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Why the arts are thriving in Lytham

PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 July 2016

Lytham Windmill

Lytham Windmill

Archant

It’s not just the flower filled streets and stunning festival – this Lancashire resort will rock this summer. Martin Pilkington reports

Roger McCann in front of Lowther Pavilion Roger McCann in front of Lowther Pavilion

The main event for Lytham this year, as for the last six, is its festival, bringing an estimated £2 million boost to the area’s economy. Strangely, it came about almost by accident. ‘We started it in 2010, as Lytham Proms then,’ says Peter Taylor, who with fellow-founder Dan Cuffe is still the driving force. ‘The intention was to do a one-off event to commemorate 70 years since the battle of Britain.’

Sold-out concerts and rave reviews made Cuffe and Taylor reassess not just the event, but their careers. ‘I was managing a hotel in St Annes, Dan had just finished university and was looking to work as a sound engineer,’ says Peter. The pair now run a music promotion business nationwide with a team of 30, but Lytham Festival remains close to their hearts.

‘The idea is to have something for everybody, with the big arena on The Green for headline concerts, and at the other venues with stuff linked to that. If, say, on Friday there’s an 80s night we may put other 80s acts elsewhere on Saturday. We want people stay for more than one night.’

Big names on this year’s list include Noel Gallagher, Bryan Adams, and The Village People, but it’s not just about pop music with a comedy stage, jazz cafe and cabaret acts among a host of other offerings. And Peter is enthusiastic about a real coup. ‘We’ve done smaller-scale film screenings at Lytham Hall previously, but this year Disney asked if we’d like to show the new Star Wars movie – it’ll be its biggest outdoor screening in the UK.’

Members of Lytham Heritage Group; Michael Bell (Treasurer), David Hoyle (Senior Archivist), Jan Platel (Secretary), Sue Forshaw (Chairman), Brian Hankinson (Archivist) and Alan Ashton MBE (Founder Chairman) Members of Lytham Heritage Group; Michael Bell (Treasurer), David Hoyle (Senior Archivist), Jan Platel (Secretary), Sue Forshaw (Chairman), Brian Hankinson (Archivist) and Alan Ashton MBE (Founder Chairman)

There’s another first this year, with a visual arts element added. ‘The Lytham Arts Partnership felt there needed to be greater community involvement in such a large scale event here,’ says the organisation’s Alex O’Toole. Councillor Tim Ashton and Peter Taylor, both keen to get visitors to venture beyond The Green, sowed the seeds of what has become CounterpART, a trail of art installations stretching east-west and north-south across the town. ‘And we hope it highlights artists don’t have to move to Manchester or London to work,’ she adds.

Christine Stringfellow, lead artist for CounterpART says: ‘Each work has to be relevant somehow to Lytham as a town, or to its location. It’s going to be thought provoking but accessible, without the terrifying aspects of some contemporary art!

‘Training opportunities will be available for local artists, and alongside that we’ve got lots of volunteering opportunities for students in the area to work on the project.’

‘It will help bring people into the town more, to spend money here, and hopefully makes the festival better than it has ever been for locals as well as visitors,’ says instigator Tim Ashton. ‘We want people who don’t know the area well to explore other parts of the town – Lytham Hall for example should be much better known than it is.’

Counterpart;  Cllr Tim Ashton, Alex O'Toole and Christine Stringfellow Counterpart; Cllr Tim Ashton, Alex O'Toole and Christine Stringfellow

Reached via a mile-long drive, the hall is a combination of architectural styles. ‘We don’t have upstairs downstairs here, we have front and back,’ says Marianne Blaauboer, the estate’s activity plan officer, explaining how the servants were located in the Jacobean elements behind the elegant Georgian structure reserved for the Clifton family before profligacy ended their tenure.

‘The family mortgaged the property and sold off land to finance extravagant lifestyles. At the start of the 20th century the Cliftons had 20,000 acres. Now we have 78,’ says Marianne.

From the 1960s to the late 90s it was used for office space by Guardian Royal Insurance, then the hall was bought by Lytham Town Trust, aided by a £1 million grant from local employer BAE Systems. Now a £5.9 million restoration project, backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is well underway, some of the balance generated by theatrical events.

‘The theatre is on the smaller lawn, it’s perfect acoustically,’ says Marianne. ‘The actors of the Illyria company have been coming here for years, they love it – this July they’re doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Ruddigore.’

Marianne Blaauboer in front of Lytham Hall Marianne Blaauboer in front of Lytham Hall

CounterpART will bring two installations to the hall, and the festival uses its outdoor theatre for a range of productions, including this year a screening of The Rocky Horror Show.

Lytham’s main indoor theatrical venue, The Lowther Pavilion, is undergoing its own transformation. It’s at the opposite side of town to the hall, but the two are linked by the Clifton connection – the family laid out the Lowther gardens in 1872, and donated them in 1905 to the town council, which constructed the pavilion in the 1920s. ‘Our problem is that the building has been done piecemeal, with bits added over the years. It sits in a beautiful park but isn’t beautiful itself,’ says manager Roger McCann. ‘We we want to make it feel like it belongs in its setting.’

Opening up the lobby and cafe, enlarging and leak-proofing the barrel roof, adding a roof terrace, studio theatre and modern dressing rooms, changing the theatre’s seating arrangements, and revamping the exterior with glass, wood and metal, will cost £5 million and take five years or more – and needs a lot of energetic fundraising. In spite of the ongoing construction work there’s plenty on at the Lowther this summer. ‘For six week until July 16th we have a huge exhibition of Titanic artefacts, with some virtual reality bells and whistles,’ says Roger, ‘And in mid-July The Lytham Players are doing Molière’s The Miser, and a week later St Annes Operatic Society are putting on Stepping Out here, plus we’re very much a part of the festival, for smaller scale shows.’

Visitors to Lytham this summer will be able to enjoy another exhibition centred on a craft rather smaller than the Titanic. Regular readers will know Lytham Heritage Group has restored the old lifeboat house near the windmill (which it also saved), and it now houses The Chapman, a Victorian sailing lifeboat. Alan Ashton founded the group 31 years ago, and was its chairman for 28. ‘We’re trying to preserve buildings at risk – the windmill was one of our first projects – and documents that tell our history. But our heritage also includes Lytham Club Day in late June, that began as a church parade in 1894 and is still going strong.’

Current chair Susan Forshaw adds: ‘During the festival we’ll probably be involved with the artists’ intervention happening in the town, with a display in our Heritage Centre, and in the 40s weekend in the middle of August. Last year the festival began to encompass other activities and more venues, and the artistic part this year is taking that further – but our problem is the council shuts the windmill during the festival.’

Summer is clearly hectic in Lytham, with music, art and drama becoming integral to the town’s life. ‘Part of the event is going for a latté in the nice coffee shops, browsing in the independent shops, strolling in the lovely public gardens,’ says Peter Taylor. ‘It’s Lytham’s environment that makes the events here unique.’

To find out more about Lytham Festival and events during the festival, go to www.lythamfestival.com.

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