Why Kendal is becoming a centre for the arts
PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 April 2016
Kendal is reinforcing its status as an arts centre. Sue Riley met some of the people behind creative schemes in the town
KENDAL has always punched above its weight in terms of art and culture. Festivals, events, a theatre/cinema with a packed programme of top-class performers and a gallery which has an original Rembrandt on show this month marks the Lakeland town out as a cultural destination.
What makes the town so interesting is the originality of its residents who don’t rest on their laurels and look to the past. Andy Smith is a good example; he was one of the catalysts for turning the former Goodacre Carpet factory into an artists’ hub, providing studios and hot-desking for the creative community.
Andy, director of Cactus Creative, was looking for a place to relocate his business and after chatting to his friend Paul Proctor, who owned the industrial site at Canal Head, they decided to work together on the venture. Now two years on, the building, known as The Factory, is home to more than 43 people, from screen printers and weavers to chair makers and painters who work from individual studios.
‘There’s a real mix of artists, professional people making their living from selling their art,’ Andy said. ‘A lot of the artists had been forced out of the town because of high rates and were working in old barns or dining room tables, anywhere they could afford and they wanted to come into the town. We put the idea out on social media and got an incredible response.’
He plans to open a shop and gallery on the site and says in the meantime the artists will continue to hold workshops and open days (the next is on April 2nd and 3rd) so the public can see their work.
Kendal friends Claire Mansfield and Amy Onyango still work from home; the two mums met on the school run three years ago and quickly set up their own business, Felltarn Friends. Their first project was a children’s book featuring creatures called Robyn Squirrel and Alice Rabbit who introduce youngsters to the delights of the Lake District and also promote countryside themes and the work of mountain rescue.
‘Since we launched Felltarn we have really developed the business with activity packs, colouring posters and we hold lots of crafting events for children,’ said Amy. The pair have five children between them and work from a room in Claire’s house on the outskirts of Kendal and their products are sold in the town as well as other Cumbrian locations.
‘I grew up here and moved away and returned and moved away! There’s people in Kendal from all over, people move here because it’s an attractive place to relocate to and creative people want to use the landscape as inspiration,’ Amy added.
The winter floods had a big impact on Kendal with more than 1,400 homes affected, but the town is still very much open for business. ‘Fortunately the flooding didn’t affect us but it hit some of our stockists which had impact,’ Amy said, adding that they had just received an unusual commission to create an adult colouring book for the Egyptian market.
One attraction which is likely to boost tourism figures this month is the showing of an original Rembrandt self-portrait at the Abbot Hall gallery; the painting, done when the artist was 63, is part of a National Gallery tour and a real coup for Kendal.
Helen Watson, the director of exhibitions and collection at the gallery, said: ‘We are excited about bringing one of the greatest works of art in the UK to Kendal. The loan of this work continues Abbot Hall’s reputation for bringing major works of art to Cumbria and the North West.’
Then there are the museums: Lakeland Life & Industry focuses on the region’s past whereas Kendal Museum adds another dimension to the town’s cultural output with its natural history collection from around the world alongside local exhibits. Founded in 1796, the museum also puts on events for all the family and has a changing programme of exhibitions; the current show is artwork by Kendal artists’ co-operative Green Door.
Kendal, once known as the auld grey town because of its limestone buildings, has a wide range of independent shops alongside a growing number of trendy chains which make it one of South Lakeland’s main shopping destinations, particularly on Wednesday and Saturdays when the outdoor market is full of established stallholders alongside young foodies selling their wares. Food has become an increasingly important part of Kendal’s attraction to visitors, resulting in a popular food festival every spring.
To many thousands of visitors though Kendal will always be associated with hiking, biking and climbing; in the middle of the town there’s a sign declaring that Kendal is 4662 miles from Mount Everest, the peak ascended by Sir Edmund Hillary with the help of Kendal Mint Cake. The town’s popular Mountain Festival (in November) is still one of the biggest events in Kendal’s calendar, although it has stiff competition these days from events including the comic art festivals in the autumn which is getting a growing following. After all Kendal is still known as the Gateway to the Lakes and for good reason.