Seeking inspiration among the reclaimed washing machines

“So why do you organise these trips away?” I ask Creative Scene producer Rebecca as the train leaves Thornaby on the last leg of our journey.

“Volunteers spend a lot of time organising their own festivals,” she says, “so it’s good for them to see other festivals too. It helps you appreciate the visitor experience. Also, you don’t know what you want for your festival until you see lots of others.”

cs_170916_003-edit“And presumably you see lots of things you don’t like,” I say to Batley Festival chair Kimberley who has three-year-old Lydia curled up next to her.

“Oh yes. There’s been lots we’ve seen that we definitely wouldn’t bring to Batley!” she says.

“So why are we here in Redcar at the Festival of Thrift?”

“This should be interesting for our Batley people because of the town’s culture of recycling and shoddy,” says Rebecca. “It’s all to do with living fashionably for less, make-do-and-mend, that sort of thing. There are lots of workshops here which are really popular at Batley Festival too: people enjoy doing rather than just watching.”

It’s a two-day affair and the volunteers are staying over at a bed and breakfast with a wind-turbine-sea-view. We hook up with Tracey and get a cab out of town to Kirkleatham village.

“What are your expectations?” I ask Tracey as we walk under streaming red pennants at the festival entrance.

“I’m looking forward to lots of variety and something very different from what we’ve seen before,” she says. “I always come with an open mind.”

“Before we go any further I’m going to explain your homework,” says Rebecca, pulling notebooks from her bag. This is no jolly. In each book there are questions our investigators are expected to consider.

The vision of the Festival of Thrift is living sustainably with style, a big free weekend of activities designed for all the family, to save money, being environmentally savvy, and living a rich, creative life. So what did you see in the festival that reflects this?

And there are sections on branding, programming, the site, catering, the visitor experience, and participation. “Did you bring any pens?” asks Kimberley.

“I’d encourage you to think of it from your own point of view,” says Rebecca, dishing out biros. “So Kimberley, think about programming and the overall theme; and Tracey, with your interest in site management, you might want to think about how it’s run, what jobs the volunteers are doing.”

cs_170916_030-edit cs_170916_034-editWe start to wander. It’s a sprawling site. Kirkleatham is a collection of Georgian-style buildings that formed the Turner Estate from the 1660s.

There’s a museum (once a free school), a church, a mausoleum, almshouses and a derelict walled garden. Ed from Barrow is selling up-cycled washing machine drums as fire pits on a stall outside some old stables.

cs_170916_061-editNear the walled garden we catch up with Donna, another Batley Festival volunteer, and Andrew – here with his Batley Vintage Day hat on – and his partner, Janet. The mayor and mayoress saunter past and we all say hello as if we’ve known them for years.

“It shows what can be done differently,” Andrew says when I ask him what he’s getting out of the day, “it shows what you do better and what you don’t do as well. It’s good for inspiration. For Batley Vintage Day there’s a lot of stuff that’s relevant. There are some good ideas.

“What have you seen here that you’d like to see in Batley?” I ask as we pass a group of tepees and a storytelling workshop.

cs_170916_089-edit“Some of the workshops are great, they might need to be ‘vintaged-up’ a bit. The make-do-and-mend and the creation workshops, they would translate into Batley Library quite well. We’re collecting business cards.”

“What doesn’t work here so well?”

“The layout,” Andrew says. “It’s a great place and fine if you’re happy to explore but it needs better signposting.”

Which is just about the only criticism I hear from our band of festival factfinders all afternoon. “I found the sign for the stage after I’d found the stage!” Donna tells me as she enjoys the specially-formed Phoenix Choir.

“I’ve struggled to know where things are, even with the map,” admits Kimberley. “I’m glad I’m here for two days because it will take me that long to get my head around it all. But it’s got some fantastic entertainment and activities. It’s certainly given me some ideas.”

“We always try and make something magical.”

The light has faded, a crowd has gathered, it’s almost time for The Batley Picture Show.

Periplum Theatre Company has been commissioned to produce a bespoke show as a finalé to The Batley Festival and we are about to see the culmination of months of planning, research and editing.

“The people we’ve met have been really keen to talk about their community which, I guess, is a reflection of recent events,” says Periplum director Claire Raftery, as she takes up a position amongst the audience. “Everyone has been really friendly. Batley is an easy community to talk to.”

