Category Archives: Arts and Culture

Hazel Prior’s Penguins in the Book Club

Exmoor writer, Hazel Prior, was thrilled to learn that her latest novel, Away With The Penguins, has been chosen for the prestigious Richard and Judy Book Club. Away With The Penguins went through a rigorous selection process to reach the longlist, then it was read by Richard and Judy themselves (alongside a group of book industry experts) who picked it for the final selection.

“This news has been a marvellous boost,” says Hazel, whose book launch had to be cancelled, along with all the other author events she had scheduled for this year. “It’s a real privilege to meet Richard and Judy, and to have my novel picked out of all the thousands. I have to keep pinching myself.”

The book tells the story of feisty octogenarian millionairess, Veronica McCreedy, and her adventures in Antarctica with some penguins. It is a fun, uplifting read but also addresses serious issues about climate change, ageing, and the importance of family and community. “It’s a story full of hope,” Hazel says. “I want my writing to say something important, but also to entertain readers and help them feel better about life. I always turn to books myself during hard times and when I started writing I decided that I’d try to put something life-affirming out there. That has become more important than ever during these difficult times.”

Hazel’s debut novel, Ellie And The Harp Maker, is set on Exmoor and only came out last year. It is a quirky, lyrical read influenced by Hazel’s love of the local landscape and music (she is also a harpist). Inspired partly by the fact that she had a two-book deal with the publishers ‘Penguin’ and partly by a friend’s marvellous penguin photographs, Hazel decided to write her second novel based around these fascinating birds. She spent a lot of time researching and met a few penguins in the process.

Away With The Penguins has already been selected as a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick, and Hazel had a conversation about her writing live on air with Jo Whiley earlier this year.

To coincide with the book’s paperback publication this week, Hazel had a private Zoom meeting with Richard and Judy themselves, who are always keen to meet the authors of the books they love. She chatted with them about living on Exmoor, writing and, of course, penguins. Richard and Judy’s famous Book Club, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this October, is run by WHSmiths, so Away With The Penguins (complete with a written interview between Hazel and Richard and Judy) will be stocked in all the branches of Smiths up and down the country as well as in Waterstones and other outlets.

You can read the announcement here.

 

Lifeline grants for Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, Landmark Theatre and Queen’s Theatre

The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon is celebrating with the news that it will receive £58k from the Government’s £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund. Also benefiting from the fund are the Queen’s and Landmark theatres, which together will receive £550k.

The Museum has faced a very challenging year in 2020. It closed in March in line with government guidelines so the grand re-opening, following the refurbishment and the new wing extension, was put on hold.

The Queen’s Theatre in Barnstaple and the Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe have been unable to operate fully since March as a result of Covid restrictions. But following this week’s announcement that they will be awarded funding, Selladoor – the company that runs the theatres – has announced it intends to lift the curtains and re-open in time for Christmas, with full Covid safety measures in place.

Museum Curator, Alison Mills, says, “This funding is excellent news for the Museum and all the staff and volunteers. It will help to make up for the income we have lost this year to date, and enable us to get fully up and running. Although the pandemic continues to affect all our lives we hope to extend our opening hours soon by recruiting some temporary staff. We will also be investing in digital services, so people can enjoy our exhibitions and learn about our collections virtually.”

Leader of North Devon Council, Councillor David Worden says: “I am delighted that the cultural heart of North Devon is being supported by this much-needed lifeline. Our museum and theatres are very important to our community; as we saw a few years ago when the then theatre operator went into administration. The amount of people who rallied around to save the theatres from closure was astounding. We are lucky to have such fantastic facilities here and we must support them as much as we can during these difficult times.”

David Hutchinson, Chief Executive of Selladoor Worldwide says “Whilst many theatres across the UK are still closed due to the challenges brought by Covid-19, Selladoor are once again opening the doors of The Queen’s Theatre in Barnstaple and The Landmark in Ilfracombe to ensure the local communities of North Devon have access to live theatre, and this festive entertainment will be provided within a safe, socially-distanced environment.”

