Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle : March 2023

Not long now – the clocks change to British Summer Time in the wee small hours of 26 March (yet we’re still getting snow!), and Kirkgate’s first ever Book Festival arrives the day before, Saturday, March 25. So new things to do are just around the corner and all the latest news is in this month’s KQC.


Kirkgate audiences for Kirkgate shows and activities since the start of 2023 have been good which has been a huge encouragement to the team. ‘We’ve had many sell out events, from our daytime heritage talks to gigs such as the top Scottish band FARA and our monthly jazz nights,’ said Kirkgate’s Operations Manager Katie Gentry, ‘but sometimes being sure of getting an audience has been a bit nerve-racking.’

Katie’s message this month is ‘please book early’. It’s not just customers finding, late in the day, that tickets might have sold out. ‘As FARA said on the Kirkgate stage when thanking the audience for coming, it’s really important for venues to know early on that an act is going to at least break even on ticket sales, otherwise we might have to take a decision to cancel well before the date to avoid serious losses that we really can’t afford,’ said Katie.

‘So, 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.’

Special prices

To encourage early birds, Kirkgate is trialling a new pricing arrangement on all National Theatre Live shows. A limited number of Early Bird tickets will be at the heavily discounted price of £13, then prices will rise to £15 for Discount Savers, then the final tickets will cost £17, the Full Price.

Give it a go at the next production, The Life of Pi, on April 6 at 7pm. It’s an Olivier Award-winning stage adaptation of the best-selling novel and film combining puppetry, magic and storytelling. After a cargo ship sinks in the middle of the ocean, Pi, a 16-year-old boy, is stranded on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Royal Bengal tiger. What happens next will amaze you. Bringing it to the stage has been an extraordinary feat of creativity. Really, don’t miss this!

click here for all our events


Kirkgate is dedicated to providing creative, cultural and heritage experiences with and within the communities in West Cumbria. You can support our mission by becoming a Friend. From £30 a year you will enjoy various benefits including:

•    Ticket exchange
•    Priority or exclusive invitations to special events such as the Cockfrock preview
•    Occasional newsletters updating you on future plans and new developments at Kirkgate Arts and Heritage

All volunteers automatically receive free membership of the Friends organisation.

become a friend of Kirkgate Arts & Heritage


Saturday, March 25 sees the first ever Kirkgate Book Festival, bringing writers and book lovers together in Cockermouth’s historic Kirkgate Quarter.

‘There’s a growing roster of great books about or set in Cumbria or by Cumbria-based authors, so it’s not surprising that we are unashamedly Cumbrian in character at this new cultural event in Cockermouth,’ says Festival Chair, Marion Bowman.

‘Bringing writers and readers together is always enjoyable and we’re expecting a real festival atmosphere, so this is definitely one for local book lovers and book club members.’

The one-day event at the Kirkgate Centre features three daytime sessions and an evening special at 6pm featuring well-known broadcaster and journalist Jonathan Blake. Jonathan, currently political correspondent with the BBC, will be in conversation with Marion, former Chair of Kirkgate Arts and Heritage and one-time presenter, producer and commissioner of current affairs programmes for Channel 4 and ITV.

Marion and Nick Taylor of Cockermouth School will introduce the writers who will also share extracts from their books, participate in Q&A sessions with audiences, and sign copies of their books.

The daytime categories are ‘Historical and Local Roots’ (10.30am – 12pm), ‘Young People and The Lakeland Book Award’ (1pm – 2.15pm), and ‘Crime and Detective’ (3pm – 4pm). In the 1pm session, broadcaster and writer Fiona Armstrong will discuss the Lakeland Book of the Year Award, which celebrates top quality writing inspired by the Lake District and boasts Grace Dent, Rory Stewart and James Rebanks amongst its previous winners.

Tickets cost £5 for each category. Booking for all four sessions gives a discount of 25%. Cockermouth Main Street’s The New Bookshop will be at the Kirkgate selling books, with the authors signing copies after each session. Doors will be open from 10am till 7pm. Refreshments will be available at the Kirkgate and attendees are encouraged to enjoy everything that Cockermouth town centre has to offer during the day. For full details and tickets, visit our events page here.