“And what’s been your biggest challenge?”

“To get enough footage that reflects the diversity of the community,” she says. “We got there in the end but, yes, that was a bit of a challenge.”

“Part of what Creative Scene does is about building audiences,” I say. “What sort of legacy do you think Periplum will leave for Batley?”

Claire smiles. “Well, we hope we’ve made something magical. We always try and make something magical.”

The local performers in their donkey jackets congregate back stage. Creative Scene supporter Ammaarah is amongst them. “How was the dress rehearsal last night?” I ask.

“It came together really well,” she says. “I think we executed it almost perfectly. We worked together really well as a team.”

“You’re only saying that because they’re all here,” I joke. Apparently Claire and Damian and the team were so impressed with the enthusiasm of the volunteers, they’ve created a bigger role for them in the performance.

Musician Mike, resplendent in his evening dress, takes to the central podium as if he’s at the Albert Hall. Lights, pyrotechnics, action. The show begins as the first pre-recorded poem competes with whoops from the crowd.

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The town I was born, the town I was raised

Look, the town, it’s coming alive

In between each of five short films about Batley life – school days, industry, ‘horror’, nightlife, and sport – the Periplum actors and their entourage perform cameos involving bells, flares and lots of fireworks that keep the crowd guessing where to look next.

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The biggest communal ‘Ah’ comes as Ammaarah and her colleagues simultaneously release their white balloons into the black sky.

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From the twinkling edifice of Mr Smith’s

To the final waltz at the Xclusive

Wipe your feet on your way outside

Look, the town, it’s coming alive

The show culminates with a group of chanting junior rugby players advancing through the crowd, “Batley, Batley, rah, rah, rah!”

“Batley, Batley, rah, rah, rah!” repeats Mike, waving his arms to encourage everyone to join in.

As if from nowhere a line of purple banners appear to flank the watchtower as aerial performer Florence – dressed as a Batley Bulldogs RLFC prop forward – dashes for the try line in mid air. More flares, more fireworks and more cheering from the appreciative onlookers.

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A man grabs my arm as the music fades, eager to tell me what he thinks. “That were absolutely fantastic,” he says. “Spot on. Whoever’s done that has done it with a lot of heart, a lot of heart.”

The crowd reluctantly disperses as I approach a woman and her young daughters who I recognise from earlier in the day, riding the Life Boat.

“They got it in a nutshell,” says Hawa. “They included everyone that lives in Batley. My dad used to work in the mills and he still talks about it a lot. And it was good that they included Asian music because this is such a wide community.”

“Did you feel it was a celebration of the town?”

“Definitely, definitely. It was lovely, brilliant.”

I tell Hawa I’m writing a blog for Creative Scene.

“We need to remember that,” she says to her girls, “Creative Scene.”

The Batley Festival: a Creative Scene’s Who’s Who

Yeshe the Yak is lolling around the Memorial Gardens as I arrive. “Go on, tickle him under his chin, he likes that,” encourages his trainer.

cs_100916_143-editThe fifth Batley Festival is well underway and the town centre has been transformed into a cornucopia of craft stalls, performances, walkabouts, workshops and all-round artiness.

A giant henna-inspired pavement mosaic is being created outside the police station; a Balkan brass band belts out the beats and Madame Zucchini entertains the crowds with Boris the Butternut Squash.

Six-year-old Evie is spraying water at a couple of performers dressed as hedges. Her parents tell me they’re regulars at this annual Batley celebration.

“And have you heard of Creative Scene before?” I ask.

“Oh yes,” they say emphatically, “we helped decorate a chair at the Cobbles café, didn’t we Evie?”

cs_100916_089-editBetween the bouncy castle and circus skills workshop there’s a queue to ride on the Life Boat, billed as ‘the slowest ride on earth’.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I say to Jason from the Institute for Crazy Dancing, as a colleague slowly pushes the merry-go-round of hammocks, reciting the Life Boat A to Z as she does.

J is for joy

K is for kindness, and 

L is for love, and is there ever enough?

cs_100916_136-edit“It’s the only one of its kind,” says Jason, beating a drum and rattling a chain, “you won’t find this on eBay.”

“And what experience are you giving your punters with Life Boat?” I ask.

“It’s about slowness, kindness and gentleness,” he says. “Everyone is endlessly racing around. It’s an opportunity to slow down, relax and think about the world differently.”

