Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle : April 2023

Welcome to the April 2023 edition of the Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle, with all the news you need from Cockermouth’s cultural quarter. This month – why The Kirkgate is where the history of Cockermouth starts, why Kirkgate needs YOU, and why ‘Cilla’ felt @Home@Kirkgate.


Our first ever Kirkgate Book Festival last month, bringing writers and book lovers together, was a great success. Planning for a two-day event next year is already under way.

Chloe Maitland, Kirkgate’s Community Projects Officer, said: ‘We had a really lively day with seven authors and two special guests, broadcasters Fiona Armstrong from ITV Border, and Jonathan Blake, a BBC political correspondent based at Westminster, who knows us because his mum happens to live in Brigham and is one of our customers!’

There was some very encouraging feedback from audience members about how much they enjoyed hearing about topics such as novel-writing, Cumbria-based detective fiction, self-publishing, local history and the (sometimes very funny) ups and downs of being an art gallery owner in Cockermouth. The New Bookshop on Main Street held a pop-up shop in our community hall while visitors mingled with the authors and enjoyed the usual delicious home-bakes at our pop-up café.

Festival Chair Marion Bowman is our volunteer of the month and The New Bookshop’s Louise Heaton is our business-owner of the month. Read their articles below.

Fiona Armstrong talking to the Kirkgate audience about the Lakeland Book of the Year Award, alongside presenter Nick Taylor and local authors Laura Noakes and Millie Hardy-Simms .


We have two extraordinarily contrasting creative events for you in the next few days.

The Great Puzz Pubble Hunt
Saturday 15 April, 7pm (Doors 6pm)

This is an unmissable night’s entertainment invented by Kirkgate’s own fiendish Quiz Master Toby Gaffney.  It’s a head-scratching, mind-bending, light bulb-inducing evening’s fun made for people who love puzzles, competitions, escape rooms and quizzes. Teams of 6 will battle it out to be the first to follow the clues and puzzles to reveal the password of victory.

‘Highway Cello’ and ‘Celloop’
Tuesday 18 April, 8:00pm (Doors 7:00 pm)
Two stunning approaches to the cello. ‘Highway Cello’ presents the culmination of a unique music tour. Kenneth Wilson cycled from Hadrian’s Wall to Rome with his cello on the back of his bike, aiming to perform at every opportunity on the way. What would happen? No-one would know until he cycled into town and opened his cello case…
‘Celloop’ is a creative musical concept combining violoncello and looping. A graduate in Composition from the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Christian Grosselfinger, is one of Brazil’s most promising cellists. Christian has played in orchestras all over the world.

Kenneth and Christian join us on Tuesday 18th April
And hot on their nifty heels
Kirkgate presents a string of the best films of the year in the next month, including The Swimmers (15), All Quiet on the Western Front (15), A Man Called Otto (15), The Fabelmans (12A), The Whale (15) and Women Talking (15), each showing three times a week: Fridays at 7pm, Mondays at 8pm and Wednesday matinees at 2pm, with subtitles. (Don’t forget your pizza order from Fermento on Fridays!)There’s more!
Catch great stuff at Kirkgate Arts Out West venues in Ravenglass, St Bees, Brigham, Ullock, Ennerdale, Blindcrake, Ireleth and Kirksanton between now and mid-May. Check dates and details on our website.Music you say?
Oh, we’ve got music for you alright!
John Ellis takes the Jazz@Kirkgate slot on Sunday 23 April, 7.30pm (Doors 6.30pm)
The Ocelots will be on stage on Sunday 30 April, 8pm (Doors 7pm)
Lady Maisery play on Saturday 13 May, 8pm (Doors 7pm)
Luke Jackson, singer-songwriter, is with us on Saturday 20 May, 8pm (Doors 7pm)And comedy, natch
John Lebbon, Steve Royle and Mike Carter appear in the Comedy@Kirkgate slot on Saturday, 29 April, 8pm (Doors 7pm)


Book early
Kirkgate’s Operations Manager, Katie Gentry, says ‘Please book early’. It’s not just customers risking disappointment if, late in the day, they find that tickets might have sold out when they get round to buying theirs. It’s really important for venues such as Kirkgate to know early on that an event will at least break even on ticket sales, otherwise it might have to be cancelled well before the date to avoid serious losses.

