Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle : April 2024

Welcome to the April 2024 edition of the Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle.

The March winds seem to have arrived a little late this year! We’re glad to say the daffodil displays are holding fast to our railings, and through the town- wonderful to see a splash of bright spring colour.

As this month sees the birthday of William Wordsworth, we thought we would celebrate all things “words” and “worth” in our April Chronicle, to welcome our new company secretary and our new treasurer.

We have plenty of words on offer in 2024! There is our monthly poetry night with Poets Out Loud on the second Wednesday of every month, plus a new opportunity to develop your creative writing skills with a five week writing course starting on Thursday 9th May. Scroll down to find out more.

When it comes to worth, we immediately think of our volunteers who are worth more than their weight in gold! As a regular customer of Kirkgate Arts we know you will appreciate the time and dedication our 100 strong team of volunteers put in to make sure every event runs smoothly, from serving you drinks to mixing the sound at live gigs.


As well as our usual events we are also available to hire, whether for a private or public event, regular session or one off. A familiar face came in to start planning an event late last year, and on the day that event turned out to be packed! Here is Paul Carr to tell us more…

“When Peter and Barbara Colley were fundraising for the establishment of what is now the Kirkgate Centre “Firns Home Hardware” (was G.E.Firn and Son)  were one of the first, maybe the first, to donate!

What a community asset it has become. I didn’t imagine that I would be hiring the venue “The Egremont Room” all these years later on behalf of a community group “Fluoride Free Cumbria” but Peter and Barbara had that vision!

Hiring the venue was made easy from start to finish due to the personal attention we received from Katie. Everything was explained clearly and communication excellent.

You will see from the picture that we needed a small raised plinth for the panellists which Katie put together herself and prepared the microphones and sound system and was present from start to finish on the night of the event and helped us tidy up afterwards! Amazing!

The event was a huge success and by the start time of 7pm we had reached capacity at 60. Maybe we will hire the larger space upstairs, capacity 120, next time. The facilities are first class and very well kept.

The event was publicised on the Kirkgate website, in the newsletters, emailed to the 3,500 on the lists and posters were put onto all the noticeboards around town. There is a notice board volunteer so many thanks to you!

Our event was a Q & A raising public awareness of an essential part of all our lives , Safe Water. “There Is Something In Your Water” was highlighting the mandatory addition of an industrial waste, H2SiF6, to our our drinking water without the public’s informed consent .
For more information go to the Fluoride Free Cumbria website or find us on facebook or Email:

Thanks Paul! We hear it was a very interesting and informative debate, and very ably hosted by Fluoride Free Cumbria. Clearly there is a lot of interest in learning more about what’s in our water.

If you would like to know more about hiring the Kirkgate Centre for your event, head over to our website here.

As ever there are LOADS of events to choose from over the next month, we’ve hand picked some highlights to share with you, but for details of all our Kirkgate Centre and Kirkgate Arts Out West Shows check out the booking website here.

Comedy@Kirkgate is back, on Saturday 20th April, after a winter break, and we’re more than ready for a giggle! Hosted by John Lebbon this month features the comedy talents of Percy Savage and Dominic Woodward. For more info and tickets click here.

The following weekend we have TWO live music events! So whatever your tastes you’re guaranteed a great night of tunes.

We’re so looking forward to having Granny’s Attic come to Cockermouth. This is part of their 15th anniversary tour- we want to know how they still have that much energy! Check out this wonderful clip of them at Halsway Manor recently, and you’ll understand where we’re coming from! It’s going to be a blast.
They are performing on Saturday 27th Aprilclick here for more info and tickets.

Jazz@Kirkgate on Sunday 28th April features singer Jo Harrop, described by Jo Whiley as ‘An extraordinary talent’, accompanied by Paul Edis on keys and Ken Marley on bass. With an achingly beautiful chocolate and cream voice that sends a shiver down your spine every time you hear her sing, it’s no surprise that Jo Harrop has received a raft of rapturous reviews and attracted a host of influential fans since she first burst into the spotlight a few short years ago. “She is a very fine jazz singer,” Iggy Pop recently gushed. “When she sings, she moves me.” Get your tickets here.

Looking further forward, a new creative opportunity at Kirkgate is in store from Thursday May 9th, with a five week writing course- Writing your story. Practical tips for writing real lives and fiction. Do you have a tale to tell? Stories from your own life or a friend or relative. Or an idea for a thriller, romance or historical novel. Would you like to know how to bring those stories to life?

Jacqui Currie MA, is a Cockermouth-based Lecturer in Creative Writing for the Open University with her own writing business Jacqui will run a series of classes full of practical tips and techniques to help you find a place to begin your story, or to shape what you have already started. At just £70 for the five weeks this is a real bargain! Click here for more information and to book a place on the course.

