The force of festivals, fun and film in Ulverston
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 May 2019
Ulverston – perfect for pointless fun
While many of Britain's High Streets struggle, South Lakeland's second biggest town continues to thrive. Ulverston has halved the number of empty shops to just four per cent – well below the national average and most put its resilience and success down to a culture based on its designation as a festival town.
While some may be marking Star Wars Day on May 4 – known for the corny pun “May the 4th be with you” – Ulverston will be celebrating Printfest, one of the country's most successful arts festivals.
Over the first weekend of May it is expanding to meet the demand for workshops on this increasingly popular art form.
This year organisers have arranged for a marquee to be put up in the Coronation Hall's car park to house four workshops on different methods of printmaking supported by the local charity, the Sir John Fisher Foundation.
'Because we are an artist-led festival, we are interested in getting people involved in printmaking, as well as selling prints. We think it is a fantastic form of expression,' says its treasurer Keith Bamber. The event will feature the work of 49 artists, more than half of them new to Printfest.
Organising team chairwoman Sally Bamber says: 'They bring new work, new discussions, new methods of working that celebrate the use of ink on paper.' The weekend also offers visitors the chance to view and purchase art works, to meet the artists and to learn more about printmaking.
More than 1,600 visited in 2018, and it was shortlisted for Cumbria Tourism's event of the year clocking up a record £63,000-worth of sales over the two days.
It was founded in 2001 by artists Judy Evans and Ronkey Bullard, with the help of Chris Benefield, who owned The Tinners' Rabbit in Market Street, Ulverston.
Chris's widow Janet is still on the organising committee. She and her daughter Rachael Weaver run Two by Two, a ladies' fashion shop in Market Street celebrating its 20th anniversary next year with a ball at Ulverston's distinctive Coronation Hall in December. Proceeds will be for St Mary's Hospice, also celebrating 30 years.
'We like to be involved with the emerging festival culture of the town,' says Janet.
Rachael will be using her “style with a smile” approach to some of the town's other festivals, dressing up for the walking festival, from April 27 to May 6, again celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The Dickensian festival at the end of November is another natural fancy dress option for self-confessed “fashion fruitcake” Rachael. But the most fun is undoubtedly Another Fine Festival on June 15, the birth date of Ulverston's most famous son, Stan Laurel.
The Laurel and Hardy museum is enjoying booming attendances this year prompted by the film Stan and Ollie, as reported by Lancashire Life last month. The festival is constantly breaking world records for daftness. In 2016 it was 1,280 people taking part in shaving foam pie fights, in 2017 giant papier-mâché bananas took centre stage and in 2018 it was a world-record 875 people wearing conical hats.
This year it will be a human fairground, with human roller-coasters, human hook a duck and more. 'My role is creating pointless fun,' says Rachael.
Another Another Fine Festival organiser Jennie Dennett puts the town's feel-good factor down to the permission to be crazy it gives to the community. 'If they invest in culture then it gives people a reason to come to Ulverston and many of them stay,' she adds.
To prove the point, another Printfest organiser is artist Tina Balmer who came to Ulverston 12 years ago 'because it seemed a nice place' for a year and never left. She has just joined forces with fellow Green Door artist Rosie Wates to open a new Gallery 68 in Market Street.
They display their own contrasting works – oil flowers by Tina and abstracts by Rosie – as well as jewellery, ceramics, paintings and sculptures by invited guest artists. A three-month pop-up experiment has just been extended to a two year commitment.
Another off-comer attracted by the festival town spirit is writer Caroline Gilfillan, who helps run A Poem and a Pint every two months, and joins in as a foot soldier with the Hallowe'en Walk on October 31, the Lantern Festival in mid-September, and other community events.
The next Poem and a Pint, which includes open-mic floor slots and music as well as poets, is at the Laurel and Hardy Museum on Saturday, May 4, of course.
Another sign the force is strong with this town. u