Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle : May 2021


Welcome to this first edition of the Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle. Each month we aim to bring you news and opinions from our community.

In April we had four seasons in one month and in May we have started with winter but we are enthusiastically looking forward to summer.

Putting The Shine Back On Kirkgate

Only one week to go and the Kirkgate will be opening the iconic red door once again to stars of stage, screen, sport – and you!

We’re all set to shine a light bringing fun, entertainment, foot-tapping, upbeat emotions and – yes – going out for the evening! – back to Cockermouth.

Our new summer season SHINE starts with the latest Judi Dench film 6 Minutes to Midnight, screening on Monday 17 May at 8pm with the bar opening from 7pm and Friday 21 May at 7pm with doors opening at 6pm. We may still be socially distancing and mask wearing in the auditorium for a while, but we’ll have a new-look Egremont Room that will open an hour before the film where our mobile bar will kick your evening off. Be sure to book tickets/reserve your seats and order your drinks online Just come for a drink if you fancy a quick one but don’t want to stay for the film.

As well as twice weekly films, SHINE features screenings from the West End, live big screen coverage of England’s games in the Euro 21 football finals and the start in June of LIVE events, with real people back on our stage performing for your enjoyment. More events will be added as the weeks roll by so keep checking the website for details.

A Big New Bar

No more squeezing at the top of the stairs to get your drinks! Spring cleaning’s gone to our heads and we’ve taken the ground floor Egremont Room apart to set up a fab new bar space for evening shows.

During the day, it’s still the good old multi-purpose space that hosts everyone from the Pilates crowd to singing toddlers, it’s just that we’ve given it a makeover and built an 8 foot long mobile bar that magically opens up when you come wanting a pint or a pina colada. OK, we don’t do pina coladas, but never say ‘never’. We owe a lot of thanks to Atkinson’s, Raysons, Mears, Steve Denton and David Martin for their donations in making it happen, and especially to chief Kirkgate Pixie Katie Gentry and Trustee Judith Bennington for the vats of their finest elbow grease.

You’re bound to notice the difference, but it will only be the start. We’ll be changing the flooring next and putting in new bespoke double-glazed windows later in the summer. We won a Lottery grant from Awards for All and a donation from Lord Egremont of Cockermouth Castle for the windows, but we still need a few thousand more to complete the budget. If you’d like to make a donation, you can do that very easily here: or email us HERE.

Pavement Café On The Banks Of Bitter Beck

Cockermouth’s Kirkgate Quarter, our new name for this end of town, took on a festive air when we set up an outdoor community café over three weekends in April. Our gingham table cloths graced the grassy banks of the tinkling Bitter Beck alongside the Kirkgate when our volunteers served tea, coffee, and homemade cake to Cockermothians keen to get out and socialise with friends when lockdown started to ease up.

The Lorton fells were covered in snow last week, but we were lucky with gorgeous dry, sunny weather for the Fridays and Saturdays of these special outdoor fund-raising events. Tables were in demand and we had guests on the way to a Town Hall wedding, Cockermouth Women’s Institute out in force, shoppers and visitors popping in to sample the lemon drizzle cake, gingerbread and brownies (GF and vegan options available). Big thanks to Kirkgate’s extraordinarily enthusiastic baking volunteers and to Cockermouth Rotary, the WI, Oakhurst Garden Centre and Sainsbury’s for their donations to such a great community project. With thanks too to Keith Snell for allowing us to use the outside image. We hope to run more cafes over the summer.

Kirkgate’s Own Corrie Star

Our feathers all plumped up with pride when our very own Quizmaster par excellence Toby Gaffney shone in a part on telly’s Coronation Street over the winter. Professional actor Toby has volunteered with us for a long time, devising and delivering our unique fundraiser, the Great Kirkgate Quiz.

Here are Toby’s thoughts on volunteering with us:

My Kirkgate by Toby Gaffney

I’ve been volunteering at the Kirkgate since I came to live in Cockermouth in 2008 and I continue to be an avid fan of what the centre represents to the community and to my family.

For me arts centres represent a community’s desire to have and support a place that stimulates creativity, imagination, empathy and shared experience. I’ve been an actor for most of my life with a side-line in teaching so naturally I am passionate about the arts and understand the vital role they play in bringing out the best in people, regardless of age. So to have the Kirkgate practically on my doorstep has been one of the best bits of fortune I could have asked for when I moved here from London.

My family and I have been lucky enough to see and participate in so many shows, films, music acts, workshops, parties, get togethers, discos, stand-up comedy gigs, theatre clubs, etc. that we otherwise may never have had the opportunity to see or get along to, that volunteering to help the Kirkgate stay open seems like the very best way of showing our appreciation for all the hard work that goes into keeping Cockermouth’s culture scene alive and kicking, especially in these ‘unprecedented’ times.

