Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle : July 2023

Welcome to the July 2023 edition of the Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle.

There’s big news this month from #Kirkgate about the King’s Award for Voluntary Service. You all know just how amazing our volunteers are so we are delighted that they have received a nomination for this award. The Kirkgate’s volunteers have been selected from the Cumbrian nominees to go forward to the National stage. The award is “for outstanding achievement by groups of volunteers” and we wish our volunteers every success with the nomination.


Every month we do a special feature in the KQC on just one of our volunteers, and this time it’s Nick Jones. Nick has joined us as a technician supporting our live music nights, particularly the monthly jazz gigs. He’s hoping to train up more technical volunteers to build an even bigger team of Kirkgate helpers. It’s a great chance to develop some in-demand skills. Here he tells us all about his volunteering life with us:

I found the Kirkgate soon after moving to Cockermouth from Framlingham, Suffolk, last year and have since become a volunteer technician who can usually be found operating sound and lighting for the regular Jazz Nights. I have always had a passion for the creative arts and technical work allows me to combine my love of using technology with contributing to an artistic performance without the need to get up on stage.

This passion led me to be involved in all aspect of managing a student venue at the Edinburgh Fringe, numerous amateur productions and ultimately working as the Technical Manager of the Playhouse Theatre in London. A period as a freelance technician and working installing and maintaining lighting and sound equipment led to a career change, working in IT systems management which remains my ‘Day Job’.

I am a member of the Cockermouth Live! committee and took great pleasure in developing the new website and providing the technical cover for the Kirkgate which hosted the biggest acts during the recent festival. This ended up with me operating sound and lighting for 5 different performances including the headline act Edward II. Although it was a very long weekend, I was ably assisted by Katie from the Kirkgate and many other volunteers. I will be hoping to help develop the pool of technical volunteers in the future as my experience is that working together as a production team is an exceedingly rewarding way to become involved in the performing arts and that there is a lot more to the arts than getting up on stage.

Away from the Kirkgate, I enjoy exploring the local area with Marion, my wife, and Leo, our Springer Spaniel. I have been heartened by the warmth of the people we have met since living here and the feeling of community at the Kirkgate.

Volunteering Opportunities
If you’re interested in joining Nick as a technical volunteer do get in touch with Katie our Operations Manager on

Katie would also love to hear from you if you could become one of our all-important Duty Managers.

The details of all the volunteer roles are on our website

All volunteers are provided with thorough training and a lot of support. People are welcome to start doing simple tasks and, as familiarity and confidence grow, to move on to more interesting and rewarding positions. It’s a great way to meet new people and, as Nick says, it is an exceedingly rewarding way to become involved in the arts or local heritage activities.

Best Friends
Our Friends group is also an important support to Kirkgate. 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 get free membership of our Friends group.

Find out more and join here:


Please note that the KQC team is taking a break in August so there will be no newsletter next month, but we’ll be back in September with a bumper edition to get you back up to speed!

In the meantime, high summer is round the corner so here are details of some of our seasonal highlights and the rest of the latest news from the Kirkgate community.

Cockermouth Live! at the beginning of July set the scene for a summer of music here at #Kirkgate. Next up we’re being treated to An Evening With Howlin’ Mat on Saturday 22 July. A solo blues troubadour, Howlin’ Mat is also a top cigar box guitar player, and a storyteller to boot! You can find out more and book here.

Then there’s our monthly Jazz@Kirkgate event on Sunday 23 July. These nights attract some incredible talent, and July is no exception. We welcome the Dave O’Higgins and Rob Luft Quartet. Rob’s guitar and Dave’s sax are joined by Steve Berry on double bass and Dave Walsh on drums. Always top notch musicianship! Book your tickets here.

There’s more live music in August. We’ll be going from SKA to FOLK and of course there’ll more JAZZ so see you at a live gig soon!

Big Screen
Don’t stay home for your film fix, come and enjoy the real cinema experience with us! The fabulous sound quality and big screen impact of our film screenings and live streaming can’t be beaten.

The latest films are on every Friday (7pm, doors – with your online pizza orders from Fermento delivered to your table in our bar – from 6pm), Monday (8pm, doors 7pm) and Wednesday (matinees with subtitles 2pm, doors 1pm).

Our film programme brings the best of British, Hollywood and world cinema to Cockermouth, with outstanding talents both on screen and behind the camera. Over the summer we have home-grown favourites from Emily Watson and Josie Lawrence to Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton as well as top US talents Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansonn and Wes Anderson. You can expect to see standout performances, compelling stories and award-winning film creativity in our summer offerings.

