One of Chester’s most vibrant neighbourhoods is in final preparations for a nine-day festival which will commemorate the centenary of the First World War while also celebrating the vibrancy of its community in the century since.
The Garden Quarter Association has been awarded a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out a multi-activity festival from June 29-July 6 which will include a street re-enactment, the creation of new art work and music, a 1914 guided tour of the streets and the commissioning of a new film which features the present residents representing their 1914 predecessors.
Additional to these activities, the community will be holding a major street festival, a music concert, a special screening of War Horse at the community cinema, and a civic service of remembrance for the whole community.
The festival will kick off with the centenary fayre on June 29 which is being hosted by the local school Chester Blue Coat Primary School.
Headteacher Vince O’Brien is delighted that the school is being involved in so many ways.
He said: “Not only are we running the opening event here, but we are also hosting the Hundred Years Concert in our new hall.
“Additionally, the children are working with professional artists in creating a new community mural, and working with Theatre in the Quarter in preparing a musical and dramatic performance for the festival.”
One of the highlights of the festival will be the 1914 Street event, where the school children will be led down Cambrian Road which will have transformed into a street from 1914, filled with characters from that time who will interact with the passers by.
“This could offer the children some very powerful learning experiences; we are very proud to be part of such a wonderful community event,” added Mr O’Brien.
The residential heart of the Garden Quarter is locally known as the Cambrian Community.
The residents there have been organising successful street festivals for nearly 20 years and they will be hosting the main festival day in Cambrian View on Saturday, July 5.
The big day will include two stages with live music, cabaret, and specially themed vaudevillian performances to reflect the period before the First World War.
There will also be plenty of activities and stalls for people of all ages.
The evening will end with a candlelit ceremony to remember those from the community who paid the ultimate sacrifice through both world wars and the wars since.
But there has been plenty of activity taking place in the streets in the lead up to the festival.
The grant has supported the making of a new community film, building on the enormous success of the film which was made for the Garden Quarter’s VE Celebrations in 2005.
Film Maker Neil Kendall explained how he has been thrilled with the level of involvement.
“Our aim was to capture the spirit of this area in those months leading up to the start of the First World War.
“It has been so much more challenging to find locations and costumes as opposed to the one we did for 1945, but the response from the locals to help and to be in front of the camera as our predecessors from that time has been incredible.”
Neil added that the one resident who will appear on the film is 102, and will have been a toddler at the outbreak of the war. She will join residents as young as two years of age in the making of the film.
“This is going to be one terrific film, and something very special to pass to future generations,” he explained.
Additional to the film making, local people have been researching the stories and archives of the people who lived in the local streets in 1914, and those who served their country at war.
The findings of this research will be retold in a 1914 tour of the streets by local historians Geoff Taylor and Yvette Askey on June 30.
Co-chair of the association Matt Baker explained how the festival is really drawing on the rich creative talents of the community.
“There will be new art work being created, murals, sculptures, plenty of homegrown original musical performance and new poetry from the young people in Bridge Foyer.”
Matt explained that while the grant was to support a commemoration of the First World War, there was so much more added activity in the festival.
He added: “We think it is totally right to commemorate the people from our neighbourhood who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War, and those who continued their lives back here.
“But we also wanted to reflect on the way that this interesting corner of Chester has evolved over the decades. There is much to celebrate; it is a vibrant and creative community with lots to be proud of.”
Alongside the commemorations and celebrations will be Garden Quarter most distinguished citizen, the Lord Mayor of Chester, Cllr Bob Rudd, who is also the councillor of the ward.
He said: “It gives me enormous pleasure and pride to be asked to attend the Garden Quarter Remembers Festival.
“This year being the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War is a very special year, I am very proud of the community that I represent and that they are commemorating the event in such a special way.”
Cllr Rudd has also supported the festival through his members budget.
The festival will end with a civic service of remembrance at St Thomas of Canterbury Church on Sunday, July 6 and a trench singalong with trench rations in the Bouverie in the evening.
More information can be found on the facebook page www.facebook.com/gardenquarterremembers.