The museum was able to re-open safely on 12 August. Admission is free, but to ensure the safety of staff and visitors, an advanced booking system has been introduced to help manage visitor numbers so social distancing can be maintained and ensure the museum experience is a safe and welcoming one.

All visitors are being asked to book a timed arrival slot in advance on the Museum website between the revised opening hours of 11am-3pm (last admittance at 2pm), Wednesday to Friday.

Additional events at the theatres are yet to be confirmed so keep an eye out for the latest announcements and for further information or to book tickets visit the Queens Theatre website or follow the Queen’s Theatre and The Landmark on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Halsway Manor House breaks at the heart of the British Folk scene

If you fancy a last-minute holiday or change of scene for half term and enjoy a place with a story, Halsway Manor could be for you.

Halsway Manor is the National Centre for Folk Arts, a charity offering residential folk music courses throughout the year. But Covid restrictions have taken a toll on the programming and while some of the dance and European music events are postponed the venue is offering out its rooms for holiday accommodation. This is a rare treat to stay in a venue with history at the heart of the English Folk Music Scene.

Halsway Manor, with its medieval origins, offers simple, affordable and homely accommodation in beautiful building and grounds. You can expect the same warm and friendly welcome as course participants do with breakfast and evening dinner served in the dining room. The bedrooms recently received a makeover thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund award. The library is also open to guests with its decorative Tudor ceilings and collection of local folklore and music.

The Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are the backdrop for Halsway Manor, making it a perfect base for cycling, walking and nature holidays. You can explore the local villages, footpaths throughout the Quantocks and Exmoor, and the West Somerset coastline all of which are within easy reach. There is plenty of space for arts and crafts activities. And after your day’s adventures you can relax by the fire and enjoy a drink in the panelled bar. Single, double and family rooms are available and each has its own bathroom. With so much space the Manor lends itself to these times and has Visit England’s Good to Go mark.

At a time when music venues and performing artists are struggling this is a great way to support this arts charity which supports musicianship and helps to keep traditional English Folk music scene alive.

To book a stay at Halsway Manor visit www.halswaymanor.org.uk tel 01984 618 274.

‘A balm for the soul’: Two Moors Festival brings live classical music to Wiveliscombe

Exmoor Weekend: 2-4 October – St Andrew’s Church, Wiveliscombe (and Dartmoor Weekend: 26-27 September – St Pancras’ Church, Widecombe-in-the-Moor)

The region’s unique Two Moors Festival will return this autumn, with world-class classical music concerts held in line with current government guidelines.  It will be the first time many of the internationally recognised artists involved have returned to the stage since lockdown.

The classical music events will take place with limited, socially distanced audiences across two weekends: 26-27 September on Dartmoor and 2-4 October on Exmoor, in beautiful church venues in Widecombe and Wiveliscombe.  All concerts will be one hour in length with no interval.

The artists involved have thoughtfully created programmes that are joyful, uplifting and a balm for the soul after lockdown.

Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Artistic Director of The Two Moors Festival, said: “I am delighted to be unveiling our programme for the 2020 Festival, my first as Artistic Director.  I was one of the Young Musician Competition winners in the very first Festival 20 years ago and have had the pleasure of returning often since then, seeing it grow and flourish.  This year, we will of course have all relevant measures in place to make it safe and enjoyable for all, in line with government guidance. The Two Moors Festival was born out of the foot and mouth crisis and, on our 20th Anniversary, as we find ourselves weathering another crisis, we offer a festival of celebration, bringing the shared, joyful experience of live music back to the Moors, and lifting people’s spirits.”

Over the past two decades, the Two Moors Festival has evolved into one of the most distinctive classical music festivals in the world.

Included in the Festival’s lineup of musical talent this year are performances from brilliant and insightful rising star pianist, Elisabeth Brauss (pictured); jazz star and a BBC New Generation Artist, Misha Mullov-Abbado; and internationally renowned tenor, Nicky Spence, with the great lieder pianist, Chris Glynn.

Ticket booking is now open.