May also sees the return of Fever Drag Cabaret! These are always popular nights, so don’t delay! Get your tickets booked today! Saturday 4th May at 8pm… **stop press- Kirkgate Pixie here, did you spot the date?! I might have to dress up as Obi Wan Kenobi for this one!…**


In each Chronicle we like to shine a light on our volunteers, to celebrate the wide range of people, and wide range of roles, at Kirkgate Arts. This month we hear from a volunteer who truly understands the worth of words (see what we did there?…), one of our marketing and communications team, and now trustee, John Reynolds. Here he is to tell us more.

“I once saw the Kirkgate Centre hailed as the gatekeeper to the history of Cockermouth. I think that’s a beautiful description …. But I would go a step further and describe it also as a lovely little window on a much wider world. That’s why I was delighted to be invited to join the Kirkgate’s Board of Trustees recently.

Celebrating the town’s rich past, whilst simultaneously looking to future creative possibilities that bind us to others, is a pretty worthy objective in my view. West Cumbrian born and bred, I started my working career as a journalist in the county, where I much enjoyed learning – and then telling others – about Cumbria’s rich and unique history and culture.

Later, I joined Allerdale Borough Council as Head of Communications. Rewardingly, that role also included officer responsibility for the council’s approach to tourism. During that time, our ambition was to promote Allerdale as a top UK visitor destination in its own right. These were the days before the global economic crash and we had resources to support the arts that current local authorities might envy.
Responsibility for those resources meant I sat on the organising committees for the first Keswick Mountain Festival and the 2005 World Masters Mountain Running Championships, held in Keswick.By that stage, I was already involved in supporting the Maryport Blues Festival and Keswick Jazz Festival in the promotions field. We brought the North West Regional Assembly’s annual conference to Allerdale in a bid to showcase the area and offered more scaled back support to newly-launched festivals such as Solfest, Ireby and Lakeland Trails Derwentwater Trail. I went on to work as Head of Communications and then Head of Emergency Communications at Sellafield Ltd. Immediately prior to retirement in 2022, I worked on secondment to the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership as its Head of Communications.

With that background in journalism and communications, I was asked to help out with the Kirkgate’s publicity operation several years ago and now sit on its Communications Group, ably led by fellow volunteer Penny Lees. With public finances – and therefore support for the arts – in a more parlous state these days, maintaining an operation like the Kirkgate’s is an increasingly tough task. Luckily, we have a great team here working under Emma. I see my role as a new Trustee as very much supporting the team however I can and continuing to tell our story through the various media channels as effectively as possible.

Away from the Kirkgate, my wife Barbara and I have lived in the town for many years and we were delighted to have our son Gary and his family join us here in 2019. Outstanding Kirkgate memory? Seeing the very wonderful Cara Dillon (most beautiful singing voice on the planet?) here in the centre way back in 2006.

Here’s to a few more events like that!”

If you would like to know more about volunteering with us, get in touch or have a look on our website.


We are sad to share the news that David Dyer, one of our most loyal customers and a long time supporter of Kirkgate Arts & Heritage, passed away recently. There will be no funeral but donations in his memory to Cockermouth Music Society or Cockermouth Mountain Rescue would be appreciated.

We asked Amanda if we could include some pictures of David in this month’s Chronicle, and she has kindly shared the following;

David and Amanda on a trip to Friar’s Crag last October, celebrating Amanda’s 80th birthday.
“He died peacefully, without pain, at home on the evening of Sunday April 7th.  The team of district nurses and home care practitioners were excellent and a special all singing all dancing bed was supplied for his use downstairs.  Many members of his and my family were able to spend quality time with him in the last few weeks.  He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer 18 months ago and put up a brave, uncomplaining fight!”
Our thoughts are with David’s wife Amanda, son Peter, and all his family and friends. 

With our theme being ‘words’ and ‘worth’ our choice of local business to feature this month was easy! After their pop up shop at our recent literary festival weekend here’s Louise from The New Bookshop.

“A good bookshop takes pride in helping everyone, no matter their age or interests, to find enjoyment through reading, but a bookshop is so much more than that. It is a community hub, a safe space, an escape, and somewhere where you feel welcome and connected.

The smell of freshly ground coffee and new books is one of the many things that customers delight in as they come through the door. We were lucky enough to buy this already cherished bookshop in 2022 and our aim is that people continue to enjoy all that an independent bookshop can offer.

