Wednesday, 06 July 2022

Henley sets the trend!

Living advent calendar re-opens

THE success of Henley’s Living Advent Calendar is encouraging other places to follow suit.

The charity initiative was inspired by a similar event in Stockholm and was the first of its kind in Britain when it was launched by Julie Perigo in 2011.

Since then, the idea has spread to scores of towns and cities including Reading, Newbury, Twyford, Wokingham and Windsor and as far as York, Doncaster and Folkestone.

Each night in December until Christmas Eve, a hald-hour performance takes place at a different venue featuring singers, dancers, actors, musicians, comedians or choirs. The identity of each act is kept secret until they appear, just like opening the door of a real advent calendar.

Folkestone launched its version in 2015 when Sue Blakesley and Sadie Hurley, who run a local theatre company, read about the Henley event in the national press.

And this week the pair came here to see two performances and meet organiser Richard Rodway, who had previously advised them on the phone how it worked. In Folkestone, about half of the performances are by volunteers and amateurs while the remainder are by professionals, who often test new material before going on tour.

The women introduced the idea of choosing a member of the audience at random each night to open the door or window to the venue to reveal the act following a countdown.

Over the yyears, they have raised money for the mental health charity Mind, the RSPCA, homeless shelters, refugee support groups and Unicef’s Rohingya crisis appeal.

The women visited Henley on Monday and Tuesday as they are taking a break this year and wanted to see the “original” calendar in person.

On Sunday, they saw a variety performance staged by the Nomad youth and community project at Henley Baptist Church  and the following evening they watched a recital by soprano Bethany Cox behind the offices of estate agent Simmons & Sons in Bell Street.

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.

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

“It has been wonderful coming to Henley 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.”

Mr Rodway,  a solicitor who took over from Ms Perigo in 2014, said: “The Henley Living Advent Calendar is well known as the first of its kind in the UK so I get a lot of calls from people who want advice. It’s inspiring to see how the idea has spread.

“Sue and Sadie were in touch before they started theirs so it was a great experience to meet them in the flesh.

“I told them I would love to go 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!”

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