We’re proud to have organised a tour to Kirkgate Arts Out West venues for the Up the Road Theatre Company.

Their show Beneath the Banner resonates with the history of coal mining across West Cumbria. Audiences will be able to catch it at Ewanrigg and Netherton Community Centre, Maryport (17 March, 6pm), The Gather, Ennerdale (18 March, 7.30pm), and Santon Bridge Village Hall (19 March, 7.30pm). The event includes a post-show discussion and Q&A with the artists.

Back in 1921, British coal mining employed over one million people. Now, it’s distant memories, abandoned buildings and stark reminders on the landscape. But Gail needs to know more. She needs to know what her Grandad did in his years underground, and why he never spoke about it. Aubrey could help her, but Aubrey doesn’t want to talk. Told partly through the words of former miners and their families, Beneath the Banner shines a light on the unheard, unseen and untold stories of coal mining communities, from fireside to pit bottom.

In April, the Cumbrian ceilidh band Striding Edge will be at Arts Out West venues at RavenglassLoweswater and St Bees with their show Roots Down, and there are other fabulous nights out to be had with the Mystery of The Blue Moon Saloon gang, so check the website for dates and book early (see above)!

At the Kirkgate Centre, the three times a week film screenings from this week feature a string of some of the best films out now – Aftersun, Empire of Light, Till, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, A Man Named Otto and The Fabelmans.

The next music highlight is Jazz@Kirkgate with Jeremy Sassoon’s MOJO on Sunday, March 26.
A barn-storming celebration of some of the best-loved Musicians of Jewish Origin.

Internationally renowned singer-pianist Jeremy Sassoon and his superb band will take you on a journey from the golden era of Gershwin, the Great American Songbook, through to the 21st century, honouring artists such as Carole King, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Randy Newman and Amy Winehouse.

Tickets and details of all upcoming shows are here and, remember, book early!

What’s on your doorstep

As you’re a KQC subscriber you should be getting our fortnightly email listings. If not, let us know by emailing

Search our website by category or date to find what tickles your fancy whether at the Kirkgate or Arts Out West venues

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter 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 – 1pm.


Our latest community project starts in April with the help of a generous grant from the National Lottery Community Fund. This is a 2-year project that will make the most of our newly installed ground floor catering-standard kitchen.

We’ll be holding monthly food and cookery-based workshops aimed at young adults, families and older people. We’re designing these workshop with experienced local chefs, cooks and caterers to help people in this time of high food inflation and the challenges involved in creating nutritious meals. The workshops will cover subjects such as zero-waste cooking (AKA leftovers – yum!), basic cooking skills, reducing food bills, seasonal recipes, cooking as a business and eco-eating.

School children will be able to get involved in the small community garden of raised beds we are planning for our yard where they’ll be growing easy to cultivate vegetables and other produce for use in the workshops.
To get cooking contact


Inspired by our Book Festival this month, Gloria Edwards of the Heritage Group writes about some of the history of printing and publishing in Cockermouth.

‘In the 19th century the local newspaper was the West Cumberland Times, produced here in Cockermouth by Brash Bros.  Initially, it had an office in Challoner Street, but later moved to South Street (in what is now known as Printer’s Court) behind the Tithebarn Hotel.  As well as printing the WCT, Brash Bros. were responsible for all manner of printing requirements: billheads for shop-keepers, programmes for societies, posters of all kinds and personal announcements that went into the newspaper.  The WCT was produced twice-weekly on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with George Brash as its Editor for many years.

An associated publication was Cousin Charley’s Magazine, compiled by James R. Bleasdale (aka Cousin Charley), which had articles and competitions especially for children.  The magazine was very popular with children and Cousin Charley’s Parade, a May-time procession, developed from this.  It is believed to be the forerunner of Cockermouth Carnival.

Another Editor of the WCT was George Chatt who lived on Brigham Road with wife Hannah and their four children, Son George became an apprentice printer in Cockermouth, whilst one daughter, Annie, was destined to drown when the Lusitania was torpedoed in the First World War by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland in May 1915, when she was en route to New York.

