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Kendal remains a vibrant place for locals and visitors

PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 October 2017

Pop exhibition at Abbot Hall Art Gallery

Pop exhibition at Abbot Hall Art Gallery

NOT Archant

A makeover, a boost to nightlife, the arrival of gastropubs and a packed diary of events. Mike Glover reports

Illustration by Michael Cho for the Lakes International Comic Art FestivalIllustration by Michael Cho for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival

THE Auld Grey town has been going through a bit of a facelift this year. No Botox required but Kendal, whose dour nickname comes from the colour of its predominantly limestone buildings, has had a bit of a makeover.

This month scaffolding shrouds the elegant Town Hall which is undergoing sympathetic restoration of the listed building’s clock tower. Replacing around 80 eroded sandstone blocks and carvings will have taken 24 weeks to complete, by the time December comes around.

The crumbling stonework had been made worse during Storm Desmond in December 2015 when temporary safety barriers had to be erected outside the building, at the corner of Highgate and Lowther Street.

South Lakeland District Council says restoring the treasured building involves a mixture of intricate and traditional stonemasonry skills that ‘should make the clock tower good for the next 100 years.’

Restoration of Kendal Town HallRestoration of Kendal Town Hall

The equally historic Market Square has also been under the surgeon’s knife for a bit of nip and tuck. The removal of silver birch and other changes to the features behind the war memorial didn’t receive universal approval with one fan of the town calling it a ‘big mistake.’

But the council said the aim of the £200,000 scheme was to make Market Place a more welcoming and safer area, encourage a vibrant café culture and provide a quality retail environment attractive to businesses, residents and visitors.

New street furniture, underground lighting and water supply were designed to encourage its use for community events and markets.

Whatever the success of the cosmetics, there is no doubt that Kendal continues to evolve with its vibrant shopping centre and ever growing number of events and initiatives to keep the locals and visitors entertained.

‘We want Kendal to be known not just as a Gateway to the Lakes but as a destination in its own right,’ said Sarah Williams, manager of Kendal’s Business Improvement District, an initiative financed by the town’s businesses and targeted with marketing its undoubted attractions.

This year they have launched a new website and a series of trails to reach corners of Kendal often overlooked by residents as well as visitors. The trails, covering a variety areas such as history and topics that appeal to children, have been so successful over the summer months they are likely to be extended and repeated.

Kendal also has its own ‘Swipii’ loyalty card, used by half the 30,000 residents, and a gift card which is valid not only in local independent shops but also several of the national brands like Boots, Mountain Warehouse and Pizza Express.

After a slight hiatus after Storm Desmond, high end retail clothes shops and jewellers are taking up units.

A colourful umbrella trail in Wainwrights YardA colourful umbrella trail in Wainwrights Yard

If there has been any criticism of Kendal over the years, it has been the lack of nightlife, despite the splendid Brewery Arts complex. That is changing fast with tired pubs going gastro, new cocktail bars and cafes springing up weekly.

While September was always a special month of activity with the traditional Kendal Gathering, Kendal Torchlight and Westmorland County Show, October now has real attractions too.

If you are quick you can catch Painting Pop, a must-see exhibition at Abbot Hall art gallery, surely one of the finest of its kind outside London. Curator Charu Vallabhbhai said she wanted it to show that the era of Pop Art had punchy political statements, as well as being fun.

The exhibition celebrates British Pop Art from the early 1960s, including work by Sir Peter Blake, Pauline Boty, Patrick Caulfield, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney and Allen Jones borrowed from major collections such as Tate, National Portrait Gallery and Government Art Collection.

Visitors can even feel at home in a fully immersive 1960s inspired living room: Take a seat in an authentic 60s armchair, and watch the moon landing or listen to music of the era and become part of the exhibition by including your memories on a timeline. The exhibition runs until October 7, to be followed by LAND/SEA/LIFE, comprising 70 modern works from the Ingram Collection of Art.

Art of another sort comes to the fore this month when Lakes International Comic Arts Festival returns, from October 13-15, for its fifth year. The festival celebrates the world of comic artists, creators and writers and features live comic drawing, exhibitions, film, comic trails, workshops, master classes, a free family zone and comic marketplace.

Artists come from all over the world to take over Kendal for the weekend. It is the only festival of its kind in the UK and has received major funding from the Arts Council for the next four years.

This year Manchester artist Oliver East has been commissioned to reinterpret the heritage of Lancaster Canal in his unique comic art style. His stories of family life on the canal will build into a 40-page book entitled The Lanky.

MAD Magazine artist Tom Richmond leads a whole host of comic creators from across the globe, including US superstar, Sergio Aragonés, considered the fastest comic artist on the planet.

There will also be a comic art trail with artists from local community groups or schools right through to professional artists, taking their own approach to their individual shop and business windows.

More crafts than arts will be on show at Kendal Wool Gathering also returning this month – October 28 and 29 – but at a new home in Kendal Leisure Centre.

Walks, have-a-go sessions and demonstrations have been added to this celebration of Kendal’s wool heritage. It is apt that the town’s motto of ‘Pannus mihi panis’ means ‘Wool is my bread.’

Activities range from the opportunity to learn how to knit your own poppy, while boosting the Royal British Legion’s annual appeal, to learning how to weave your own cloth.

It is five years since Lancashire Life first revealed the birth of Kendal Wool Gathering. ‘Kendal Wool Gathering has grown in numbers of stall-holders and visitors each year and this year we hope to make a smooth transition to our new home,’ said KWG Chairman, Mike Glover (and the author of this piece).

One new feature is crocheting poppies and miniature sheep at work-shops organised by Marion Minshall. ‘I have been crocheting for 50 years making everything from babies’ hats to a bikini and wanted to support the Royal British Legion poppy appeal with remembrance day just a couple of weeks after the gathering,’ said Marion.

The Lancs and Lakes Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, which has supported the Gathering in previous years, will be back with up to four looms so visitors can have a go a weaving.

Blue Badge Guide Janice Wilson is organising walks entitled ‘Unravel the Story of Wool’ taking customers on a four mile tour, either side of the River Kent and split by a stop at Kendal Town Hall.

The switch to Kendal Leisure Centre has been made possible with the help of a grant from the town council, which is contributing £5,000 to the running and promotion costs and another £3,500 from Cumbria County Council.

Sixty stall-holders have booked spaces. They come from Aberdeen, London, Wales and even Holland, as well as across the North of England. They include carpet makers, handbag and accessory companies, spinning wheel sellers, artists and many retailers of knitting wool and associated goods.

As well as the wool market, there are side rooms for workshops, demonstrations and places to knit and natter.

And Westmorland Agricultural Society will provide livestock and farmers to talk about their working lives in special marquees outside the Leisure Centre.

Last year the event attracted more than 7,000 visitors, about a third of whom said they came to the area specifically for the festival, boosting the local economy.

Kendal may have had a make-over, but it retains that entrepreneurial energy that insures it will continue to thrive, whatever the weather.

To find out more about events in Kendal go to visit-kendal.co.uk; www.comicartfestival.com; www.kendalwoolgathering.co.uk; www.lakelandarts.org.uk.

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