Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle July 2022

Welcome to July’s KQC! The month got off to a great start with Cockermouth Live!, the town’s annual weekend festival of music, entertainment and family fun. Kirkgate is proud to be one of the many organisations involved in showcasing musical and other talent – you can read more below in the KQC from Bob Pritchard who works his socks off to make the festival happen. Keep Music Live!

We had the sell-out headliner acts on stage at the Kirkgate Centre – comedy from ex-police officer Alfie Moore on Friday and music from Peter Wright’s Gigspanner Big Band on the Saturday. Papcastle Community Orchestra at Christ Church and our specially commissioned comedy Will and Dolly, created and performed by local writer/actors Toby Gaffney and Emma Rydal, brought the festival to a close on the Sunday.

And, in between, there was some amazing local talent in venues all over town. It’s a great feature of summer in Cockermouth, and it was wonderful to see banners on Main Street celebrating Pride month as well as Cockermouth Live!

CHILDREN UP CLOSE WITH LOCAL CULTURE

We’ve been doing something else we love to do – involving local primary schools in our projects. We arranged for children at Cockermouth’s All Saints School to visit a working mill at Windermere this month as part of our new arts-based research project. The project involves people of all ages researching their local heritage while developing their own creative and artistic skills, demonstrating what they value about culture.

Celia Burbush, an award-winning local artist, is running the project with us and she has been thrilled with the engagement of the All Saints children. ‘They started looking into the history of the many mills that used to operate in Cockermouth,’ said Celia. ‘Using items from Kirkgate’s local history collection, such as textiles, thread and yarn, they learned about the fabric-dyeing, papermaking and bobbin-making work people used to do locally.

‘We’re using creativity such as drawing, papermaking and sculpting to research local culture,’ said Celia. ‘The children have spent sessions re-enacting some of these local skills. We’re connecting manufacturing with creativity and artistic achievement.

The children have also discovered that an internationally renowned 20th century artist, whose work is in many leading art galleries, was born in the town. Dorothy Bradford (née Bassano) was born in 1918, the daughter of a Cockermouth art teacher. Her connection to Cockermouth has largely been forgotten. ‘The children were excited to discover that she was from their home town,’ said Celia.

Dorothy was an accomplished painter whose work depicts musicians, dancers and horse-riders. She specialised in capturing movement. You can see some of her work here.

Our project involves a series of workshops over several months in Cockermouth and at the Settlement in Maryport.

There’ll be workshops and family days in July and August at the Kirkgate Centre to give the public a chance to get hands on with this research which is supported by National Lottery funding from Arts Council England, and Allerdale Borough Council. The arts and crafts involved cover flower pressing, creative writing, painting using watercolour, acrylic and oil paints, papermaking, printing and dyeing with natural dyes.

A final exhibition of work produced during the project is being planned for later in the year.

For more information about the summer workshops go to https://kirkgateartsandheritage.org.uk/whats-on/ and use the Join In filter.

KIRKGATE HISTORY AND HERITAGE

By Gloria Edwards, Heritage Group

Some of you may have been lucky enough to visit Cockermouth Castle during Cockermouth Live! These days the Castle lies a little off the beaten track, up Castlegate, with limited opportunities to have a peep inside.  Yet this part of Cockermouth is where the early town developed, with buildings springing up in the Market Place area, close to the Castle for protection from would-be attackers – and there were plenty of those just a few centuries ago.

Threats came from the ‘lawless Caledonians’, as John Askew describes them in his 19th century Guide to Cockermouth, as well as powerful factions elsewhere.  Life was much more uncertain back then, with the constant threat of raids, and the Castle is known to have at least one concealed tunnel accessible from Market Place, providing a route to safety at short notice.

