There's plenty going on in Southport this summer
PUBLISHED: 17:00 16 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:27 17 May 2017
Rebekka O'Grady speaks to the people behind the town's must-visit festivals and destinations
‘Southport is awash with cultural and creative people. From theatre and music to visual arts and poetry, there’s a lot going on so something like the Southport Festival is important on many levels – culturally and economically. We can look up to the likes of the festivals in Manchester and Edinburgh – knowing there’s no way of really emulating them, but on a smaller scale you still get that real buzz and joy.’
It’s clear from listening to David Lonsdale that his passion for Southport and its cultural scene is deep-rooted. So much so that he and other like-minded people started the Southport Festival as an independent event four years ago, as a way of bringing together the creative and art groups and to get people talking. The ex-Heartbeat actor himself was raised in the seaside town, performing and learning his craft here before moving to London for 20 years.
‘When my wife and I had children we moved back up to Southport. It’s a great town, so I really want to put time and effort into things like the Southport Festival.’
The festival, now held in conjunction with Sefton Council and Southport BID, returns this year running May 5-7. It will be an explosion of literature, music, theatre and comedy spread across various venues in the town, with activities and events suitable for everyone.
Families and children will love getting involved in events such as the ‘Big Street Draw’ and jellyfish art workshops, and the transformation of Wesley Street into the Sea and Shore Festival is certainly not to be missed. Of course there are many things for adults to enjoy, like the comedy pub crawl or a variety of shows and performances, including one from the ‘people’s poet’ Dr John Cooper Clarke.
‘It’s a really diverse and lively event. There’s an awful lot of things on that will hopefully make people move around and explore something new, that they wouldn’t have done before,’ said Sarah Rodriguez, marketing and events coordinator at Southport BID. They say around 150,000 people attended last year’s festival, and with 2017 set to be bigger and better, the numbers are sure to increase.
‘We understand that some elements of the festival are quite niche, so prices for events aren’t extortionate. We want it to be accessible and engaging for the community, plus profit from ticket sales will go back into the development of the festival.’
For David, the one thing he is looking forward to is the atmosphere that the festival brings. ‘Whenever I go to a great festival, what I always remember is the atmosphere on the streets. Combine that with good weather and it’s a great reason to get out there and absorb all the free things that are going on. Southport is an excellent place to hold events like this; the geography is in our favour.
‘It’s a seaside town, but the infrastructure is there to hold these big events. We have plenty of accommodation, eateries and parking, so it makes it an attractive place for festivals – which is why we have such a superb events calendar. Living so close to three major cities does pose some challenges, but also positives, so we play to our strengths of what we can do. It’s a beautiful Victorian town with the seaside and fantastic open spaces.’
Later on in the month is a festival of a very different kind. During the weekend of May 19-21, Cambridge Arcade will be transformed into Southport Beer Street. The festival is brainchild of the team at Tap and Bottles, a bar and bottle shop located in the thoroughfare, and after a successful inaugural event in 2016, they will be extending the party out of the pub and down along Cambridge Arcade.
‘I’ve always wanted to do a beer festival’, said Julian Burgess, who opened Tap and Bottles with his small team Jen, Joe and Luke, who have been with him since 2014. The ex-accountant had always been around beer, as his parents own a pub in Wigan. Living in Scarisbrick, he really liked the area and saw the need for a place like this in Southport. Plus he said he wanted somewhere he would want to drink.
‘We hosted our first festival last year after CAMRA had cancelled their Southport one, so we thought we’d go for it. The other businesses in the arcade were really supportive, as were the council as I wasn’t sure how they would react.’
This year, there will be around 30 cask and 40 keg beers, plus some food on offer including artisan pizzas. Entry is free; all you have to do is pay for your glass on arrival and buy your tokens for the beer as you go.
The busy beer bar, which celebrates its third birthday in August, has been well received since opening and has even been awarded CAMRA Southport and West Lancashire pub of the year two years running.
Their selection of cask and keg ales, which are sourced locally and from around the country, plus the range of over 100 bottled beer (which can be enjoyed in or taken away) has built up a loyal customer base. Julian says they’ve even managed to change some people’s minds when it comes to craft ale, converting staunch cask drinkers to keg.
‘There was a little market there, we met that need and then have grown it. I think as long as there is good beer in; the majority of people appreciate it. Long term, I would like to open a bigger brew pub in Southport, with a bottle shop and a ten-pin bowling alley.’
A haven of peace and tranquillity, a refuge from candyfloss and ice cream, but the ideal place to eat your fish and chips – I’m talking about King’s Gardens. Not many towns have a 17 acre garden at their centre, but for Southport, the green space acts as a bridge between the coast and the cosmopolitan.
