Wilmslow - a town that values the arts and its strong sense of community
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 November 2017 | UPDATED: 10:52 13 November 2017
Wilmslow is onto a winner, writes Mairead Mahon
Isadora Duncan, the famous dancer, strangled by her own scarf when it became entangled in the wheels of the open top car she was travelling in, probably never came to Wilmslow. Nonetheless, her name is well known here, thanks to Jane Mitchell who named her Wilmslow company ‘Isadora Loves Scarves’ in her honour. Jane, who designs and makes silk scarves, is pretty sure though that no-one has suffered the same unfortunate fate while wearing her designs. ‘My scarves are perfectly safe as they’re all square,’ the former textiles lecturer smiles.
She is just one of the many creative people who have made Wilmslow their home. Her pretty studio is stuffed full of designs, many inspired by the surrounding countryside and, in pride of place, is the machine which she uses in the design process.
‘It’s called an Omnicrom, a type of laminator which adheres paper and textures together and they’re rare now. In fact, although they were originally made just over the border in Lancashire, I had to track this one down in Arizona. Mind you, it gets some use now, especially as I have started to make limited edition dresses from my scarves,’ Jane adds.
Jane’s designs have appeared on charity catwalks and fashion shoots but not yet in the costume department of the Wilmslow Guild Players. Established in 1926, The Guild counts stars such as Doris Speed, Albert Finney and Ashley Taylor Dawson among its luminaries but the reputation of its costume department reaches far and wide. Run by Grace Reed, it is known as being one of the best amateur costume departments around.
‘We have costumes dating back to 1926 and I’ve been handmaking others since 1975. Mind you, one thing I will not do is replace a zip. I’d rather make a whole new costume,’ laughs Grace, who can provide, from thousands of costumes, a 1927 butterfly outfit; genuine Victorian items, flapper dresses and a dragon. She has even provided the costumes for professional theatre companies and a Druid’s wedding!
December is a pretty busy time for The Guild Players as they stage their pantomime – this year it’s Jack and the Beanstalk – as well as dealing with the annual rush for people from all over the county who want to hire costumes for Cheshire Christmas and New Year parties. No wonder Cheshire parties have a reputation for glamour!
They’re getting ready for Christmas at St Bartholomew’s Church too, with the Christmas Tree Festival which takes place from the December 1st-3rd. This year it will be extra special, as it will coincide with the dedication of the new church organ. The church twinkles with fairy lights as businesses and community groups vie with each other to produce the best dressed tree. Usually, trees are dressed to reflect the interests of the group who presents it. At the last festival, the Wilmslow Symphony Orchestra’s tree was filled with tiny instruments and notes!
The orchestra haven’t yet decided on the theme for their tree this year, but as 2017 saw them celebrate their 70th birthday, it’s bound to be something special.
With sixty members ranging in age from 20 to 70, its reputation as one of the foremost amateur orchestras in the country means that it is often invited to play in prestigious venues such as Blackburn Cathedral. They usually give five concerts a year, as well as their annual Christmas concert, and they attract an impressive number of professional conductors and soloists to work with them, including Tom Newall and Sophie Rosa. One very special soloist who has appeared with them is professional violinist Rosy Williams, who has, in recent years, cut a swathe through the North West classical and jazz scene.
‘I think I can say that I am an old hand here: after all, my mum Sue used to bring me along to rehearsals when I was just a toddler – I think I was quite well behaved: at any rate, neither mum nor I were banned,’ says Rosy.
Rosy’s memories could be of interest to The Wilmslow Historical Society which has just had a fairly significant birthday as well. It’s 40 and is celebrating the onset of middle age by embarking on a major oral history project.
‘We are asking people to contact us with their memories of Wilmslow,’ said committee member, Jon Armstrong. ‘We have had some poignant tales as well as some amusing ones: such the memory of how some people, worried about wartime bombing, buried their best china in the garden and yes, none of it was ever damaged – even Hitler couldn’t destroy the afternoon tea traditions of Wilmslow.’
As well as producing a programme of self-guided walks and a series of lively lectures, including a special Christmas lecture about the origins of seasonal songs, it also works with the council to mark historic sites that are important to the community. A blue plaque was displayed on a local supermarket, marking the spot of what was once the Drill Hall.
The history of Wilmslow is clearly important to the community but so too is the future and that’s where the Neighbourhood Plan for Wilmslow comes in. The Town Council has co-opted a group of volunteer residents who will consult with locals and businesses in order to make sure that everyone has the chance to have their say in the future development of the town.
Sharon Steele, the volunteer Publicity Officer, said: ‘We want people to tell us what they think on a range of subjects, fom land use, housing and the town centre to health and leisure. We want to explore all these areas in depth and then, before a Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan is finally adopted, residents will be able to vote in a referendum. Yes, we know ‘referendum’ is a term that has caused a stir nationally but this is a good old fashioned chance for local people to really have their say on the future of their town.’
There are positive times ahead for Wilmslow: a town that values the arts and its strong sense of community, and Christmas is a perfect time to sample both.
To contribute your thoughts to the Neighbourhood Plan, go online to wilmslownp.org.uk