Steve Sykes obituary

Steve Sykes
Steve Sykes’s imagination and pragmatism made him a valued leader of Holmfirth arts festival
Steve Sykes’s imagination and pragmatism made him a valued leader of Holmfirth arts festival
Chris Deering

Last modified on Fri 8 Jan 2021 13.55 EST

My friend Steve Sykes, who has died aged 70 after a stroke, was the dynamic and inspiring chair of the annual Holmfirth arts festival in West Yorkshire. He steered the organisation with imagination and pragmatism, developing the artistic and, crucially, the financial side of the festival. His eclectic and adventurous creative spirit made him a valued leader who inspired a large group of volunteers.

A talented guitarist and pianist – latterly adding tenor sax and banjo to his repertoire – he played in numerous local bands for 55 years, often for ceilidhs and community dance projects. Steve was equally at home playing a rock classic or a French chanson or helping to run a therapeutic music session in a care home. For the past 24 years he had been a central member of FEB, a group that plays rock, jazz, folk and music for theatre. He also worked extensively with Xylosound, a band for adults with additional needs.

Making music was central to his life; his guitar was never far away. During lockdown he organised a socially distanced FEB recording in his garden for a CD to raise money for Dementia UK.

Very much a facilitator, and an advocate for overseas development, he once arranged to send one of his guitars to a teacher also called Stephen he had met while travelling in Zimbabwe, who could not afford his own. They shared a name, the same birthday and, eventually, a guitar.

Born in Honley, West Yorkshire, to Leonard, the manager of Rock Mills Textiles in Brockholes, and Hilda (nee Bates), a housewife, Steve attended Holme Valley grammar school, where he met Lesley Hollingworth, whom he married in 1972. When he left school, he went to worked at ICI in Huddersfield before choosing to study colour chemistry at Bradford University. After graduation, he drove cranes at a graphite factory in Sheffield and worked on the construction of the M62, although – as he often said – he had some help with this task.

The budgie-breeding aviary he built at the age of 11 was the first of a lifetime of “projects”; later he kept chickens, grew vegetables, and combined his understanding of the natural world with a passion for construction. He taught the sciences, first at Brooke school in Sheffield, later at Mirfield free grammar as senior teacher/acting deputy and, finally, at Shelley college, where he relished returning to a teaching role. His retirement in 2010 gave him the opportunity to create more huts, shelters, greenhouses and spaces for convivial gatherings at his home, as well as enabling his huge involvement in the arts festival.

Steve was a generous friend. The arts festival will be dedicating an annual commission in his memory.

He is survived by Lesley, their children, Joe and Ellen, their grandchildren, Ren and Maya, and his brother, Keith.