Check out all the details and book on our website.


As an arts and culture charity we do a lot of work with local schools and children, often running activities in their classrooms, on trips, or here at the Kirkgate. For a long time Lorton Primary School has used our theatre for their end of term shows, the latest being just a few days ago. Our operations manager tells us it’s her favourite week of the year! Here’s a piece from the team at Lorton School about their time with us:

On the 18th July, the children of Year 4, 5 and 6 at Lorton Primary School put on a (literally) all-singing and all-dancing performance of The Jungle Book. For 7 weeks, the children had a fantastic time learning nine songs, as well as the script and were so excited to get onto the stage at Kirkgate and perform in front of a live audience!
The 17th July saw their first full dress rehearsal which went extremely well and it was with tremendous excitement that the children boarded the bus for the first morning performance. The theatre stage was made out to look like the jungle by the amazing artwork of children throughout the school led by the wonderful Mrs Lewis.

With the morning performance going without a hitch, the evening performance was a sell-out, and the audience helped to create a fantastic atmosphere for the children. Everyone had an incredible time, with the children of Lorton Primary School doing themselves huge credit; singing their hearts out, dancing with enthusiasm and acting so well that it took everyone’s breath away.

At the end of the final performance, all the cast were treated to an ice cream, and it was a treat well deserved!

Afterwards, class teacher Mr Hoyle said, “I’m so proud of all of our children tonight. They put in so much effort and every single one of them performed amazingly. They will remember performing on stage at the Kirkgate for the rest of their lives. And the audience will always remember it too!”Lorton Primary School would like to thank all of the staff and volunteers at the Kirkgate Theatre who helped make the whole thing such a huge success. We would especially like to thank Katie Gentry who made all of the magic happen!

Find out more about the school 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 look round. We have a modern kitchen, there’s free wifi and 3 hours free parking right outside. More details here.


It’s very gratifying that all of the volunteers here at Kirkgate have been honoured with a nomination in The King’s Award for Voluntary Service. Cockermouth can boast many outstanding voluntary organisations and amongst them is the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Here’s Gloria Edwards of our Heritage Group of volunteers with a potted history of this essential part of local life:

It is now 70 years since its founding back in 1953, when a group of walkers and climbers, who called themselves the Rucksack Club, recognised the need for a mountain rescue team based here in Cockermouth. Rucksack Club members used to meet in Armstrong’s Café on Main Street, and it was in February 1953 that 26 members were enrolled and the fledgling Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team came into existence.

Since then many people have had good reason to be grateful that there are willing volunteers who go out in all weathers to often inhospitable locations to help those who have come to grief, putting their own lives at great risk. A look at the CMRT website and the 70th Annual Report, crammed with interesting stories and photographs, gives a real sense of how much the organisation has grown over the years.

It is, of course, reliant on fund-raising efforts and successful campaigns have led to many improvements. In the early days George Fisher and Hamish McInnes amongst others helped with provision of equipment, whilst to light the way on a dark night there were Tilley lamps! There is, of course, an ongoing need for updating or replacing equipment; rescue vehicles have to be reliable and well-equipped; volunteers need to take part in training days to hone their skills; and in 2002 Team members were at last able to move into a purpose-built Centre on land next to the Fire Station. Before that they had operated from a building on Fairfield car park.

Via the website and Annual Report there is access to an excellent podcast, edited down from a meeting of the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men’s Evening Out) in a log cabin, when members of the Team, with many years of rescue experience between them, chewed the cud and reminisced. What has struck me most about the CMRT is the importance of friendship through a shared goal, aided and abetted by beer at social gatherings! Mention is made on that podcast of many incidents, some tragic, reflecting the increased and increasing number of people on the fells. An important factor in that increased workload is the use of mobile phones which, along with casualties, can now be located more precisely. In the 1960s CMRT had pioneered the use of radio through links with Workington Civil Defence Unit, and in 1989 received a basic radio network from the Police.

The CMRT has reached a milestone and goes from strength to strength. My thanks go to Dave Blanden (a ROMEO!) and CMRT for their assistance. I also consulted Sheila Richardson’s excellent book (‘The Team’) written in 2003.


As well as being a charity and community organisation, we are also a local business so we always try to support other local traders. One way is providing a regular slot in the KQC so that our readers can get a bigger picture of what it’s like to run a business in Cockermouth. This month we’re featuring Oakhurst Garden Centre on Lamplugh Road who have very generously donated the herbs and fruit bushes for our community garden, ably planted by some young volunteers from Mary Platt’s Nursery School, pictured below.