George was born in 1838, coming to Cockermouth in 1874 to be the first Editor of the West Cumberland Times, a position he held for 16 years. Clearly, he was a man interested in the written word, with some ability as a poet. His are mostly rather long poems, but this humorous, shorter one (‘Bring, oh, Bring’) gives a flavour of his work, and his sense of humour:

Bring, oh, bring me quickly here
A pound of steaks and a pint of beer;
My heart is sad as sad can be,
For the charming widow has jilted me.
I had no peace when she was nigh,
For mischief lurk’d in her laughing eye;
Yet I could not, could not keep away,
Her smile would haunt me night and day.
Her voice could charm like a song of glee;
But, oh, her lips, how they tempted me!
I’d leave my glass of the ruby wine,
For a single touch of her lips divine.

Like a daffodilly I pined away,
A-thinking about her every day;
Till one fine night, just after tea,
I asked her plump would she marry me.
She seal’d me up with her answer brief,
It cool’d my heart like a cabbage leaf;
I’ll hang my harp on a gooseberry tree,
And away to the Fenian wars I’ll flee.
But, no – I’ll stay, and the girls I’ll court,
‘Twill vex my charmer to see the sport;
For I can reckon her up to a T,
The charming widow that jilted me.’

Become a heritage volunteer
If you would like to get involved in Kirkgate’s heritage work and join the volunteer group that meets regularly to look after the collection, deal with inquiries, conduct research, prepare publications and plan public events such as exhibitions, workshops and talks, please email:


Volunteers have played a huge part in our 28 years of operations. Amazingly enough there are some people who have volunteered throughout that entire time and if anyone deserves a long service medal it is this month’s volunteer Gill George. Here she is in her own words:

‘Most customers will recognise me as a duty manager for evening events, although I occasionally pop up in the daytime box office. I have been involved as a volunteer since ‘The Kirkgate’ first opened its doors in 1995: it was all hands on deck that week, desperately trying to keep on top of all the building work dust before the first performance of Cockermouth Amateur Dramatic Society’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Since that time I have turned my hand to many aspects of life at the Centre – but have kept firmly away from anything technical! In the beginning, there was only one employee so everything else was volunteer run and led. Hard to imagine now! I have got to know a huge number of people who have been volunteers and many still come as customers.

We first moved to Cockermouth almost 40 years ago with my husband Chris’s job and with 3 young children, who all left for the big wide world after leaving school. We now have 6 grandchildren, home and abroad, who keep us busy.

During my working life I was an infant teacher, and believe really strongly that children should be introduced to arts and culture from an early age. We have both now retired from paid employment and are enjoying being fortunate enough to see the world while we can, as well as having adventures in our campervan. As a result, I am around a lot less than I used to be!
You will often see both of us out cycling and I also keep fit and have fun dancing with Belfagan Women’s Morris, U3A English Dancing Group and Cockermouth Ceilidh Club.We have always enjoyed the range of shows that our lovely small venue is able to put on, music and drama being particular interests: we also love the welcome when you turn up at the wonderful Arts Out West venues. Wherever we go, we look to see if there is something on at a village hall or little theatre – even if we don’t understand the language! We are never disappointed.’

Become a volunteer
If you are considering volunteering, please get in touch on We’ll explain all the different roles and the time commitment, and if you decide to join the team, you’ll be warmly welcomed, well supported and thoroughly trained. Volunteers get free membership of our Friends organisation with all the benefits that involves. We have an annual social for all the volunteers too, so there’s always the likelihood you’ll make new friends.

Here’s a short video about volunteering with us that features Gill…


Cockermouth’s always been a place where people with great ideas like to launch new businesses, and Kirkgate often plays a part in supporting emerging talent in our community, whatever their field. Here’s Michelle Ferry with her story of how Little Twiglets Forest School came to life with Kirkgate’s help:

‘Last July I started up my business, Little Twiglets Forest School, in the Riversmeet Woodlands opposite Cockermouth School.

