represents nearly 200 towns across the world. Abiding by a list of values aimed at improving quality of life, registered Cittaslow towns celebrate cultural diversity and promote the specialties of their own people and surroundings.