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New festival celebrates culture in the community

A new arts festival co-hosted by Opera North and local residents will take place in Richmond Hill from 29 June to 7 July as the first phase of the company’s innovative community residency draws to close.

During the week, everyone living in the Burmantofts and Richmond Hill Ward will be invited to come together for a series of events created by residents for residents and featuring pop-up performances by members of the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North. Volunteers from the wider Opera North Company will work alongside the local community to help run the festivities.

Entertaining service users at Richmond Hill Elderly Action © Justin Slee

Postcode Parties will be held in four locations, giving people the chance to enjoy musical performances and free refreshments on their home patch. The first, The Great Get Together, is planned for Thursday 29 June in the car park of Richmond Hill Academy where the Year 4 pupils will sing side-by-side with members of the Chorus at the end of the school day. This will be followed by Party at the Hub on Monday 3 July to celebrate and raise the profile of the local Community Garden at the Cross Green Hub, and Picnic in the Park at East End Bowling Club on Tuesday 4 July. Led by Richmond Hill Elderly Action, this intergenerational picnic will feature performances by the Orchestra’s brass players and singers from St Vincent’s Community Centre.

The final event, Party in the (Car)Park, will be held on Thursday 6 July in the car park of Edmund House Social Club. In recognition of the strong grassroots sports in the area, a brass quintet from the Orchestra will play the Leeds United anthem ‘Marching on Together’ in front of the LUFC mural painted on the building’s wall, local youth football club, Saxton FC, will be doing skills demonstrations and local boxing club, Bethlehem Boxing, will be among the groups represented. The celebrations will then move indoors with a community cabaret event.

Josh Whitehead has been appointed Head Chef at Kino © Claire McClean Photography

Alongside these public performances, a number of private events will provide an opportunity for residents to enjoy a musical interlude in their own settings. These include a concert at a local residential care home for people living with dementia, and a celebration to coincide with the opening of a new family garden at early years provider The Vinery Centre. In what promises to be a highlight of the week, a Luncheon Banquet on Wednesday 5 July will see Opera North staff from across the organisation serving a hot meal to some of the area’s most vulnerable residents in a special edition of the community’s regular weekly meet-up. The group will enjoy a menu designed with the help of Josh Whitehead, Head Chef of Opera North’s restaurant Kino, and performances from both the Orchestra and Chorus. One of the regular volunteers at the weekly lunch club, commented:

“It’s so great the trust you are building with people here. We really like how you come and see everyone each week. Other organisations only come for one visit, drop off some flyers and go. You’re doing such a great thing.”

Ashnaa Sasikaran as Eurydice and Nicholas Watts as Orpheus. Photo credit: Tom Arber

The Richmond Hill residency was created a year ago to explore how boosting participation in cultural activities can benefit people’s lives and help strengthen relations within communities. From the outset, its focus was on working closely with those living in the area to create activities and events which directly met the needs, interests and aspirations of the residents themselves, helping to boost mental health and wellbeing across the district. Events have been held throughout the year including open rehearsals by both the Chorus and Orchestra at local venues and performances of the pop-up opera A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice.

“It’s just so brilliant to have something like this [residency] here. In the past there hasn’t been much for families to enjoy in this area and we’ve often felt forgotten. But this week is putting Richmond Hill back on the map and helping us to celebrate and be proud of who we are.”

– Community Leader

Further activity is planned in the area in the coming year to continue the relationships built up over the last twelve months, to use the creative momentum of this inaugural festival to co-create artwork with residents, and to ensure that arts and culture remain central in the community. This includes the creation of a soundwalk for which the residents will compose and record music in celebration of the community hubs, green spaces and wider environment.

The Richmond Hill Residency became possible thanks to a grant of £10,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund Awards for All.


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