Says Katie: ‘Please, if there’s something you fancy, do book early. Be sure of a ticket and help us avoid cancelling. If you are a member of our Friends organisation, you will be eligible for ticket exchanges if you then find you can’t come.’

Best Friends
Ticket exchange is only one of the benefits of being a Kirkgate Friend. Most important is the knowledge that you are helping keep a vital community organisation going. All volunteers automatically receive free membership of the Friends organisation.Find out more here, and click here to join.
What’s on your doorstep
There are loads of ways you can find out what’s on at the Kirkgate and Arts Out West venues, share these links with your friends too!:Subscribe to fortnightly email listings.
Search our website by category or date.
Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram @Kirkgate.
Get a printed list of all the events coming up every month at the Kirkgate Centre – available at the Box Office, open Mondays and Fridays 10am – midday.


Town Trail Goes Digital

This month our local history article is about the self-guided Town Trail round Cockermouth Conservation Area that was introduced by the local Civic Trust 23 years ago.

The trail organisers reached a significant milestone of their own last month with the launch of an app. People can now get the inside track on their smart phones. First stop on the trail is The Kirkgate Centre (which is why we claim that the history of Cockermouth starts with us!). Phil Campbell of the Cockermouth and District Civic Trust tells us all about it.

‘The idea of the trail when we first created it in 2000 was to provide information about our town to visitors and to enable local residents to take pride in where they live. As readers of Gloria Edwards’ regular articles in the KQC will know, Cockermouth has a rich history stretching from medieval times through the Georgian period to the present day, and much of the architectural side of this history remains protected within the town centre Conservation Area. Cockermouth Conservation Area was first designated in 1967 and is the area of the town that has been legally identified as being of special architectural or historic interest considered to merit extra safeguards.

The trail starts at The Kirkgate Centre where the first of 19 numbered plaques can be found. All 19 are at key points of interest along the 2 kilometre route (1.25 miles). The trail visits some of the notable historic buildings of the town but also yards, courts and back streets that even locals do not regularly visit, if ever.
This year, Cumbria Archive Service teamed up with us to produce the new app that automatically provides verbal commentaries and photographs at all of the way points along the trail. All you have to do is first buy a Town Trail leaflet (£2) then scan the QR code in the leaflet into your smartphone, and the commentary and photograph for each spot will be provided on arrival at the locations.

The Town Trail is numbered from the Kirkgate Centre but can be easily started from anywhere along what is a circular route. The trail is mostly on the flat and accessible to all abilities. However, the descent from the Kirkbank viewpoint is down steps then a steep slope to the Quaker foot bridge. It can be missed out by cutting through from Kirkgate’s Georgian square (location 3), past All Saints Church, and circling round the Town Hall to the footbridge. Copies of the Town Trail leaflet can be bought at the Tourism Information Centre (TIC) in the Library, the New Bookshop and the Toy Shop, all on Main Street.

The Town Trail app and the revised Town Trail leaflet were launched in March jointly by Cumbria Archive Service and Cockermouth and District Civic Trust. The app uses software kindly supported by North West Sound Heritage.’

Become a heritage volunteer
If you would like to get involved in Kirkgate’s Heritage Group and join the volunteers who meet regularly to look after the local history collection, deal with inquiries, conduct research, prepare publications and plan public events such as exhibitions, workshops and talks, please email:


This regular slot features people, businesses, voluntary groups and others who hire the Kirkgate to put on their own activities, shows and public events. There was a full house and great atmosphere in our theatre when Sandy Smith recently booked her show celebrating all-time British favourite Cilla Black. Here’s more about Sandy and her life in music:

‘I’ve been singing and performing to audiences for most of my life. My first public performance was when I was only 5, at Castle Howard, near Leeds, then when I was 9 I took the role of Annie at Newcastle Royal Theatre as a professional entertainer.