“I could do with some of that.”

As the afternoon progresses, I meet more and more people I’ve written about before. It’s a Creative Scene’s Who’s Who: local people who’ve been getting involved in the arts seem to have descended on the festival as stewards, performers, volunteers or supporters. It’s good to see.

There’s teenage Kira who performed in The Jungle Book production as part of Lawrence Batley Theatre’s Young Company, now toting a festival donation bucket; Graeme and his colleagues from Batley Community Choir – a hit as part of Batley Does Opera – have just sung in the Town Hall; Tracey from the Put Yourself in Their Shoes performance at Holocaust Memorial  Day is sporting a volunteer’s yellow hi-vis and Rebecca from West Yorkshire Drama Academy is here with her young mentees.

“I like the way everything is mixed together,” says Rebecca. “It’s helpful for community groups to work alongside established artists as it widens their creative exposure. Without realising it, they’re learning new skills.”

cs_100916_008-editTowards the end of the day, performance trio Kitch and Sync make another appearance, this time as synchronised swimmers. Young and old are encouraged to follow their lead and seven-year-old Ammaarah tells me later that she did her best to tire them out with some outrageous dancing.

cs_100916_271-edit“What have you enjoyed about the festival today?” I ask her dad, Zaheer.

“Everything,” he says. “We’ve been here since one o’clock and haven’t made it home yet. We were thinking of going to Blackpool today but came here instead. We’re glad we did. Everyone has enjoyed themselves, the children, the adults, even my mother.”

“Are you coming to The Batley Picture Show this evening?”

“Yes,” interjects Ammaarah, “I’m going to go on my dad’s shoulders.”

 

“I’m so giddy, so excited about it all.”

Golden sunlight streams across the Market Square as the shutters are pulled down at Batley Bargain Centre. Metal barriers, heavy electrical cables and theatrical paraphernalia populate the Memorial Gardens. It must be nearly time for the Batley Festival.

“So describe to me what’s going on here,” I ask Festival chair, Kimberley as we stand next to a row of portable toilets waiting for the volunteer performers.

“Apparently this is the watchtower,” she says, pointing out a scaffold structure, “and the films will be projected onto three of its sides.”

I can see Claire and Damian from Periplum Theatre Company amongst the technical people adjusting spotlights and clutching gaffer tape. Tonight is the first rehearsal for The Batley Picture Show, specially commissioned by Kimberley and her committee.

“This will be unique to Batley,” I say.

“I know. I’m so giddy, so excited about it all. We’ve seen some storyboards but really we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We’re expecting a group of local people to play a supporting role in the performance and a crowd of junior rugby players. Duncan is one of the volunteers: “The call-out mentioned flaming rugby balls and exploding tea cups, which I couldn’t resist,” he says. “I enjoy taking myself out of my comfort zone.”

Already a supporter of Creative Scene, Duncan tells me he has some proposals to get his town on the artistic map. “Liversedge is underrepresented in North Kirklees and I’d like to work with Creative Scene to change that next year,” he says.

“Sounds good,” I say. “I’ll come along and tell that story.”

As the library clock chimes six, Claire gathers everyone together for some introductions. “Damian and I are directors of Periplum and we co-wrote this piece; Damian has done all the film editing and I’m directing the show,” she says, “so I get to boss people around a bit.

cs_080916_005-edit“We’ve been going for 15 years or so and we like to make new theatre each time: new writing, a new story and an original composition. That’s our artistic vision.”

We get to meet the rest of the small team: performers, musicians, composers and technical bods although, it seems, everyone does a bit of everything. “And this is Graham,” says Claire, “who will be working with you this evening.”

It turns out the rugby ‘flash mob’ can’t make it after all but Claire’s not fazed, they can be incorporated into the show when they show up on Saturday.

cs_080916_030-editFor the next couple of hours Graham and his colleagues work with the volunteers and a variety of props. After huge purple banners have been erected Kimberley introduces me to Batley Festival’s newest committee member. Donna has been encouraged to get involved so she can be, “a voice of the residents of the council flats where I live,” she says.

“Have you done any performing before?”

“Not since drama at school,” says Donna, “but I’m not shy, I’ll get stuck in.”

“And have you been to a Batley Festival before?” I ask.

