It's all going on in Warrington
PUBLISHED: 01:28 18 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:30 20 February 2013
These are exciting times for Warrington. We meet people determined to transform it into an internationally renowned place of culture WORDS BY EMMA MAYOH PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
A sweet treat
Its a hard job but someone has to do it. Members of the Clandestine Cake Club meet regularly at secret venues around the Warrington area to enjoy slices of cake they have made.
The local branch, part of a national group, was launched by baking enthusiast Helen Rimmer who runs Violets Vintage Teas with friend Jane Griffiths. The 46-year-old, who used to run an antiques business, will showcase her sweet treats at a prestigious boutique festival, Lawnfest, held in Kent and organised by Camilla Al Fayed.
There are few corporate slogans that live up to their hype. But a campaign from Warrington Borough Council is refreshingly different. It was just a few months ago that the Its All Going On In Warrington project was launched to help promote and boost its wealth of cultural activities. Since then an increase of 30,000 visitors has been recorded.
Its been achieved through promoting the things that make Warrington special:its history and business prowess to its retail offering and its impressive line-up of cultural events including the staging of a major international exhibition of contemporary art. The show came from New York and the town was chosen as the next venue, ahead of London.
It is certainly attracting a lot of attention. Next year, it will be one of the hosts of the 2013 Rugby World Cup. The Warrington Wolves ground will be the venue for this major events opening game and the quarter final.
The Samoan rugby team will use the new 32 million Orford Park, a state-of-the-art sports facility and the only Olympic legacy project outside of the capital, to train for the event.
There are also plans to regenerate Bridge Street as the first phase of a 25-year masterplan set to transform the town. Council bosses will soon hear whether their bid for money from the Portas Pilot - retail consultant Mary Portass initiative - that will award 12 towns a share of 1.2 million to revive their high street.
Jan Souness, assistant director for neighbourhood and cultural services, said: There really is a lot going on in Warrington. I used to get frustrated when I would hear people saying things to the contrary which is why we did this campaign.
When we did our research we realised what a huge variety of things Warrington has to shout about. What really came out was the passion the locals had for their town and we want to make the most of that. Next year gives us an incredible opportunity to showcase everything we have to an international audience and we intend to make the most of it.
A big focus is now on building up the already lively cultural scene that Warrington has. Venues like the Warrington Museum and Art Gallery, Parr Hall are well-known and there are also fantastic events like the Warrington Arts Festival, organised by Emma Kelly from The Gallery at Bank Quay House. But it is also hoped that the townscape can be used to promote culture.
Hoping to contribute is John Wood, founder of arts initiative Project SODA. Last year he organised a series of talks by leading people from different industries who have benefited from working in a post-industrial landscape. He wanted to demonstrate to the many creatives in Warrington, how much potential there is to engage with an environment that has such a rich history. This summer he is hoping to organise pop-up outdoor music events to encourage the general public to relate more to their town using art as a stimulus.
He said: Its important to find new ways of seeing and using the town which will hopefully encourage other people to do the same. There are a lot of talented and creative people here in Warrington and its important for them to see this as a serious place to be able to establish themselves and grow their career, rather than thinking they have to be based in Manchester or Liverpool.
But its also important the people who live here know more about the talent there is in Warrington. Staging cultural events is also a strong tool for regeneration; it can be a very powerful way of improving things. Its about finding the things the town is good at making people proud of it as well as making it an appealing place to attract innovative people to here.
There are also small businesses doing their bit, including Matt Harding and Andrew Gee, owners of The Palmyra caf, who are launching their own gallery space in the upstairs of the building on Palmyra Square. They have also approached nearby Parr Hall about staging outdoor performances on the square during the summer.
But it is not just about celebrating what is happening now in Warrington. Passionate historian Mike Jones wants locals to recognise the thriving industrial past that shaped the town we see today. This summer he will be leading a series of walks from nearby Walton Hall and Gardens through different areas of Warrington, passing on his vast knowledge of the history of different parts of the town.
This includes the tale of the Crosfields Transporter Bridge, a now Grade II listed structure, which would once have been an essential part of the towns make-up.
Mike said: It would have been very important because the railway connection would have once come up to the bridge. This bridge would have been the only way to get goods over the River Mersey and onto the waiting trains. It would have been a hive of activity.
The industrial past of Warrington is fascinating. I love being able to share it with other people. There are people who have lived here all of their lives who learn new things.
But I also like it when locals come on the walks and tell me old stories of days gone by. Its important to keep the history of the town alive and I hope Im doing my bit to help that.
A tragedy remembered
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Warrington bombing, which took the lives of children Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball. Tims parents Colin and Wendy, who have since set up the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, plan to commemorate the milestone as well as celebrate all that has been achieved since the foundation was set up.
Armed services veterans who have served overseas, UK victims of global conflict and young people affected by community conflict have all benefitted by taking part in the centres programmes.
Wendy said: Its so hard to believe that 19 years have gone by since the Warrington bombing and even harder to think that its so long since we last saw or spoke to our son Tim.
The charity we established in the name and memory of Tim and Johnathan has achieved so much and has become a leading and innovative provider of support to many thousands of adults and young people. Their lives have been improved through the help we give in Tims and Johnathans names.
For more information please go to www.foundation4peace.org or contact Wendy on 01925 581234.
The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012 issue of Cheshire Life
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