When I was 18, I moved from the North East of England to work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and I was able to follow my dream there. I continued performing, including at some top stages in the West End such as the London Palladium. I’ve had leading roles including Sandy in Grease, Narrator in Joseph, and Mabel in Pirates of Penzance.

I took a long break from singing to bring my children up and focus on them, especially after my son had a serious accident but throughout this time I never lost my passion. I started a successful Performing Arts School, Adlib, which focuses on confidence-boosting and self-esteem of students, producing 2 shows a year in theatres.

I was coaxed into auditioning for a wedding band and became their lead singer which reignited my passion for performing live myself and I now have a solo career which brought me to Kirkgate. I have over 800 songs in my repertoire and can adapt to most styles from Rock to Opera, Cheesy Pop to Disco, Swing & Jazz, Musical Theatre to Showstoppers.

Where do I start when I think about my night at Kirkgate? From first entering the building and being greeted, I felt at home.  I was welcomed with open arms and all aspects of the preparation for my show were as required.  The team seemed to go above and beyond and I would recommend the performance space.  It’s a small quirky theatre that I loved. A massive thank you to the audience too, they were amazing and I loved every minute of it.  I can’t wait to return.’

You can find Sandy online here-

Interested in hiring the Kirkgate?
Please get in touch with our Operations Manager Katie Gentry on or phone 01900 829966. You’re welcome to come and see all our spaces, facilities and extensive technical equipment. We have a modern kitchen, there’s free wifi and we’re right next to a car park with 3 hours free parking. More details here.


Kirkgate is a real community organisation with a strong volunteer contingent working alongside our small staff. After 28 years, and especially following the challenges of the Covid-19 era, we staff and volunteers are more determined than ever to keep developing, stay relevant and provide Cockermouth and West Cumbria with great entertainment and cultural activities.

The volunteer this month telling us more about her involvement with Kirkgate is Marion Bowman:

‘I was born and brought up in Maryport, and went to the old Cockermouth Grammar School. When I was living in London and working in television, I was very impressed to hear about the campaign to set up an arts centre at the old All Saints school in Cockermouth. So when I came back to live in the area, I started coming to films and gigs at the Kirkgate. In my teenage years I used to go to the folk club in the Black Bull pub on Main Street, so it was great to see professional musicians in the Kirkgate’s intimate theatre. Musicians say the acoustic is great!

From starting as a customer, I eventually joined the Board as a trustee, and then I was Chair for six years. I stepped down last year after we got going again following the end of the Covid lockdowns and Emma Heys, General Manager, and Chloe Maitland, Community Projects Officer, joined the staff. Another Maryport girl also now living in Cockermouth, Sue Moses, took over as Chair. I went to school with Sue!

I really enjoy being part of Kirkgate. I’ve made new friends, enjoyed a lot of shows and activities, and been involved in some significant decision-making. I’m still volunteering, mainly behind the scenes as a member of the Communications Group which deals with marketing, publicity and things like news releases for the local media. I’m also sometimes called on to perform, but only in an MC kind of role as at the Book Festival last month, or occasionally doing an interview on behalf of Kirkgate for BBC Radio Cumbria.

Community life has been very important to me ever since my childhood in Maryport which had strong traditions of mutual support, amateur singing and entertainment, and youth clubs. Having venues such as Kirkgate where people can come together and celebrate their own community’s talents and history as well as learn about the wider world is vital for our small West Cumbrian towns.

Kirkgate Arts and Heritage currently has vacancies for new trustees – there are lots of opportunities to influence the future of the organisation when you’re on the Board, and that also means influencing what kind of town Cockermouth is, and what it offers to local residents and visitors of all ages. I’d recommend becoming a trustee to anyone, so if you are interested in helping out and being part of something really important, do join the team!’