“Me and my daughter have been to the last few and they’ve been fantastic. Last year we were sitting up there watching the night-time performance and I said to myself, ‘I want some of that’, and here I am.”

“Right guys, come and get a lantern and a bell,” says Graham, standing over a couple of large boxes. “Don’t worry if they don’t work, we’ll have new batteries for them on Saturday.”

cs_080916_102-edit cs_080916_108-editAs the light fades I capture the Periplum team and their enthusiastic band of volunteer performers roaming around the gardens with lanterns, bells, balloons and torches.

By eight o’clock they are passing around costumes – donkey jackets and flat caps – trying to find ones that fit.

“Have we got enough jackets for everyone?” shouts Claire.

“This is too small for me, and that one too big,” says Duncan. “I feel like Goldilocks.”

The Batley Festival runs from 11am-5pm this Saturday, 10th September. Its finalé, The Batley Picture Show, starts at 8.30pm with gates open from 8pm.

Starring the People of Batley

It looks like a production line to make goodie bags for a children’s party. The long table in Creative Scene’s office is full of stickers, coloured card, small gifts and a pile of orange stripy paper bags.

CS_260816_001-EditThe fifth annual Batley Festival is only a couple of weeks away. Leaflets have been distributed and social media is abuzz. Local artists Harriet Lawson and Ruth Bridges from Dewsbury Free Art Fridays have been invited to add to the build-up, which explains the crafty cacophony.

I last met the artists a couple of months ago as they were planning to shinny up lampposts. Since then their playful art intervention has included replacing Dewsbury’s litter with coins and Olympic-inspired medal making.

“We just try and make it fun,” says Harriet. “And yes, we often get some strange looks.”

She and Ruth are both graduates of the Creative People and Places artists’ professional development programme. The Faculty brought together emerging artists across the North to encourage debate and new thinking around social arts practice.

“Free Art Fridays is a great way for us to test new ideas,” explains Ruth. “We can see what people like, and don’t like, and it’s giving us confidence as practitioners.”

The strategy is paying off. Their ‘real-temporary’ tattoo workshop has already been a huge success at an arts festival in Morecombe and is booked for other ‘gigs’ too.

CS_260816_011-Edit“So, what have we got here?” I ask, eyeing a laser-cut wooden badge.

“The evening spectacular is called The Batley Picture Show,” says Creative Scene producer, Rebecca, “so it’s a great theme for these guys to pick up on.”

Harriet wraps a notebook and pencil to make a ‘reviewer’s pack’; Ruth adds some leaflets and a bag of toffee popcorn and Rebecca puts it all together in a stripy bag. Soon we have 20 bags of arty goodness to give away.

In Batley’s Market Square we decide to split up. Rebecca and Ruth head towards the library and Harriet eyes up the Town Hall as we set off in the opposite direction.

CS_260816_038-EditA man on a ciggy break clocks the first bag going up above a noticeboard and asks what we’re doing. “They’ve been a lot coming in the Town Hall asking about it,” he says, once we’ve filled him in.

“Brilliant,” says Harriet.

“Well, two or three,” he says, “which, for Batley Town Hall, is quite a lot. Someone said they’d gone last year and had a really good time. I’ve seen the leaflet. It looks great. I’ll have to bring the kids down.”

Buoyed by his enthusiasm, Harriet strides past a bookies and a mini market to leave a bag in the doorway of an empty shop; another under a bench and a third amongst a display of bedding plants.

This is what Free Art Fridays is all about: little bundles of art left for members of the public to stumble upon and enjoy.

There’s another on a window ledge and on the pavement outside a barbers. “I’m tempted to leave one in the ladies,” Harriet says as we reach The Taproom pub. And she does.

FAF_batleyxWe walk together back up Commercial Street. “Two of mine have already gone,” she tells the others as we reconvene.

Within 20 minutes Rebecca is checking her computer back in the office. “Someone’s already posted one!” she exclaims as we crowd around her screen to see one of our bags with its new owner. Instant success.

On Friday, 2nd September Harriet and Ruth will be running workshops for young and old at Batley Tesco from 11am-2pm to make film-related props for the Festival.

Batley Festival – one great, fun-filled family day for all in the heart of Batley – is on Saturday, 10th September, 11am-5pm with The Batley Picture Show at 8.30 in Memorial Gardens.