Pre-school children are happily engaged and entertained by the stories that Shirley reads every Wednesday morning. School children often visit to listen to stories and choose books. Our Book Clubs enjoy meeting each month to share their love of reading and the challenge of reading books that they may not have chosen for themselves. We continue to spend many a pleasant evening listening to a range of authors discussing the writing process and talking about what inspires them.

Bookshops create a place where readers can meet each other. The pleasure of reading is doubled when you find a fellow fan. Our staff and customers regularly suggest books that are featured on our recommendations wall.

We review and refresh our stock daily and we listen to our customers. Researching books for individual customers often leads to new ranges being added to our shelves.

You should not judge a book by its cover but we do have some beautiful ones! Independent bookshops can often stock special copies that are only available as indie editions. So if you are partial to a sprayed edge, appreciate a book the author has signed and love a free tote or bookmark we may be able to help.
Our staff love books and want to talk about books. They are straight talking and will not just give you the publishers’ hype. They  want to share knowledge of books that they love and they want to help you find the books that you will love.”

Visit their website here.

If you are a local business and would like to feature in our Chronicle, get in touch with


Write something about numbers and words, they said – a bit of a tall order on a local history theme.  Numbers can also be dates so here’s my take on some important ‘numbers’ in Cockermouth’s development, specifically in the boom time of the later part of the 19th century, which ushered in many of the features that make Cockermouth so attractive today.

1854 – A rebuilt All Saints Church following a catastrophic fire, very different in style to the former building, welcomed its congregation.
1856 – The opening of our lovely Cemetery with its two Chapels.
1865 – The start of regular passenger railway services, in the same year that a purpose-built Auction Mart was opened by Robinson Mitchell – what a boost to business the railway must have been!  Before that, Station Street and Station Road had had to be created by demolishing buildings on Main Street to put in the new road.  Christ Church opened its doors in 1865 too.
1875 – large crowds lined the main street to watch the unveiling of Earl Mayo’s statue.  He would have to wait until 1893 to have the ‘Neddy’ memorial clock to look at further down the street (both statue and clock commemorated former MPs of the town).
1876 – Fairfield Girls Board School welcomed pupils, with a new extension for boys in 1884, to supplement provision at All Saints National School on Kirkgate.
1881 – for a brief period Cockermouth lay claim to be the first town in England to be lit by electric street lighting (hotly disputed by Godalming in Surrey), sadly only for a short period because of a faulty dynamo.
1887 – the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee brought many major improvements, including the planting of trees along Main Street and Station Street, and the building of the bridges on Lorton Street, South Street and High Sand Lane.

A very different ‘look’ to All Saints Church!
The Chapel buildings in the cemetery, on Lorton Road.
1865 was the start of regular passenger services by rail from Cockermouth.
Fairfield House, with Mitchells Auction Mart.
Whilst Cockermouth is rightly considered a Georgian town, if asked what the Victorians did for us, we can reply very positively that they did a lot to make it the town we recognise today.
And finally – back to the ‘words’: it was William Wordsworth’s birthday on 7th April so, leaving the daffodils very firmly elsewhere, here’s a short but inspirational extract from one of William’s poems instead:… that best portion of a good man’s life,
 His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love.

Gloria Edwards – Heritage Group


Bob Pritchard hands over to one of our longest serving volunteers for this month as Gill George shares some of her recollections of the Kirkgate Centre.

“Reading the last monthly chronicle and the delightful contribution from Ellie about her wedding reminded me again about the beginnings of the Kirkgate.

Bob wrote a couple of months ago about how everything was touch and go for the opening night of Much Ado, but so it was for our first wedding too. From the start, it was realised that the centre could only be sustainable if we could hire the building for income generation and it was offered immediately as a venue for wedding receptions. The first wedding was planned for February and the builders had promised to be finished before then; the afternoon before the event the caterer arrived to drop off some equipment, to find the kitchen covered in fine dust! All the equipment and worktops were fitted, the plumbing and electrics fully working – but the workmen had left a hole in the wall without installing the extractor fan and it was very windy…. Peter Rothwell filled the hole with anything he could find and a small group came in to clean. The bride and groom never knew! For those who did not know the building 30 years ago, we had a large upstairs fitted kitchen (which also served as a small meeting room), absolutely nothing like the shiny, catering-standard one now downstairs.

Volunteers -The lifeblood of the Kirkgate for almost 30 years

In the early days the centre had one paid employee – Peter Rothwell, who was paid for 12? hours a week. As the programme grew, he had to put in quite a few volunteer hours too! We won a lot of plaudits from users and performers about the fact we could run a busy venue entirely with volunteers.

