Individuals and organisations who play a vital role in the cultural life of Cheshire West and Chester have been honoured at a special awards ceremony.
Chester Town Hall was the venue for the fourth Community and Voluntary Arts Awards ceremony which is organised by Cheshire West Voluntary Arts Network in partnership with Cheshire West and Chester Council.
The Sheriff of Chester, Cllr Stuart Parker, presented the awards in front of an audience of 200 representing more than 30 voluntary arts groups.
The awards celebrate and acknowledge the contribution that community and voluntary arts groups and individuals make to the sense of wellbeing and community cohesion across west Cheshire.
David Woods, chairman of Cheshire West Voluntary Arts Network, said: “We are pleased that our awards continue to attract such high quality entrants who are doing so much great work in creating interesting work that engages large sections of our community.
“We want to celebrate the contribution that community and voluntary arts groups make to the cultural life of our community. We know that participation in the arts either as a participant or as a member of the audience enriches the quality of life, improves a sense of wellbeing and promotes community cohesion.
“We are grateful for the support we have received from Cheshire West and Chester Council, The Earl of Chester’s Fund and Horseradish at Chester Town Hall.”
The full list of award categories and winners is as follows:
Winner: Barnton Silver Band
Barnton Silver Band was formed in 1891 and has been active in its local community and across Cheshire since then. The membership ranges from 8 to 80-years-old and they have about 30 members. By their own admission they have from time to time struggled to keep the organisation going. In spite of this in 2015 they decided that they needed to reinvent themselves by finding a new location which would enable them to better promote the organisation in a modern environment with better access. The judges were impressed that after such a long period in existence they had the appetite to take a big leap to improve their profile and more importantly improve access and participation. They have recently moved into a local community primary school where they will be able to encourage local children, their parents and families to join in their activities and keep the organisation viable for the future.
CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
Winner: Boaty Theatre Company
The company was initially formed in 2011 and was revived in 2107. It meets in the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port and is specifically for young people under 19 from the local area. It’s under the direction of Laura Harris. They perform both classic and new works. They have been successful in being selected to take part in the National Theatre Connections festival in 2018. They performed their specially commissioned piece, Dungeness, in Ellesmere Port, at Storyhouse and in Sheffield. This group aims to develop and promote the creative talents of local young and vulnerable people, to improve physical and mental wellbeing, build confidence, encourage diversity and promote inclusion. Group members are enabled to develop script writing, song writing, staging, costume, sound and lighting skills, to enhance ability in their preferred field and encourage confidence to learn new skill.
Highly commended: Malpas Youth Theatre
The group meets in a rural part Cheshire and offers drama activities to young people aged 8 to 13-years-old. The group was set up 2015 because there was a recognition that there is limited access to arts for young people in rural communities. After an initial pilot, the group has now continued to grow, with the support of the parish council, and makes a positive impact in the community. The group aims to help young people to build self esteem and be comfortable with their own identities through supporting them to make new friends, develop teamwork, communication and leadership skills.
COMMUNITY PERFORMING ARTS
Winner: Snow Dragons Project, InterAct Neston
The Snow Dragons was a project led by InterAct Theatre in Neston. It was part of the National Theatre Connections Programme. The Snow Dragons by playwright Lizzie Nunnery is a moving piece about children in Norway during the Second World War and how they came together to stand up to the Nazi invasion. The play showed how camaraderie and team work can bring people together. This was reflected in the approach to the work by the young people involved. The group were lucky enough to work with Lizzie Nunnery who attended one of the rehearsals to lend her support and give feedback. The Snow Dragons was performed in Ellesmere Port Civic Hall, The Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight as part of the Leverhulme drama festival and the Lamproom Theatre in Barnsley and in workshop format at the Lower, Salford.
