A POPULAR drama festival will not go ahead this year after its dedicated organiser fell ill.

John Scowen, 59, of Wood View, Grays, a champion of the arts in Thurrock, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in October.

There is no cure for the condition, which causes muscles in the body to gradually weaken.

Mr Scowen, who was chairman of Thurrock Arts Council and secretary of drama society Thurrock Courts Players, founded the Thurrock Drama Festival 19 years ago.

But the illness, which has limited the use of his limbs and led to him relying on a ventilator to keep him alive, has caused him to retire from his much-loved posts.

The week-long drama festival, which normally takes place at the Thameside Theatre every June, will not be going ahead this year, but members of the Courts Players are keen to revive it next year as John was passionate about it.

They described the actor, who has won numerous drama festival trophies and performed at the Edinburgh Festival, as a “constant source of amusement”.

Mike Jones, a fellow Thurrock Courts Player, said: “The work John has carried out to promote and encourage Thurrock drama is immeasurable.

“He is one of the nicest, funniest and most skilful people I have had the pleasure to meet.”

John’s daughter, Sarah Scowen, 28, is running the London Marathon in April to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

She said her father’s illness had come as a massive shock to the family, who have had to adapt their lives to care for him. She said: “There’s not a person in Thurrock who doesn’t know my dad, and they would be shocked to see him in the state he’s in now.

“It’s such a shame as he was looking forward to retirement.

“The MND support group has been absolutely integral to me and my mum, they’ve been so supportive and have helped us so much.”

Sarah has already raised £1,700 for the MND Association and now wants to raise awareness for the disease.

She added: “MND is a disease that is not highlighted very often in the news.

“It’s very cruel and, unfortunately in the case of my dad, a fastmoving, life-limiting disease.”

To sponsor Sarah, visit her page at