For information on  ticket sales and event safety, please visit www.twomoorsfestival.co.uk

THE REGAL THEATRE RECEIVES THE QUEEN’S AWARD FOR VOLUNTARY SERVICE

The Regal Theatre’s volunteers have been honoured by being awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK and equivalent to the MBE.

At the Regal Theatre more than 200 volunteers provide all the drive and skills not only to sustain a 90-year old building with 400-seat auditorium as fit for modern purpose, but to run every aspect of its busy calendar of richly varied events.  The theatre is entirely run by volunteers who work a total of 70,000 hours a year – equating to around £200,000 – in pursuit of their ethos ‘For the Community, By the Community’.  Their work enables the Regal to present 150 events to audiences totalling some 25,000 a year, in a varied programme which including theatre, ballet, opera, concerts, films and live screenings.

Volunteers manage, maintain and run the Regal building to meet rigorous security and health and safety standards and operate the advanced technology of a new GDPR compliant ticketing system on the box office.  They administer the Friends of the Regal scheme, with more than 1,500 members, and the Regal Film Society, which is one of the largest film societies in the country with nearly 600 members. They also produce and distribute regular publicity material and newsletters.

Volunteers operate complex light and sound equipment for stage productions and a digital cinema package of the type installed in commercial cinemas for film performances and live screenings and design and build complex stage sets.  On performance nights they provide a highly-trained theatre manager, a front-of-house team and run a full bar.

“The Regal Theatre volunteers are immensely proud to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service,” says Regal Theatre chair Victoria Thomas.  “This really is a great honour and comes at a time when it is most needed.  Under the lockdown the theatre has now been shut for nearly three months and, although we have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes, it will be an immense challenge to find our way back to operating at the level at which we left off.  We will need all the goodwill and support of this special community to help us get back on our feet and the Queen’s Award will undoubtedly give us a terrific boost.”

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Recipients are announced each year on 2 June, the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.

In other Regal news, work to improve the fabric and safety of the Theatre has continued apace despite the lockdown in preparation for reopening.

The long-term project to replace the theatre roof has continued throughout closure and the complex scaffolding structure was completed on 22 May.  Work began the following week to remove the existing roofing material and the installation of new roofing material is scheduled to begin on 8 June.

Inside the Regal decoration and maintenance has continued, and the theatre has been awarded a grant of nearly £20,000 to develop the basement area into much-needed additional dressing rooms.

Regal volunteers are looking forward to welcoming audiences back to the Regal when it is safe to do so, and the theatre’s successful re-launch depends hugely on the support of the community.  In the meantime, local residents can support the Regal by joining the mailing list either by telephoning 01643 831343, emailing mail@regaltheatre.co.uk or visiting the website at www.regaltheatre.co.uk.

INAUGURAL EXHIBITION AT MUSEUM OF BARNSTAPLE AND NORTH DEVON’S NEW WING

The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon has opened the inaugural exhibition of its new wing.

The exhibition, named ‘Imitation of Nature’ is being held in the main gallery and showcases the paintings of F.R. Lee, the most successful artist to ever come from Barnstaple. Born in 1798, he graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts, later becoming elected member in 1838. He is a contemporary of John Constable and collaborated with Sir Edwin Landseer and Thomas Sydney Cooper.

Musuem curator, Alison Mills, says: “The new wing has been installed with the latest technology to atmospherically control the gallery at exactly the right temperature, humidity, lighting, etc. This new system means we are now able to have objects on loan from other galleries for the first time, which is very exciting for us.

“For this exhibition we have worked hard to bring together over 30 of Lee’s paintings both from private lenders and museums including Tate Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Royal Academy of Arts, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, South West Heritage Trust, The Amelia at the Amelia Scott and North Devon Athenaeum, alongside our own collection.”

There are two events planned in conjunction with the exhibition:

  • 5 December, 5.30-6.30pm: “F.R. Lee: His Place in History” – a free talk given by Professor Sam Smiles and Professor Peter Howard
  • 21 November, 10am-3pm: Landscape drawing workshop for adults led by artist James Young, costing £15 (materials included)

Spaces for both the talk and workshop are limited, so please contact the museum on 01271 346747 to book your place.