I had lots of lovely ideas to create a Forest School and to build a community after giving birth to my daughter earlier in the year. After thinking of starting it for several years, with support from friends and family I plucked up the courage to give it a go! Just as I had begun to put planning in place, I was very lucky to meet Chloe, Kirkgate’s Community Projects Officer, who talked at length about the Kirkgate running creative workshops as part of an Arts Council Project. She expressed the importance of engaging more people in the community in bringing their own creativity out as well as keeping art and heritage alive.

I was asked if I could run two workshops, one based on Wildflowers and one on Creative Writing. The workshops were for 1–5-year-olds accompanied by parents.

The children went on a search round our woodland to find wildflowers. After this, I demonstrated Tatki Zome, an ancient Japanese technique of hammering plants to create patterns on fabric. The children had cotton t-shirts and used hammers to create their wildflower prints. The sound of the hammers in the woods was magical as well as the sense of calm and concentration!

For the Creative Writing workshop, I used the book ‘Leaf Man’ by Lois Ehlert. The children went on a hunt to find pages from the book then we regrouped and read the story together. After the story we made our own ‘Wildflower Women’. Children used big tweezers to pick wildflowers and double-sided sticky tape to stick them onto paper. I had rewritten the story of the Leaf Man to be about Wildflower Women. The children helped me to read it, added in extra lines and we used actions to retell the story. There was also time for child-led free play where they could use the mud kitchen, play with naturally coloured and scented playdough, play in dens and hammocks, and explore the woodland.

Thank you to the Kirkgate for providing me with this amazing opportunity to kick start my business and follow my passion. Since these workshops Little Twiglets Forest School has gone from strength to strength and now has a wonderful community, where children are able to enjoy an amazing woodland right on the edge of Cockermouth.’

Visit Little Twiglets Forest School online to find out more-


Every month we feature someone who hires the Kirkgate to put on their own activities. This month its Luke Johnston of United Utilities who hire the Kirkgate from time to time for public consultation events.

‘United Utilities is the UK’s largest listed water company and we are responsible for water and wastewater services in the North West of England. Our purpose is to provide great water and more for the North West.
Every day we deliver 1.8 billion litres of water to more than 3 million homes and businesses across the region.

As a company we have delivered construction work on the West Cumbria Supplies Project over the past few years. We are now starting our next programme of works which is the decommissioning of Crummock, Overwater and Chapelhouse.

We like to keep our customers informed of works which may affect them. The Kirkgate is one of many venues in West Cumbria we use to do this.

The Kirkgate Centre is a great venue in a fantastic central location in Cockermouth. The staff are very helpful, nothing is too much trouble.’

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.


Looking at our stats for the first quarter of 2023, it’s been encouraging that we have had so many sell-out events and activities. After the rupture of the Covid lockdowns it’s good that people are venturing out and socialising again. We’re seeing a lot of new faces too. The cost of living crisis is a real worry, but we know that having an entertaining night out or participating in a social or creative activity in the daytime, coming together with friends and strangers, is so good for you and is what makes a community tick. We work hard to offer an entertainment, arts and community activity programme that people will be attracted by and enjoy. We also try to keep our prices affordable. So our top message this month is please book early so we can stick to our programme confident that we are at least going to break even. It’s all on your doorstep – you don’t need to get in the car or travel anywhere to get a cultural kick!As a charity, Kirkgate isn’t just an entertainment venue it’s also a base for a lot of community-oriented projects. We’re pleased to have won a National Lottery grant to put our new kitchen to good use for the community’s benefit as we report above. Kirkgate really is multi-purpose. In any one week here you might find child actors or child karate experts, film buffs or musicians of all stripes, quiz fiends or tourists visiting a local history exhibition. This month’s volunteer Gill George has seen it all! And soon there’ll be delicious smells from our cookery project wafting over the Kirkgate Quarter whetting Gill’s appetite for more.

Do let me know if we’re missing anything or anybody. All ideas for what could be The Next Big Kirkgate Thing are welcome.

Emma Heys