Spongefest: A Celebration of Life and Music

By Samuel Lakin

20 May 2024

Headlined by Toploader, Spongefest is coming to its home town of Worksop for its biggest year yet, championing grassroots artists and mental health.

Festivals are a crucial part of any music scene, and offer attendees the chance to see many bands, both big names and up-and-coming, in a bustling and energetic environment.

This lively attitude is exactly what Spongefest, a Worksop-based charity event, has been doing for the last three years. But there’s much more to the story here, with the festival celebrating the life of its namesake Sam ‘Sponge’ Fisher, and raising both money and awareness for mental health.

Spongefest is the product of In Sam’s Name (ISN), a mental health charity established in 2021 by Sam’s father Stuart Fisher and friend Richard McHugh after he tragically took his own life on October 16th that year.

In Sam’s Name’s logo, the mental health charity from which Spongefest was created.

Described as “the life of the party” by Spongefest organiser Charlie McHugh (ISN founder Richard’s son), Sam was a teacher at  Prospect Hill Junior School before travelling to Australia and continuing to teach there before he passed away. 

Sam’s hometown of Worksop rallied around the charity to champion mental health in the area, and to remember the life of a beloved member of their community.

Spongefest organiser Charlie McHugh said: “It all started six weeks after Sam passed away, and because he lived in Australia it cost a lot of money to get his body back to the UK, so the first Spongefest was actually to raise money to bring him back.

“It was supported by Northern Exposure Magazine who brought a lot of bands from around the UK to make it a special event which celebrated life for Sam and also raised money.” 

Sam’s passing was a turning point for the community’s approach to mental health, with McHugh stating his dad wanted something to change: “My dad said he’s lost too many friends through suicide and he didn’t want to go through that again, so they created this group where men could comfortably come and talk about what’s going on inside their head and get things off their chest.”

ISN has expanded to surrounding areas, with centres now in Worksop, Retford, Allerton, Mansfield, and Kirby and Ashfield, as well as a women’s group in Worksop run by Sam’s mum, Jill Fisher. 

Now in its fourth iteration with Toploader headlining, the festival has become an important community event, McHugh continued: “It’s being supported by Bassetlaw Council, heavily supported by the Mayor of Worksop. 

“They know what ISN is about, and also the potential of what this festival can bring to Worksop as it’s inclusive to everyone and it’s showing that there are a lot of people there to talk to.” 

The poster with this year’s line-up for Spongefest.

Spongefest has become a fun event for all, supporting a good cause. McHugh explained that, other than infrequent gigs at Dukeries Brewery, the area lacks a real music scene, and the festival is trying to change that.

He stated: “It’s providing a day out for people that might love music but they’re having to travel every week to go and watch bands, and so hopefully bringing these bands here attracts some more people to come down instead of just having the odd couple shows a year.”

The festival aims to champion music at a time where McHugh sees many venues closing down and gigging at an entry level becoming more inaccessible. 

He continued: “The aim is to attract and support a lot of grassroots music as it really does need the support, especially now with a lot of venues closing.”

“We’ve managed to sort it out at Worksop Rugby Club and sort out a stage – it’s about 10 times bigger than what it was last year in capacity and so it’s really gone massive.”

This year marks a big growth for Spongefest, McHugh explained, and also a meaningful one for Sam’s hometown community. The previous three events were held at Network in Sheffield, and to bring the event back to Worksop as well as upscaling it is close to ISN and the town’s heart.  

McHugh said: “With it being a family day you’re going to be seeing a lot of young people come and if they enjoy the event they might find a love for music from a young age, and it’s an opportunity for people that might not be fortunate enough to travel to places like Sheffield and Leeds.

“At the end of the day all of Sam’s mates and family are here. 

“To bring it back here, it’s straight on their doorstep and they can have a drink in the local area and then come over to the festival. 

“A lot of the artists are also from Worksop like Jamie Fox, Lewis Newton and Crooked Ties so it’s local support really and everyone knows what ISN is in Worksop and everyone knows the story about Sam, so to bring it back here is really nice for his family and friends.”

Check out Spongefest on Instagram @spongesfest_isn to get your tickets. Spongefest is running on the 25th of May 12pm-10pm at Worksop Rugby Club.

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