The exhibition runs until 18 January 2020.

Top: ‘View from the River’.

MORE EXCITEMENT FOR WEST COUNTRY BLACKSMITHS AT HOME AND AWAY

It has been an exciting time for Exmoor-based craftsmen West Country Blacksmiths who were featured on Grand Designs last week (read more here).

For another high-profile commission, they have also recently produced over 750 bespoke stainless-steel flowers and 4,500 leaves for the prestigious Chelsea Barracks development, built on the former Army barracks which was brought by the Qatari Diar.

The blacksmiths were awarded the unique opportunity to work in collaboration with London-based designer Tord Boontje to develop the designs and make the metalwork used to decorate the Townhouse balustrades of the development.

Each balcony of the development has a different combination of 12 flowers – all commonly found in Britain. The flowers include wild roses, garden roses, winter roses, almond blossoms, carnations, peonies, cosmos, violets and anemones.

The blacksmiths received high praise for this project and were pleased to welcome a team from Chelsea Barracks to film them at work for promotional materials and a documentary due in 2020.

Designer Tord Boontje said,  “Nowadays, it’s not so common to find blacksmiths – and especially really good ones. The better the blacksmith is, the higher the quality of the craftsmanship and the more beautifully my designs will be translated. So I spent a lot of time researching blacksmiths in Britain, and visited many different workshops.

“Eventually, I struck on West Country Blacksmiths, an exciting and accomplished team of metalworkers operating out of a seventeenth-century forge in Somerset. “They are a very highly skilled, energetic young team who are a pleasure to work with. And they have a very nice way of interpreting my designs and making them into metal.”

Closer to home, West Country Blacksmiths have restored the weathervane on the bell tower of the Market House Museum in Watchet as part of the museum’s 40th anniversary celebrations.

The wrought-iron and copper weathervane has been a feature of the Watchet rooftops for over 32 years. However, both time and exposure to the sea air had taken its toll on the weathervane, damaging the copper sailing boat and corroding the metalwork.

Allerford Forge were commissioned to restore the weathervane by the museum committee and fully funded by the Watchet Market House Museum.

The craftmen removed the weathervane for a short period to allow the ship’s sails to be replaced and the remaining copperwork to be cleaned and repaired. The smiths also restored the mainframe of the weathervane by removing over 30 years of rust and paint from the metalwork, reforging missing and damaged components and weld repairing where required.

Once the repairs were completed the blacksmiths galvanised and heritage black painted the brackets and repatinated the copper top.

The weathervane was reinstalled by the team in October and it is hoped to be there for many more years to come.

The weathervane is owned by the museum and was first installed in the bell tower in 1987, replacing a plain one which is now displayed on the lighthouse in the harbour.

THE HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS AT NUMBER SEVEN DULVERTON

Following on from the phenomenal success of The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, many will be intrigued to discover the next publication to feature Jackie’s distinctive illustrations. The Lost Words was recently awarded the prestigious CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal. Judged solely by librarians, the award is the highest accolade awarded to illustrators working in the UK – past winners include Raymond Briggs, Shirley Hughes and Quentin Blake.

Jackie is much in demand for public appearances due to the success of The Lost Words. She was recently centre stage at the Royal Albert Hall, painting live and reciting poems as part of The Lost Words BBC Prom. Number Seven has supported Jackie for many years and they are delighted to be hosting the launch party for The House Without Windows, published by Hamish Hamilton, away from the bright lights of London, here on Exmoor.

Two events are planned. The first is at Loyton Lodge, where a relaxing afternoon awaits with the aim of capturing the essence of The House Without Windows which is an entirely unique story of one little girl’s desire to escape into the wilderness.

Little Eepersip doesn’t want to live in a house with doors and windows and a roof, so she runs away to live in the wild – first in the Meadow, then by the Sea, and finally in the Mountain. Her heartbroken parents follow her, bringing her back home to ‘safety’ and locking her up in the stifling square of the house. But she slips away once more, following her heart into the richness of untrammelled nature and disappearing forever.

