Guest blogger Jane Verity shares her delight for a fortnight of wonderful stuff to do out West!
Growing up in Armley in the eighties, I would have killed for an arts festival in West Leeds. The area at the time was famous mostly for Mike’s Carpets (as seen on TV), Living World (I remember many a childhood trip to see their famous alligator) and of course, The Jail. The choice of things for kids to do was pretty limited and I remember my poor mum shrugging helplessly, muttering the same tired phrase weekend after weekend, ‘pictures or swimming?’
I Love West Leeds Festival was started in 2005 at the request of the local area management team, with the hope of counteracting the negative image of West Leeds and also to combat a lack of arts provision. Now in its sixth year, Festival Director Jane Earnshaw has been at the helm since the beginning. Each year the festival site moves around the five council wards of West Leeds, this year back on the site of the first I Love West Leeds Festival in Farnley Hall Park from 3 – 25 July.
Jane tells me, ‘The festival has grown year on year, and this year will be the biggest one we’ve ever done. There’s only one thing that’s fixed from year to year, that’s the big festival day. With one cycle of the council wards completed, we’ve seen the festival grow in reputation and people have started to travel to it. People come one year and love it, so they hunt it down the next year, and make the effort to go to somewhere they might not have gone before.’
Each year Jane runs one big participation project for the festival day, fans might remember two and half thousand Y-Fronts adorning the streets of Armley, or the full sized, knitted garden shed that got them a slot on This Morning. ‘This year we have excavated the Armley hippo,’ says Jane. ‘Lots of local people don’t know the story of the hippo, so we thought this was a great way of injecting some life back into him and creating some interest at the Festival.’ (For those of you that are curious, workmen digging clay in Wortley in 1851 discovered several huge bones, which were identified as the bones of the Great Northern Hippopotamus. No, really, they did…)
‘The original hippo was made by a student at Leeds College of Art and Design, and thanks to ten moulds and forty volunteers we now have 500 hippos. They’re in primary schools at the moment being decorated and will create a ‘hippo trail’ in the shop windows of Armley Town Street.’
Also, running alongside the plaster hippos, Jane has commissioned 6 Leeds artists to develop a piece of hippo art and the results will be displayed in two empty shop units on Armley Town Street. Artists Chris Gauntley, Lou Sumray, Michelle Duxbury, Steven James, Fabric Lenny and Naomi Williams are developing embroidery hippos, graffiti hippos, cartoon hippos, Grason Perry-esque hippo pots, and underwater hippos. So watch this space. There will also be ‘hippo tales’ at local libraries.
Other highlights of the Festival Day include acrobats the Black Eagles from Tanzania, a miniature disco, storytelling sheds, a tea yurt, hippo painting, space hopper races, printmaking, face painting, flickbooks and a nine foot tall Scotsman called Rory.
But that is only one day, and I Love West Leeds is by no means a one day wonder. Throughout the rest of July you can expect to find such fun things going on as a family film club at the Armley Mills Museum, an urban picnic at Charlie Cake Park (11 July), a Young Writers in residence scheme led by Armley-based writer Rommi Smith, ‘Wool’ a new exhibition by Leeds photographer Casey Orr focussing on the disappearing textile industry at Armley Mills, and a Lampost Gallery featuring photographs of the local area. Photography is something which Jane feels works particularly well for the festival, because it is so accessible. ‘I wanted to put stuff where people are, so we thought, ‘What’s ubiquitous? What’s everywhere? Lamposts!’ I think some sectors of visual art can really alienate people, but anybody looking at images of their area can immediately relate to something that they recognise.’ Photographs will be up on lampposts all over Armley, Bramley, Pudsey, Rodley and Farsley, and artist Kevin Hickson will also be working with local primary school children to decorate the lampposts in their area.
And if all of that isn’t enough free art for you (yes, almost all of the events at ILWL are completely free), there is also a big finale – a bonanza taking place at Bramley Shopping Centre on Saturday 24th July. This will feature ‘Play it again Bram’, pianists doing live requests from the pavement, a new site specific dance performance with shopping trollies from The Bramley Two and of course an appearance from the magical Make, Bake and Grow caravan.
As we’re chatting Jane tells me she doesn’t actually live in West Leeds but in Bingley. ‘It just goes to show that you can really believe in an area and its people without actually living there. I’ve become very fond of it.’ So are there plans afoot for an I Love Bingley Festival? She laughs. ‘I would love to have an arts festival in Bingley, I just don’t have time to organise one. Maybe someone from West Leeds should organise one!’ Any takers?
The I Love West Leeds Festival runs from 3-25 July at various venues around West Leeds and the main Festival Day takes place on Sunday 4th July from 1-5pm in Farnley Hall Park with free family activities. For further details visit www.ilovewestleeds.co.uk or call the festival infoline on 0787 058 1566