Kendal - Lakeland's 'auld grey town' is full of life and colour

Kendal might enjoy the nickname 'the auld grey town' but in reality it a place full of activity and colour as Amanda Griffiths discovers Photoghraphy by John Cocks

Kendal has got it all. Easy access to the mountains popular with walkers, a great shopping centre with a blend of independent local boutiques and sought after high street names and plenty to see and do for visitors. In fact, Kendal might enjoy the nickname ‘the auld grey town’ but that’s certainly not indicative of its spirit.

It’s safe to say that even the rain can’t dampen the town’s spirit. And Kendal, like other places in the north west, has seen its lifelifelifelifefair share of rain in the last few weeks.

‘We all queued up on top of the hill to receive the Olympic torch at 7am,’ says John Willshaw, Kendal’s new mayor who retired here in 2007. ‘By the time the torch left us at 8.10 the rain had started to come down, but thousands of people came to enjoy it and the flame was certainly not dampened.

‘That’s the thing with Kendal. It rains, we get on with it. The heavens opened during the Jubilee Flower Festival the WI were holding a week later. My wife had to pop out to put more money on the car park ticket. When she came back she’d had to wade through a foot of water after moving the car out of the flood to a less watery car park.’

John believes Kendal is a very special place. He says. ‘It is magical. It’s what I call an ‘alive’ town. When my wife and I moved here we looked around lots of places for property, but the thing I like about Kendal is the fact I can walk into town and there’s everything here you could possibly need, library, shops, facilities and they’re all alive and being used by the local community.

‘And what an active community it is. A lot happens here. It’s a town of festivals and that’s been even more prominent this year with the jubilee celebrations and the Olympic torch procession. It’s been a great time to take over as Mayor.

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‘It’s a very friendly community where people really do like to get involved and that’s what we’re trying to encourage them to do.’

Fiona Neall is also passionate about getting the community involved. She looks after Kendal in Bloom.

‘The last couple of years we have had fantastic support and this year we have a new sustainable garden category which takes into consideration things like whether they use pesticides or let hedgehogs get rid of slugs, use rainwater butts or their own compost.

‘I’m only an amateur gardener myself. It’s funny I’d never even thought about being a councillor until someone suggested it, then within six months was in charge of Kendal in Bloom. It certainly made my sister laugh - she’s a professional garden designer!’

Keeping Kendal blooming is an on-going task. A recent planting scheme at Abbot Hall Park with perennial plants should soon show results but Fiona and her colleagues are also hoping to help individual communities get their environments looking as good as possible.

‘We do have a small budget to be able to help local groups,’ she explains. ‘For example, there’s one estate which has a lot of green spaces. They identified places they could plant to improve their environment and myself and a colleague went out with them and came up with a plan of action.

‘A few years back the Rotary Club planted hundreds of crocuses at the entrance for the town, which was a great show of colour, so we asked if they would plant more if we helped out with the funds to buy the bulbs.’It’s not just the plant life that helps bring Kendal to life but the people. Kendal is very much a festival town, currently gearing up for MintFest, a street arts festival in its sixth year, that takes place from August 31 to September 2 and attracts around 25,000 visitors.

‘When people think of street arts they think of Covent Garden or Edinburgh Fringe,’ says Jan Horrocks, projects director at Kendal Arts International. ‘But we’re aiming to do something different, a bit quirky and we pride ourselves on finding those artists that make us stand out from the crowd.

‘They are mainly professionals and are from all over the world. I think this year we have acts from around ten different countries.

‘I think it’s one of the best street arts festivals in the UK. The whole town really get on board and we get lots of feedback from people saying they’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and they like the fact that it’s mostly a free event.

‘We also have financial support from local businesses who have been with us since the beginning. Our principal sponsor is K Village.

‘The programme is varied, we try to make sure there is something for everyone, everything from music to comedy, bands to magicians and acrobatics, mostly in the open air.’

And there’s lots of exciting things planned for this year, such as Circus Ronaldo from Belgium. ‘They came two or three years ago with a show that was the hit of the festival so we are very excited about their new show.

‘We’ve also got a fire village from another Belgium company Cirque de Mundo, it’s an installation really but there will be performances as well,’ she says.

Mayor John sums it up: ‘What a great event MintFest is. I have people travelling from where I used to live in Kent just for the festival. I‘It’s just amazing street art and its free and the community really get involved.

‘One of the things I can honestly say about Kendal is the people are really friendly and welcoming.

‘I’m an incomer, but not only have I got involved with my community they have also got involved with me and made me mayor, something I’m very proud of.’

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