First published in 1927 and written by a child of just 12 years old, The House Without Windows is an extraordinary paean to the transcendent beauty of the natural world, and the human capacity to connect with it.

Throughout the afternoon Jackie will be painting and discussing her desire to illustrate and re-publish Barbara Newhall Follett’s book. Musical accompaniment is provided by cellist Julia Vohralik and principal violinist Katherine Shave. Julia has played with the Hallé and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, and Katherine was leader of the English Touring Opera Orchestra. Both currently play for the Britten Sinfonia. Christopher Jelley has mown a labyrinth into the long grass and Adam Fanson, the chef at Loyton, has planned a picnic of sandwiches, colourful cakes and pots of tea. Booking is essential and tickets (£24) are available direct from Number Seven.

The second event is on Saturday 28 September and you will find Jackie in residence at Number Seven from 10am until 3pm, signing copies of her many titles. There is no need to book and admission is free. Copies of all her titles will be available to purchase, alongside a display of new illustrations created for The House Without Windows.

www.numbersevendulverton.co.uk.

SCHOOL LAUNCHES EXCITING CREATIVE ARTS EVENTS FOR NORTH DEVON PUBLIC

West Buckland School is opening its doors as a new venue for the arts in North Devon, with the launch of ARTS@WB, an exciting cultural programme of stand-up comedy, dance, music, art and drama events, open to the North Devon public. The majority of the productions will be held in the school’s fabulous 150 Arts building, where visitors will also be able to browse exhibitions from distinguished artists.

ARTS@WB has been created by the school’s Director of Music and Performing Arts, Emma Kent, who many will know from her work with the North Devon Sinfonia and who has always been a great supporter of the arts in North Devon.

“ARTS@WB is a really exciting new venture for the school and the wider community,” she said. “Hopefully everyone will find something in the programme which will whet their appetite for culture and the arts and tempt them to visit our beautiful campus to enjoy a social and thought-provoking evening.”

As well as enjoying the main attraction, visitors are encouraged to come early, pick up a glass of something and enjoy a browse around the school’s stunning 150 Arts building where there will be a number of exhibitions on display from emerging artists.

The programme is suitable for people across the age groups and there are a limited number of student tickets, priced at just £1.

Legally Blonde and Katie Derham

Highlights for the 2019-2020 programme include a critically acclaimed circus and dance performance by Nikki Rummer and JD Broussé, a comedy club night featuring Noel Brodie, Jo Coffey, Chris Leworthy and Angie Belcher, a show-stopping production of the West End hit Legally Blonde at the Queen’s theatre and an Evening with Katie Derham – an insight into the life of the well-known arts journalist and presenter of the Proms season on the BBC.

For more information, or to download a copy of the full ARTS@WB brochure, please visit: www.westbuckland.com/arts-at-wb.

TOP: “Thirsty” by Paper Birds, just one of the many exciting productions at West Buckland School as part of their ARTS@WB.

VINTAGE & HANDMADE FAIR

Preparation is now in full swing for this September’s Vintage & Handmade event on Sunday 22 September at Barnstaple Pannier Market.

The show promises to be a colourful and theatrical spectacular with a 50s circus-themed backdrop to an incredible selection of exhibitors: an eclectic mix of vintage & retro traders, work that has been beautifully upcycled or recycled and stunning work from artisans across the South West including jewellery, prints, paintings, ceramics, candles, woodwork and textiles.

Barnstaple Pannier Market will be transformed – behind the curtained entrance you will find a ring master, usherettes with trays, vintage games, a vintage lemonade stand hosted by North Devon Against Domestic Abuse (NDADA) and a live swing band.

Cool creative workshops can be pre-booked including paper-flower making and hand-stitched embroidered brooches.

There will also be food traders and a tea & coffee lounge.

Put the date in your diary, you definitely don’t want to miss this one. Dig out your favourite vintage glad rags as dressing up for this event is actively encouraged.