However, the gardens weren’t always like this. I was told by Samuel O’Brien, one of the committee members and volunteers at Friends of King’s Gardens that they were left unkempt for nearly 50 years. ‘It was a neglected space, with overgrown bushes and rubbish, you couldn’t even see the lake. It was such a shame.’
However in 2012, the gardens were awarded £5.5million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Sefton Council as part of the ‘Parks for People’ programme. The project has seen the gardens returned to their former glory, conserving the historical features and landscape.
The restoration included the Victorian shelters, the Venetian bridge, the Lakeside café, former ladies toilets and original park infrastructure. In addition to this, a brand new play area, a community garden and the King’s Gardens visitor centre were created.
Through this, a group of volunteers formed with a plan to get the community involved in the maintenance of the garden, Friends of King’s Gardens. The group are involved in all manners of park life, from volunteering in community gardening, events organising, promotion of the park and working closely with the council on the management and maintenance.
‘Before, people didn’t feel safe walking through here, now it’s a hive of activity. I am passionate about King’s Gardens not just being a garden, but a space with much more to offer,’ said Samuel, who helps to organise events. ‘Our outdoor cinema events are really popular, attracting more than 2,000 people. The next screening is Star Wars: Rogue One on May 6 and we also have a May Pole event on May 1 which will have a brass band and traditional dancing.’
Julie Rudge, chair of the committee, says that the ramp is the most recent area of restoration, where they had recently planted 55 pots of narcissus, donated from the Botanic Gardens.
‘A few weeks ago we also had a family planting day where members of the public helped us. It’s really nice to get people involved, especially children as we would like them to learn about gardens in the hope that fewer spaces like this get vandalised.’
The group are also working together with Sefton Council on the Green Machine initiative, where schools will be involved in helping to plant the new sensory garden. There are also plans for a wildflower garden, which will help to encourage the bee population in Southport.
If you would like to get involved in volunteering, call 07486 125409 or visit the group’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/kingsgardenssouthport
David Londsale isn’t the only actor to rise through the ranks of Southport’s drama scene. The Southport Dramatic Club also nurtured Emma Arends, a local actress who then went on to train at Arts Ed Drama School in London. For the past couple of years, Emma has been touring with Peppa Pig’s live shows, Peppa Pig’s Surprise and Peppa Pig’s Big Splash, as Peppa’s human friend, Daisy. It has now been made into a film, Peppa Pig: My First Cinema Experience.
‘It’s very exciting as Peppa Pig is such a hugely loved children’s programme, so I’m very proud to be apart of it. I grew up in Birkdale and Southport. ‘I loved being involved with the SDC during my early teens and I always love coming back to visit my family in Southport. My sister Michaela and her husband Marc Verite own Verite’s restaurant in Birkdale Village, so it’s hard to keep away!’
The film is described as a new pre-school cinema experience, made up of nine brand new Peppa Pig episodes interspersed with interactive entertainment – which is where Emma as Daisy comes in. ‘It’s a very colourful and fun world!’
Peppa Pig: My First Cinema Experience is now open around the UK. To book tickets, visit: www.peppa1stcinema.co.uk
Don’t miss while in Southport
A year round destination for arts and culture, it’s always worth checking out what is on at The Atkinson. An £18 million renovation project in 2013 resulted in a stunning semi-contemporary interior with beautifully preserved architectural features. Inside you’ll find a cinema, exhibitions and a museum, as well as touring shows, comedians and music.
Local artists are in the spotlight at the moment, thanks to the Sefton Open exhibition, which runs until May 7. The exhibition showcases the best talent from across the Sefton area, whether it’s individual submissions or groups. The public then vote for the People’s Prize and the lucky recipient is awarded a £50 voucher for local art retailer, Belle Fauve and Scout.
Gallery manager Jane Brown says the exhibition is an excellent way of celebrating local talent.
‘It’s the third time we’ve held it here at The Atkinson, but the Southport Palette Club, a local art group have been running the annual exhibition for over 90 years,’ she said. ‘It’s a real showcase for creative talent, and becomes a platform for local people – which is a contrast to some of the big names we have had exhibit here.’
Southport Model Railway Village
Run by Jean and Ray Jones for over 20 years, the Southport Model Railway Village is a must for families and locomotive enthusiasts. The couple opened the village in 1996, after it took them one year to build.
‘We met the people who owned the original village which had closed in 1987, and we decided we would like to rebuild it,’ said Jean, who after looking at many model villages decided said they wanted to make it a railway attraction.
Now open from April until September, the miniature village, which consists of over 200 1:18 scale models and 500 metres of garden gauge railway, has seen a surge of visitors since the restoration of King’s Gardens.
‘I think people are more inclined to come back to Southport for a day out because of this investment, it’s great.’