How the arts and sports attract thousands of visitors to the Wirral

PUBLISHED: 09:41 26 June 2017

Members of the organising committee of Festival of Firsts; Sue Powell, Barbara Singleton and Linda Gardiner (photographed inside Nine Leaves Tea Lounge)

Members of the organising committee of Festival of Firsts; Sue Powell, Barbara Singleton and Linda Gardiner (photographed inside Nine Leaves Tea Lounge)


Rebekka O’Grady meets those groups and individuals making the peninsula a great place to be.

Kate Thomas, development manager at The HiveKate Thomas, development manager at The Hive

‘It’s like when you get married, you don’t get a chance to really enjoy it as there’s so much going on,’ said Sue Powell, one of the volunteers who make up the Festival of Firsts planning team. ‘However for everyone else, the clue is in the name. It’s a festival of innovation – there are lots of things coming here to the Wirral for the first time, people can have a go at something they’ve never done or hear and see something new. On a personal level, it made me buy a ukulele!’

Sue is one of 24 core volunteers who work tirelessly to organise the annual community arts festival, which this year runs from June 30 to July 22 in various venues primarily in and around Hoylake, Meols, West Kirby, Birkenhead and New Brighton. The event, founded in July 2011 by comedian John Gorman, brings together hundreds of artists, performers and musicians to celebrate the power and diversity of the Wirral art and music scene, while also raising money for local charities.

‘The original objective of the festival was to showcase local talent and attract excellence to local venues. It is a real community event, run entirely by volunteers,’ said Linda Gardiner, chair of the planning team. ‘On one level, it’s about having a good time and community engagement. That’s what we’ve been building on over the past three years, especially with our community weekend, which is in the middle. However we are increasingly recognising the benefit things like this have on mental health and well being.’

A project that leads on from this is ‘pARTicipate’, an art and photography exhibition which is being organised by vice-chair and arts lead, Barbara Singleton. In the run up to the festival, Barbara has been creating art work alongside those living with age-related challenges and dementia, to see how art can help improve their lives. The final results will be on display at the Williamson Art Gallery for the duration of the festival.

Drew Cockton of Owen Drew CandlesDrew Cockton of Owen Drew Candles

‘We have designed a 4x2m mural, which is then broken up into panels and each participant then paints that section. When it’s a small part of a whole, people think “maybe I can do this” and they want to get involved. We will carry on researching it to see if visual arts do have a lasting effect.’

So what else can people expect from this year’s festival? Back by popular demand is the internationally renowned classical guitarist Craig Ogden, and appearing for the first time is Oxford Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage, who will host an evening of readings at West Kirby Arts Centre. As well as a host of other headliners, there will be an opportunity to take in local talent with plenty of music, art, theatre and poetry, plus fun for all the family at the community weekend and Hoylake Carnival Day Parade, which are organised by Sue.

‘The main focus for me is the parade. It’s gone from a few of us to a logistical challenge! It has a massive impact and gets so many people out on the streets,’ said Sue, who explained that this year’s theme is Wirral Past and Present, so we can expect everything from fisherman to Vikings.

‘It’s just brilliant to see everyone come together, and the parade then culminates in the Queen’s Park Family Day. So many different individuals and groups are involved including the Wirral Pipe Band, the lifeboat team and wheelchair basket ball teams, plus around 200 children who have already been creating colourful banners in art workshops in advance. At the festival, we’re just trying to remind people what makes Wirral a great place to be.’

The Hive in Birkenhead (credit: Chris Foster)The Hive in Birkenhead (credit: Chris Foster)

Another person that shares the same sentiment is Mark Gorton. The ex-broadcaster and television producer is currently a member of Royal Liverpool Golf Club and once a year turns publisher, editing the famous golf course’s magazine to spread the word about staying and playing on this extraordinary coastline. Built in 1869, on what was then the racecourse of the Liverpool Hunt Club, the course is the second oldest seaside golf links course, opened a few years after Westward Ho! in Devon.

‘We are keen to share our historic course with golfers from home and abroad. It belongs to the whole golfing world, as well as the members. Here you can follow in the footsteps of giants, playing as well or as badly on the same holes that Tiger Woods did.’

Royal Liverpool Golf Club has hosted the Open Championship 12 times, the last being in 2014 when Rory McIlroy was crowned champion. These huge events are a great draw to the region, with research commissioned by the R&A calculating that 2014 Open alone delivered a total economic benefit of £76.3 million across the Wirral Council area and in the wider economy of the North West – including £19.1 million spent by over 200,000 visitors with Wirral businesses including restaurants, hotels, pubs and shops. In the years after these huge sporting events, people are still returning to play on the same course as their heroes, injecting a boost into the economy.

‘If people read our magazine and enjoy it, great, and if as a result they decide to come and play Royal Liverpool, so much the better,’ said Mark, who has also recently become a children’s author, with his book ‘The Utterly Amazing Bumbling-Boy vs. the Green Bogey’ available to buy online at Amazon. ‘It’s good for the club and also our modest contribution to Wirral’s important tourism economy.’

Young people of Wirral enjoy the new boxing facilities at The Hive (credit: Chris Foster)Young people of Wirral enjoy the new boxing facilities at The Hive (credit: Chris Foster)

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