Marion on stage, with Harry Navinski and Ruth Sutton, to host our Crime and Detective event at the Kirkgate Book Festival.
Whether you’re interested in being a trustee, or volunteering in any capacity, please email We’ll explain all the different roles and the time commitment, and if you decide to get involved, you’ll be warmly welcomed, well supported and thoroughly trained. Volunteers get free membership of our Friends group and there’s a very enjoyable annual volunteers social.
Here’s a short video about volunteering with us:


Louise Howard, who recently took over at The New Bookshop on Main Street, tells us all about her new life, which recently involved a busy day at the Kirkgate Book Festival.

‘As new owners of The New Bookshop in Cockermouth, we were very happy to be asked to be part of the Book Festival at the Kirkgate Centre this March. We were well looked after by the staff and volunteers and had an enjoyable and successful day. The festival was an opportunity for people to meet several of our local authors and to hear about their writing experience. The New Bookshop had a pop up stall at the centre where visitors could purchase books and then have them signed by the authors. There is a real appetite and enthusiasm for more literary events and we certainly hope that the festival will be become a regular part of the town’s calendar.

We have lived in Cockermouth for 21 years with our three children. When the New Bookshop recently came on the market it was an opportunity that we did not want to miss. As an English teacher I have spent my career encouraging young people to read widely, critically and, most importantly, to read for pleasure. I feel extremely lucky to start a new career where I can continue to be surrounded by books and to be part of other people’s love of reading.

The New Bookshop pop up shop at Kirkgate’s Book Festival
The New Bookshop is a place where customers can spend time searching the shelves and reading our recommendations as well as drawing on the knowledge of staff who will take the time to help them find what they are looking for.  It is a happy place that has helped to shape the reading community of the town, from the pre-school story time, to links with schools, regular book groups and author events.

Mr and Mrs Winkworth followed by their daughter and son-in-law, Catherine and Stephen Hetherington, have created a beautiful bookshop and coffee shop and provided customers with a great service since 1968. As new owners, we want to ensure that the business continues to thrive and that it remains as an enjoyable place for booklovers of all ages to visit.
Every town needs a good bookshop.

Louise and some of her colleagues outside The New Bookshop on Main Street.


We recently had the very welcome news of funding for a new project from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We’re calling it In My Shoes and it’s going to focus on how diverse the local community is, celebrating all the different kinds of heritage that local people have.

Cumbria can sometimes feel a long way from the rest of the country, let alone the rest of the world, but it really isn’t. Most families don’t have to go back too far to discover that some of their ancestors, perhaps even only one or two generations back, migrated into the area. My own family came here from Derbyshire in the early 1900’s to work in the steel industry. We know that in earlier times Danish seafarers, German miners, Irish and Jewish people settled in West Cumbria. In the 21st century we have Syrian refugees making new lives and contributing to our communities, and health workers, restaurateurs and hotel staff from all over Europe, the Commonwealth, South Asia and the Far East. We want to celebrate everyone’s migration stories and cultural traditions.

Our project will involve our Youth Theatre exploring these themes, and we’ll be gathering oral histories from within the community. There’ll be a programme of music and dance events from different cultures, and exhibitions on some interesting, but perhaps not very well known, aspects of local history.

We’re using the idea ‘In My Shoes’ as a metaphor for migration and mutual understanding as well as different cultural traditions. Our first task will be to prepare our next major Kirkgate exhibition, due in October, which will feature the history of shoe-making in Cockermouth and displays of the special shoes that form a big part of Cumbrians’ varied cultural heritage and interests, from clog dancing to tango, and from climbing boots to trainers. We’ll also be finding out why so many of us take our shoes off indoors and how shoe-throwing has been a form of insult since Biblical times! Watch out for more details about this fascinating new Kirkgate project.

Emma Heys