Henry III granted Cockermouth’s Market Charter in 1221, allowing the townspeople to hold a weekly market, buying and selling produce of all kinds.  A little later, under Edward III, statutes were introduced making all servants go to their nearest market town to be hired twice-yearly, under pain of a spell in the stocks if they refused.  Each would wear some symbol of the work they were looking for, so a ploughman might have a straw stuck in his mouth, a blacksmith might carry a hammer, a carpenter a saw, and so on.  This tradition of ‘hiring fairs’ continued for several centuries right up to the twentieth century.

The Castle has seen many attackers come and go. Sir William Wallace and a horde of Scots attempted to storm it in the late 13th century but were unable to do so.  Then in 1315 Robert the Bruce laid waste to the whole area between Cockermouth and St Bees, attacking the Church at Brigham too.  In 1387 30,000 Scots, led by the Earls of Fife and Douglas with the Lord of Galloway, ravaged the area but were also unable to take the Castle.  During the English Civil War in 1648 the Castle was held successfully for Parliament against the Royalists, but had its roofs removed and upper walls demolished when the Parliamentary troops left it.

The Castle had proved itself a formidable stronghold but was left to the ravages of nature for many years afterwards.  The Castle is not open to the public but events at Cockermouth Live! and guided tours each year by the Civic Trust give limited access. If you get the chance, look out for the ‘oubliette’ dungeon and think of the poor souls unfortunate enough to be placed in it and forgotten about, or descend into the darkness and damp that is the Mirk Kirk, a private chapel and shelter. Whilst there reflect upon the stories that its walls might tell were they able.

Cockermouth Castle, view from the far side of the River Derwent.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

A big part of how well rooted in the community we are comes from the 80+ volunteers who work with us in a range of roles in Cockermouth from the Heritage Group to bar staff and much in between. Then there are even more volunteers in the community venues across West Cumbria who help us put on Arts Out West shows and activities.

Each month we feature one of them, to give readers a flavour of who we all are and what volunteering means for us. Our volunteer of the month this time is Milly Diment who works behind the bar on show nights. Here’s Milly in her own words:

Hello. My name is Milly, I’m one of the new recruits among the Kirkgate volunteers. I live in Cockermouth and love getting to see all the shows, music, films and groups that the Kirkgate has on offer.

I was raised among folky types so feel very at home in the warm welcome of the Kirkgate. It’s great to be able to help out, get out the house and see what’s on offer. I also have met more people in the community, which helps to feel more part of the fabric of the town.

I grew up in Barnard Castle, so rural town life is familiar to me. I also helped out at the community arts centre in Barny as well (old habits die hard I suppose).

I enjoy being in the outdoors (who doesn’t in Cumbria!!), trying new things and meeting new people – so the Kirkgate felt like a natural thing to get more involved in!

Working at home in the new remote world has its bonuses (I get to live in Cockermouth for one), but I sometimes finish the day needing to get out, see people and have a fun time – that’s why I love volunteering on the bar!

It’s also great to be surrounded by interesting, creative people.

My happy place is anywhere up a mountain, particularly if the sun is shining and the breeze is gentle!

Why not join our team?

If you would like to be supported and trained in taking on interesting and rewarding new challenges as a volunteer, please get in touch for more information. Contact volunteers@thekirkgate.com

You can see a little film with some of our volunteers here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNKX24goO2M

@Home@Kirkgate

Many local businesses and community organisations use our facilities for their activities and in each KQC we feature one of them. This month, as he recovers from organising Cockermouth Live!, we hear from the chair, Bob Pritchard:

The origins of Cockermouth Live! go back before the Great Flood of 2009, but its current format, with nationally known headline acts and local performers in venues large, small and quirky, started in 2010, as part of flood recovery. So the Kirkgate has, from its earliest days, been at the core of the festival. Originally lasting two weeks (which left both organisers and audiences exhausted) it has gradually been concentrated into one weekend – ‘a weekend of music, inspiration and family fun’. That was the original strapline, but now of course it’s joined with drama, poetry and visual art.

