Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Living advent calendar has inspired other communities

Living advent calendar has inspired other communities

THE success of Henley’s Living Advent Calendar is inspiring other towns to launch similar schemes.

Sue Blakesley and Sadie Hurley, who visited Henley to watch the 16th and 17th nights of this year’s event, founded the Folkestone Living Advent Calendar in 2015 after reading about our own in the national press.

The pair, who run it through their theatre company Jimjam Arts, phoned organiser Richard Rodway to find out how it worked before adapting the idea to fit their home town.

As in Henley, the town hosts performances by various musicians, actors, comedians, dancers and other community groups at a different location on every evening in the run-up to Christmas.

About half of the performances are by volunteers and amateurs including local schoolchildren while the remainder are by professionals who are often trialling new material before taking it on tour.

The women introduced the idea of picking a member of the audience at random each night and, following a countdown, having them open the door or window to the venue to reveal that evening’s guest.

In recent years it has raised money for the mental health charity Mind, the RSPCA, homeless shelters and refugee support groups and Unicef’s Rohingya crisis appeal.

The founders decided to visit Henley as they are taking a break this year and wanted to see it for themselves. Neither had visited the town before or met Mr Rodway in person.

They watched a variety performance by the Nomad youth and community project at Henley Baptist Church last Sunday night and the following evening’s recital by soprano Bethany Cox in the grounds of Simmons and Sons estate agents.

Ms Blakesley said: “We really liked the idea and realised we could easily adjust it to our way of doing things. Over the years it has become our biggest and most popular project by far.

“There’s a big artistic community in Kent and we enjoy getting people involved. A half-hour slot isn’t that long but it’s enough to try out new ideas and people have launched new shows off the back of it.

“We’re having a year off so we thought it would be nice to see another living advent calendar and it’s rather refreshing not to be worrying about coordinating performers, marshalling the crowds and things like that.

“It’s been wonderful coming here and we’ve really enjoyed seeing both an indoor and an outdoor performance. Everyone has been really friendly and welcoming and you can see that Henley’s is a real community effort.

“We were also pleased to finally meet Richard as he was there at the start of it all and really helped us to get ours off the ground.”

Henley’s living advent calendar was inspired by a similar event in Stockholm and was the first of its kind in Britain when it was launched in 2011. Since then, the idea has spread to scores of towns and cities including Reading, Wokingham and Windsor and places further afield such as York and Doncaster.

Mr Rodway, who took over as chairman from founder Julie Perigo in 2014, said: “Henley is well known as the first of its kind in the UK so I get a lot of calls from people who want advice.

“Sue and Sadie were in touch before they even started theirs so it was a great experience to meet them in the flesh. It’s inspiring to see how the idea has spread beyond this town.

“I told them I would love to come and see theirs next year but we’re only a small team and there’s a lot of work involved so it would depend on whether I could get the time off!”


with pic 1812672 showing left to right Sadie Hurley, the Glen-O-Tron 4000, the Roddinator and Sue Blakesley at night 17 at Simmons and Sons

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