Since a lot of people were very keen to support the new Kirkgate Centre we had no problem finding enough volunteers. Difficult as it is to believe now, when the huge majority of new recruits join us when they retire, most of our operational volunteers had day jobs and/or children at school. Joe Kendall was our main buildings volunteer and, as he was retired, he had to do a lot during the day as he was the only person available. He coordinated all the health and safety, fire alarm testing, sorting out the bar and was generally available if any work needed doing.

Apart from the summer exhibition from the Museum Group, which Gloria has previously written about, there were no programmed events from mid-July to the end of August. This was so that maintenance could be done– but also because we would have been short of volunteers in the school holidays!
Remembering that 1995 was an analogue time, all communication was by phone or letter. The rota coordinator would have to ring everyone to check their availability, then send out the rota by post or hand deliver. Any swaps were by phone, and even 10 years later many volunteers had no email address.

The Box Office was open 5 mornings a week as people needed to buy tickets in advance, paying by cash or cheque, or reserving seats to pay on the night – except for films. We had the ‘orange file’ to record all sales. Billy Bowman also sold our tickets for those who could not get to the box office, and there always seemed to be a panic on a Friday or Saturday afternoon about whether the ticket information had been collected. Floats had to be checked regularly and visits to the bank to collect change often fell to Joe Kendall.

There was a physical diary which was held by a box office volunteer so whoever was booking an event, whether a performance or for private hire had to first check with the diary holder. The diary holder then had to let the treasurer know how performers needed to be paid so that the appropriate cash or cheque could be left for the Duty Manager – no BACS then!

The events programme was organised by different people so all types of music, drama, and even dance were on offer. For several years we had a professional ballet company doing an annual performance!
The only way anyone could find out what was on at the Kirkgate was by looking at a brochure and these had to be distributed. The ‘envelope stuffers’ met every 3 months to address envelopes (yes, by writing with a pen!). This was an opportunity for those volunteers who did not want an event role. The brochures were then, wherever possible, delivered by hand so there was a small team to do this. This important aspect of publicity, albeit with printed labels and stamps continued until we had to close in 2020.  How times have changed!

Although from time-to time we had funded part-time Development Officers, it was not until Kate Parry was appointed as Marketing Officer in 2006 that things really took off on a more professional level and roles changed to adapt to changing times and technology. And the  kitchen was split so that there could be an admin office!”

Do you have some tales to share? Send us your memories,

As this month has a theme of words and worth, and we’re now starting a new financial year, I have some Kirkgate numbers to share with you…

In the last financial year we have had 168 cinema events and 42 live music events at the Kirkgate Centre, plus another 47 Arts Out West events at venues across the region. This is an increase of over 100% on the number of events we put on compared to the year before COVID hit.

Cinema over the world is still suffering with low audience numbers since we all started streaming at home, a lockdown change of habit that has yet to be snapped out of! Perhaps the new crop of films we have ready to book will tempt you away from the telly… Jodie Comer in The End We Start From promises to be a thought provoking and emotional cinematic journey, and soon we’ll be watching our choice of words as Wicked Little Letters comes to our big screen, with Olivia Coleman and Timothy Spall. Our volunteers were very unsure if the promotional postcards should be displayed- hands up if you managed to pick one up, they’ll be making the postal service blush!

When it comes to live music it’s time we made a stand against the big boys. With larger venues (and not just arenas) spiralling into triple figures for a ticket, it not only makes sense financially but is a much more intimate experience to see live music in a venue our size. Factor in that you can walk home afterwards, if you’re lucky enough to live in town, and it’s a bargain night out! We’re planning to make more use of our bar downstairs too, as a number of artists have commented on the cosy atmosphere in there for live gigs. Watch this space. Thankfully it seems that the appetite for live music is stronger than ever in Cockermouth, with our Kirkgate Centre music audiences up a whopping 250% on pre 2020 events.

All in all, these numbers are certainly worth celebrating!

Something else that we are really proud of is the increase in diversity of the events and activities we offer. The massive success of Cooking@Kirkgate, and Crafts@Kirkgate show us how much you want to learn and participate as well as be entertained. This brings us back to words, with the fantastic opportunity to work on your own creative writing skills coming in May, as mentioned above.

We are approaching to the final few months of our In My Shoes project, which is all about sharing our stories and celebrating Cumbria’s diverse culture and heritage, so why not take some time to work on bringing your own story to life? For more information, and to book your place on the course, click here.

I couldn’t possibly sign off without paying my respects to David Dyer. David and his wife Amanda have been to more of our events than we can count over the years. We always know, when we see row K seats 7 & 8 are booked, that it means the Dyers are coming to a show. We send our love and condolences to Amanda and the family, and we treasure our memories of David at the centre. A passionate supporter of the arts in all forms, he will be very missed.

Emma Heys
General Manager