Our collaboration with the Kirkgate involves holding some planning meetings in the Centre and, of course, the big headline events of the weekend. The pattern in recent years has been to take the ‘inspiration’ on the Friday night with a speaker or comedian. We’ve had comedian Mark Thomas, DJ and music guru Andy Kershaw, television and radio writer Henry Normal, Arctic explorer Felicity Ashton, poet and funnyman Ian Macmillan, and this year, of course, Alfie Moore- the ex-cop from Radio 4. This is part of the Kirkgate’s commitment to Spoken Word so it’s a Kirkgate event for Cockermouth Live! with the festival providing a guarantee against loss.

It was a challenge… but Gigspanner managed to just about fit on the Kirkgate Stage on Saturday night!

The Saturday night headliner – in recent years Dr Feelgood, Kiki Dee, Katherine Tickell and this year’s totally amazing Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band – is booked and paid by the festival itself. On both nights the Kirkgate gets any bar profit. All the better for both of us if we can bring in a full house! However, attracting the Big Name that brings in that full house requires a much greater outlay than is normal for a Kirkgate gig. We had sleepless nights over Gigspanner because sales were initially quite slow, though we ended up with a (very) full house.

We also use the Kirkgate as a venue for local acts on Saturday daytime. All this puts a heavy burden on Kirkgate staff and volunteers. But volunteers are the life-blood of the Kirkgate and the festival, and many of them are involved in both.

What does the future hold? Well, the existing team of organisers has now, by reason of age and infirmity, shrunk to unsustainable numbers and it’s time to re-think and re-invent the festival. We’ll be doing that in the autumn. We want your ideas, enthusiasm, time and effort to make it happen. Watch this space! If you’d like to get involved drop me a line at cockermouthlive@gmail.com

Whether you are a business, a voluntary organisation or a local resident looking for the perfect place to hold your activities, parties or events, please get in touch with our Operations Manager Katie Gentry on katie@thekirkgate.com or phone 01900 829966. There’s more information here: https://kirkgateartsandheritage.org.uk/venue-hire/ 

BECOME A FRIEND OF KIRKGATE

Do you think it’s important to have an organisation and venue like Kirkgate that does so much to add to life in our area? If you do, you can help to support us in the work that we do for the community by joining our exclusive Friends organisation. From £20 a year you will enjoy various benefits as a Friend:

  • Free ticket exchange if you book tickets for shows and are unable to attend
  • Priority invitations to special events
  • Occasional newsletters updating you on future plans and new developments at Kirkgate Arts and Heritage

Join here: https://www.kirkgatearts.org.uk/become-a-friend/.

Our Cockermouth

Cockermouth Live! includes the annual Meanders art trail across many shops in the town centre, showcasing a diverse range of affordable art by local makers. It’s linked to the artists’ network EVAN https://edenvalleyartisticnetwork.co.uk/ and their western arm, West Cumbrian Arts. One of the prime movers of all this is Cockermouth’s own Maggi Toner-Edgar, a fashion designer, stylist, milliner, textile artist, teacher, and tango dancer. Maggi’s next arty offering, with Sarah Ames, textile teacher, designer, maker and musician of Dearham, is Recreate and Make, which will be opening soon at the old Printing House building at 102 Main Street.

Maggi is this month’s voice of ‘Our Cockermouth’:
We’ve had our eyes on the old Printing House for ages. It’s been closed up for a long time but is a great location right next to Wordsworth House. The owners have been renovating the property which actually stretches a long way back towards the river and even includes a hidden, forgotten street, Queen Street. It’s a very historic site and has some lovely spaces that are being brought back into use.

Sarah and I have a passion for everything fabric and we wanted a space to host ‘happenings’ not just as a shop selling things. So Recreate and Make is for stitching, styling and crafting – a creative textiles space in the heart of Cockermouth offering workshops and handmade textile products, building a creative community of stitchers. We are keen to help people discover their talent for stitch, develop a previous skill or learn a new one.

