THE newly-named Wantage Summer Arts Festival has had more than 60 entries – but is still hoping to attract more amateur and professional talents.

One of Oxfordshire’s largest arts festivals, the five-week event – running from Friday, June 1, to Saturday, July 7 – is being billed by organisers as the ‘biggest and best Wantage arts festival yet’.

Included in this year’s line-up are at least seven musical concerts of all types, including a Puccini Opera celebration, art exhibitions and various lectures.

Thousands of visitors attend the festival, which has been running for more than two decades but has faced repeated organisational challenges in recent times.

Also featured this year are two of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues performed by, Margaret Bateman and Bill Jestico at the Vale and Downland Museum.

Other more unusual events include an evening of Japanese music by the Hibiki Ensemble.

Earlier this year the festival looked close to folding but was taken on by the organisers of Wantage’s Opera Unmasked Group.

No event took place in 2015 after chairman Julia Reynolds stepped down, while in November, Wantage Town Council voted against taking it over.

The festival’s subsequent change of name – the event has had ‘Arts’ added to its title – reflects a new focus on music, art and the spoken word, organisers say.

They have also announced plans to celebrate the 160th birthday of opera composer Giacomo Puccini.

Among the festival team is Jim Mitchell, who founded the Not Just Betjeman literary festival, Wantage town councillor Jenny Hannaby and arts lovers Yvette Cecil and Ruth Alexander.

The team are promising to make this year’s event ‘a celebration of arts and culture in Wantage and surrounding villages’.

They are also organising a special tribute evening at Wantage’s Dolphin Gallery in memory of the late artist Beryl Maile, on Tuesday, June 5, from 7.30pm.

The Beacon in Wantage will play host to a Festival Party Night on Friday, June 29, with dancing to the Wantage Big Band, a disco and cabaret on offer.

Other festival dates include Wantage Carnival on Sunday, June10, and Wantage Armed Forces Day on Saturday, June 30.