For over four decades Oakhurst Garden Centre on Lamplugh Road has been the place to go in Cockermouth for everything garden related. With seasonal plants/flowers, shrubs, perennials, trees, pond plants and fruit bushes, stoneware and ceramic frost proof pots and ornaments galore. The extensive indoor shop caters for all essential garden needs. There’s even a wildlife section with food for visitors to the garden from hedgehogs to birds, not forgetting houseplants and gifts.

Described as an Aladdin’s cave of inspiration the centre was opened and run by John Hughes, who sadly passed away in 2017. Oakhurst is now run by his daughter Nanette, who was delighted to receive an award from the News and Star in 2019 after a readers vote to find the best garden centre in North & West Cumbria.

When Kirkgate Arts & Heritage secured funding to create a community kitchen garden (part of a project supported by the National Lottery Community Fund) we knew exactly who to ask for advice! Nanette very kindly offered to provide us with a selection of edible plants to get us started.

If you haven’t been to visit yet it really is worth taking some time out to wander through the winding pathways at Oakhurst, and we’d recommend popping in to Squirrels Pantry for a bite to eat. If you’re lucky you might even get a visit from a red squirrel while you’re sipping your cuppa. The Squirrels Pantry is open Mon -Sat 10am-4pm breakfast’s, light lunches, cakes, scones and more.

You can follow Oakhurst on facebook here.


The latest improvement to the Kirkgate Centre has been the installation of new windows in the auditorium. Our thanks to the contractors Thomas Armstrong for doing such a great job. The long wall that faces the car park now looks so much better with smart new windows upstairs matching those downstairs that were fitted last year. There certainly are a lot of big windows along that wall and we had to find a total of over £40k to replace them all to the high standard needed in a historic building that’s a major feature of Cockermouth’s Conservation Area.
The windows will help hugely with insulation for sound and summer and winter temperatures, and we’re investigating upgrading roof insulation and ventilation now too so that we can finish what’s needed to improve comfort in the auditorium in all seasons.

Our thanks go to all the generous donors and grant-makers who are helping us with these upgrades. If you would like to make a contribution, large or small, to the ongoing work, please make a donation through our website or contact Emma Heys, the General Manager, on


As the school year ends and school leavers start new chapters in their life stories, it’s also time for us to say goodbye to Chloe Maitland who has been our Community Projects Officer for almost two years. Chloe started working with us as we were reopening fully after the Covid lock downs. For the first year Chloe was working on our Dorothy Wordsworth project. We took workshops into schools helping local children to engage with Dorothy’s work and life story and we worked with a local poetry collective to set the Make the Journey Challenge encouraging people to be creatively inspired by making the journey from Dorothy’s place of birth on Main Street in Cockermouth to her place of death in Rydal.

For me the highlight of the project was commissioning Cumbria artists Artfly to build a large light insulation which was a 3D image of Dorothy made up from her own words. It helped to light up Main Street as part of the annual Christmas lights display in 2021.

The second project involving Chloe was Arts Council-funded. It allowed us to expand the reach of our programming by planning more diverse events. This included a song-writers workshop aimed at secondary school children, the start of our now regular Jazz@Kirkgate strand, and a large-scale arts-based research project during which local artist Celia Burbush ran a series of workshops in schools and with local community groups.

Chloe played a huge role in making both projects a success as well as making significant contributions to our heritage group’s popular exhibitions. She also helped to develop the new projects that we have now secured funding for. Our Community Investment Fund project is allowing us to take subsidised shows into schools in the area that was formerly Allerdale. The Cooking at The Kirkgate project funded by the Community Lottery Fund has provided some capital funding for our new community garden and the upgrade of the flooring and chairs in the Egremont Room as well as supporting the cooking workshops that started last month. Our final new project “In My Shoes” is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and will give the communities of West Cumbria the opportunity to share and celebrate their own cultural heritage. All of us at Kirkgate Arts and Heritage would like to thank Chloe for her hard work and creative input and wish her well with her next challenge.

We will be welcoming Helen Johnston as our new Community Projects Officer in September. Helen is originally from Cockermouth and is looking forward to returning to the area. She has a great deal of experience working on community-based arts and heritage projects so we’ll be delighted to benefit from her input to the team. Watch this space for a feature on Helen in September.

Emma Heys