Highly commended: AmaSing
AmaSing was formed in April 2017 and less than a year later it produced performances over three nights in Storyhouse. Judges were impressed by the boldness of the whole project. In all there were more than 1,000 children singing in Storyhouse over the three nights. A truly mammoth task to pull off for such a new venture and such a great opportunity for so many school children to engage with the making and performing of music in such an inspiring venue.
Winner: Visual Arts Cheshire, based in Northwich
This group was formed in 2012 and is a community arts group. It is volunteer run and not for profit. It funds its activities through various projects, for example calendar sales, commission on works sold in exhibitions and entry fees for exhibitions. Some of their activities, with positive social outcomes, are run at a loss. They work to engage the wider community with the visual arts by working with local schools, charities, disability groups, retailers, the Business Improvement District and local councillors. As well as producing indoor exhibitions in spaces such as Weaver Hall they have produced a Primary School Art Trail, calendars promoting local artists and businesses.
Highly Commended: Men in Sheds
Men in Sheds in Hartford has been running since 2008 with three other sheds having been opened since by founders Age UK Cheshire. These are in Crewe, Ellesmere Port and Chester, with plans in motion for a new shed in Winsford. The main purpose of the sheds project is to provide a place for older men to socialise in order to combat loneliness and promote happiness and well-being in older men. The sheds provide an environment for older men to socialise without pressure and to feel part of their own community. The project works on the premise that men relax and engage socially when there is a mutual point of focus and a job in hand. Hartford sheds is very industrious and has some highly skilled attendees who have produced and engineered everything from birdhouses to electric guitars. Attendees and volunteers have turned some very fine woodwork products including attractive and varied hand turned pens and made items to order including benches, planters, duck houses and dovecotes.
Winner: Lance Howie, City of Chester Male Voice Choir
This is a new award which seeks to recognise those individuals who often go unrecognised outside their local group. They are the people who keep the whole thing going, they put out the seats makes the tea, organise the events. They get on with it quietly and are unsung heroes. Lance Howie has served the City of Chester Male Voice Choir for 28 years. He has undertaken various roles within the choir management team over the years and has served as vice chair and as a committee member on numerous occasions. He has never refused a role or task which needed fulfilling. Lance comes from a performing arts professional background, he has sung professionally for a number of years and become proficient as a conductor, once performing at Scone Palace during a visit to Scotland and notably conducting the choir on the Royal Yacht, in the absence of the choir MD who was taken ill and not able to attend. He has taken up the role of deputy conductor for the choir (a voluntary, unpaid position) and one he is completely self taught at, and produced his baton on many occasions, again sometimes at very short notice. He has staged managed the choir for over 20 years and plays a large part in support and guidance to the choir committee. For some years now, Lance has performed the role of Master of Ceremonies at all of our concerts.
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO COMMUNITY AND VOLUNTARY ARTS
Jo Sykes, Chester Mystery Plays
Jo Sykes plays an important role in the cultural life of Chester and Cheshire – this nomination celebrates and applauds this contribution. Jo has always had a strongly-developed interest in the arts and particularly in theatre. She has been involved in amateur theatre for almost all her life and has performed with many groups in and around Chester. Since the 1960s this interest has been dominated by her involvement with the Chester Mystery Plays. Jo performed in several cycles of the Plays, including the first since 1575, in 1951, in the 60s, 70s and 80s and was appointed to the board of directors in 1995. Since then, she has played an extremely active role in managing these internationally acclaimed community productions, chairing the production committee for the 1997 and 2003 productions. When the chairman died suddenly, a few months before the (then) largest ever production of the plays was to be mounted, she stepped into the breach, leading the directors, the production team and a community company of over 300 to produce (at that time) the most successful staging of the Mystery Plays in modern history. Jo was subsequently appointed as chairman of the Chester Mystery Plays Board in November 2003. Every production since has surpassed the achievements of its predecessor
Performing on the night at the awards ceremony were the City of Chester Band, Little Actors Theatre Company, Neston and KMTC from Knutsford.