We’ll be running short courses in free-machine embroidery (Tuesdays 10am -1pm), fabric manipulation (Fridays 10am – 1pm) and ‘Stitch It, Don’t Ditch It’ (Fridays 2-4pm), relaxed afternoons exploring creative ways to rescue and customise much loved clothing and fabrics. There’ll also be sessions for younger stitchers – Sewing Bees for 9–12 years olds and Young Designers for 13–16 year olds.

The kettle will always be on, so we want people to bring their enthusiasm and chat, joining a lovely social group in a welcoming environment. Find us on Facebook at Recreate and Make or contact me on mtedgar@me.com www.toneredgar.com or Sarah on sarah-louise-ames@sky.com

Maggi and Sarah

WHAT’S ON YOUR DOORSTEP

Are you signed up for our fortnightly email with the lowdown on what’s coming up at the Kirkgate and Arts Out West? There’s a plethora, yes, really, a plethora of stuff on offer – films, music, theatre, live-streaming, workshop activities, poetry and more all the way through to early December! Christmas will be wrestled to the ground next – well the nights are drawing in, after all!

There’s always a lot on at Kirkgate and Arts Out West venues with something for everyone: daytimes, evenings, weekdays and weekends. Search our website by category or date to find what tickles your fancy www.kirkgateartsandheritage.org.uk, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @Kirkgate. Make sure you subscribe to our fortnightly what’s on listings https://kirkgateartsandheritage.org.uk/sign-up-for-news/

TOP TIPS FOR SUMMER

We have films, live-streaming, art and craft workshops, drama and music in July.

Then in August as holiday time gets into full swing, there’s more, including from the hugely popular film franchises for all the family – hide behind your chairs – multiple showings of Jurassic World Dominion (12A), Fantastic Beasts – The Secrets of Dumbledore (12A), and everybody’s favourite space ranger Lightyear (PG)

Check details for all upcoming shows here: https://thekirkgate.ticketsolve.com/shows

General Manager’s Letter

I hope you enjoy reading the Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle – we try to keep you in touch with what we do at #Kirkgate, but it’s also a chance to ‘big up’ Cockermouth and West Cumbria more generally. We like celebrating our people and our places which is why it’s good to be shining a light on Cockermouth Live! this month.

The amount of work the small group of organisers does is phenomenal, and all as volunteers for the enjoyment of local residents and summer visitors. The festival group now needs a few new faces to get involved in organising things for next year so if you are interested do get in touch with Bob Pritchard on cockermouthlive@gmail.com

Artist Celia Burbush’s work with us, researching how local people of all ages and backgrounds in Cockermouth and Maryport value heritage and culture, which we write about this month, is an exciting new venture for us. The hands-on activities Celia is organising – known as arts-based research – are inspired by the heritage skills and lives of local artists, combined with the life and current cultural experiences of the participants. It’s giving us a lot of insight into different definitions of ‘culture’. It’s not just the National Theatre and Covent Garden Opera House. People at the grass roots have many creative and artistic skills and there’s a rich cultural heritage in West Cumbria. That’s the appeal of Maggi Toner-Edgar’s new Main Street venture and we wish her and Sarah Ames success!

Our project is funded by Arts Council England (ACE) and fits in well with their Let’s Create strategy – their plan ‘to transform villages, towns and cities with creativity and culture’. Kirkgate is all about bringing people together, enabling local audiences to enjoy professional talent on their doorsteps and unleashing everyone’s creativity from the grass roots. So we’re pleased that ACE’s new approach understands that you don’t have to be a major star, much as we love and are inspired by them, to take your place in the cultural life of the country https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/

KQC is taking a break in August so the next edition will hit your inboxes in September. But although the newsletter is going to be on holiday, Kirkgate’s big red door will keep opening all summer long. We hope to see you when you join us for a right good time!

Emma Heys
emma@thekirkgate.com