I started out as a projectionist for the Monday night screenings of yore back before the days of digital and spent many a happy hour learning to splice celluloid strips together with sticky tape and stickers and how to wind them onto massive reels in preparation for every screening. The terrific heat of the projector’s lamp and the deafening noise of the film being rapidly threaded past the enormous and frighteningly expensive lenses every time we showed a film has no modern equivalent and it somehow seems a shame that those skills and sensations are now a thing of the past.

In recent years I have assumed the mantle of quizmaster for the Kirkgate and I have taken pride in creating the multi-media extravaganzas that are the Kirkgate’s Great Big Quizzes. They are by all accounts great fun and help raise funds for the charity’s work and I sincerely hope to see you all at the first one we can hold once we are allowed to safely gather together to enjoy the arts as a community again.

If you would like to join us as a volunteer and learn to be a projectionist, duty manager, front of house or help us at our events please volunteer through our website

Reflections On Our Cockermouth History & Heritage by Gloria Edwards

Back in 2009 Cockermouth experienced major flooding when many businesses were put out of action because they had no premises to trade from.  This led to some interesting combinations of businesses sharing premises: a lingerie business moving in with a pensions business in Market Place, a baker’s shop nestling on the ground floor of Limelighting in Station Road, are just two examples.  A spin-off from that difficult time was an initiative to create talking-points and fill empty shop windows, which led to the creation of the large Storyboards placed in shops around town.   All the images were supplied by the Heritage Group here at the Kirkgate, and all related to aspects of the town’s history.

Some proved to be amusing, others striking, and one controversial; the image of the ‘dancing bear’ on Main Street, secured by a rope tied to its muzzle, produced some complaints when, in later years, the image was displayed at the Kirkgate Centre.  Yes, with our modern-day sensibilities about how we believe animals should be treated, it is quite shocking, yet it is part of our history and we can’t rewrite history by refusing to acknowledge that it happened.  The bear on Cockermouth Main Street was almost certainly there to advertise a fair on the town’s Fair Field, which was common practice in the early Victorian period. Indeed, the cruelty of ‘dancing bears’ sadly still happens in some parts of the world today.

Cockermouth Heritage Group is part of Kirkgate Arts & Heritage.  We research and record all aspects of Cockermouth’s history and that of the surrounding area.  We collect or copy old photographs, as well as all kinds of commemorative booklets and objects which help tell Cockermouth’s story, and which we can use in our exhibitions and publications.
We also answer local and family history queries, and take part in other local activities which have a heritage theme.  Our group was set up back in 1992, and an important part of what we do is catalogue, scan and conserve our large collection.  Pre-Covid we were meeting on the first Monday of each month at the Kirkgate Centre, from 7.45 p.m.  We are always pleased to welcome new volunteers, particularly if you have ideas on ways to expand the group’s activities and raise the profile within our town.

A Letter From Our Chair –  Marion Bowman

Kirkgate’s coming back to life, just like everyone’s gardens and the countryside in this late spring. We can’t wait to see you here again with your family and friends, enjoying what Kirkgate has to offer. When theatres close they’re said to have ‘gone dark’ and so our new season, SHINE, aims to bring some light back after what have been very dark days this past year.

Young and old alike have had to summon a lot of inner strength. Understandably, sometimes people’s spirits have failed them. Normal life has been taken away and a lot of isolation, loneliness and mental health problems have taken its place. Thankfully, we are blessed with mutually supportive communities in Cumbria. It’s to be hoped that despite the illness, money worries and bereavements that so many have suffered, people are helping each other to get back on their feet and enjoy life fully again.

Actors and directors, musicians and magicians, poets and storytellers have all had a rough time too with hardly any work. In most cases, being freelance or self-employed, entertainers have not been eligible for furlough or other income support schemes during the pandemic. To us, they’re family, playing a special part in bringing us all together to mark happy and sad times. So we hope you will enjoy the experiences which, thanks to them, we’re aiming to entice you back out of your homes with over the summer.

Last year was the 25th anniversary since the old All Saints School was converted into ‘Cockermouth’s vibrant venue’. We couldn’t celebrate as we would have wished, but Kirkgate is now re-opening and resuming its role as a key part of West Cumbria’s social and cultural scene. As Shakespeare said in his best-loved play A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘Our true intent is all for your delight’. We need your support for the next 25 years. If you would like to make a donation to keep the lights on, so we can keep delighting you and keep creativity in Cumbria shining through, please go to or email me HERE

Thank you.