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Grayson Perry exhibition comes to Kendal

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 December 2018

One of the Grayson Perry works in Kendal (picture courtesy the artist, Paragon Press and Victoria Miro,

One of the Grayson Perry works in Kendal (picture courtesy the artist, Paragon Press and Victoria Miro,

Sandy Kitching sandykitching.com

Art is just one of the many attraction on offer in this busy Lakeland town.

The Brewery Arts Centre has a packed programme over ChristmasThe Brewery Arts Centre has a packed programme over Christmas

Kendal used to market itself as the Gateway to the Lakes. But the problem with gateways is that people tend to pass through them, barely stopping. Nowadays, Kendal is going all out to promote itself as a destination in its own right.

With two castles, an explosion of artisan shops, bustling yards – many of them cobbled – and an art centre, gallery and museums worthy of much larger towns, it has much to offer.

The switch of emphasis has been largely driven by the decision by the town’s traders to become a Business Improvement District, a status which is due to be renewed this month.

The district’s manager, Sarah Williams, has become so passionate about promoting the town she has invested her own time and money in opening a not-for-profit Visitor Hub, called Fantastic Kendal, in Finkle Street, in the prime shopping area. Staffed by 22 volunteers, the shop is open seven days a week and aims to offer a friendly point of contact for visitors.

Amy Onyango of Felltarn Friends with some of her products in Fantastic KendalAmy Onyango of Felltarn Friends with some of her products in Fantastic Kendal

‘Kendal is fantastic and the more people that shout about it and tell people it’s fantastic, the more people will believe it,’ said Sarah. ‘We provide all the tourist information, you can drop off your bags, you can book a hotel. We’ve been telling people where they can go for walks, so it’s all that local knowledge.’

Visitors can also buy Kendal ‘goodies’, such as a mint cake, magnets, tea towels, teddies and products from local businesses such as Felltarn Friends, started five years ago by graphic designer Claire Mansfield and Amy Onyango, mainly as a provider of children’s craft events.

But they have struck gold with designing and providing trail maps, first for Barrow, then Kendal, and now nationwide, with ten locations from Southport to Putney.

They also design and produce souvenirs and gifts and branded mascots for hotels and the like. They provide goods with a Kendal theme for Fantastic Kendal.

Kendal BID Manager, Sarah Williams, outside Fantastic KendalKendal BID Manager, Sarah Williams, outside Fantastic Kendal

‘Tourists want to be able to take something small away as a little memento of where they’ve been,’ said Sarah.

Kendal’s success is marked by the mix of local independent shops and national brands. There are also 116 places to eat and drink.

‘But our unique selling point is the yards. They are all full and look beautiful,’ added Sarah.

Kendal certainly benefits from an unusually high occupancy of shops, with just five per cent empty, less than half the national average.

Flowers for sale in Blackhall YardFlowers for sale in Blackhall Yard

South Lakeland District Council’s Graham Vincent said: ‘We have seen a noticeable rise in the quality of shops, bars and cafes attracted to our high streets. This says everything about the entrepreneurial spirit here and how our town centres are evolving to meet the demands of visitors and residents, bringing vibrancy to the area and improving quality of life.’

For those wanting a break from shopping and a more varied visit, one undoubted jewel in Kendal’s crown is Abbot Hall. Lakeland Arts, which runs Abbot Hall and its neighbour the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, has appointed architects for a major £7.1m redevelopment of the complex, the first since it opened to the public in 1962.

For more than 50 years Abbot Hall has built up an outstanding permanent collection of over 6,500 works including one of the most significant collections of work by George Romney and 19th century watercolours by artists such as JMW Turner and John Ruskin.

You would have expected the gallery, by the River Kent and next to the imposing parish church, to take a breather before such a major refurbishment. Instead it has had a barn-storming year with exhibitions of works by the likes of Monet and Rodin and the acquisition of two early portraits by Lucian Freud.

Kendal library, one of the town's architectural gemsKendal library, one of the town's architectural gems

Now it is showing Julie Cope’s Grand Tour: The Story of a Life by Grayson Perry is on display until Saturday February 16, 2019.

Perry is a chronicler of contemporary life and recently reached new audiences through his TV programmes exploring themes such as identity on Channel 4.

The exhibition sees his two giant tapestries on display at Abbot Hall, the first time works by the Turner Prize winning artist have been exhibited in Kendal.

Julie Cope is a fictional character created by Perry – an everywoman whose story he has told through the two tapestries and an extended ballad presented in the exhibition.

The Yards are a unique feature of KendalThe Yards are a unique feature of Kendal

The tapestries are shown alongside a graphic installation and specially commissioned audio recording, a 3,000 word narrative written and read by Perry himself that illuminates Julie’s hopes and fears as she journeys through life.

These artworks represent, in Perry’s words, ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life’.

Helen Watson, of Lakeland Arts, said: ‘We are thrilled to bring Grayson Perry to Abbot Hall Art Gallery. He is a Turner Prize winner, Royal Academician and one of the most exciting talents in contemporary art.’

‘A Very Perry Christmas’ runs until December 21 at Abbot Hall and visitors are invited to make wacky, colourful garlands inspired by the work of Perry to decorate a tree at Abbot Hall or take home. The activity is self-guided in the Art Studio and free with gallery admission.

Post traumatic

Kendal, a town with 30,000 residents, has been jolted by a proposal to shut its main Post Office in 2019.

Local MP Tim Farron, said he was horrified and pledged to lead a fight to block the move, which would transfer the post office facilities into the WH Smith store.

Mr Farron said: ‘This is devastating news for Kendal. Given the much smaller size of the WH Smith store, it’s hard to see how this won’t be a serious downgrade to the services available to local people. We need to stand together as a community to oppose this plan.’

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