England’s biggest heritage festival – and why we love being part of it all!

Strictly has sequins and spray tans - but September is also about HODs and fuchsia pink! - says local coordinator Sarah Flannery. As founder of Knutsford Promenades, Sarah has spearheaded a glittering and growing festival offer in the town and beyond. So who better to tell us about this year's highlights and how they sourced such a diverse array of events? Over to you Sarah...

Once again, my conservatory is awash with banners, balloons and stickers ready to roll out around the town of Knutsford. This is the third year that Knutsford Promenades, a small community association of volunteers who are mad about heritage and culture, has been the hub organiser for a multi-site, multi-event known locally as Knutsford Heritage Open Days.

Being part of the HODs family has transformed the town every September. Now that we curate a programme that showcases the town and its history, we get thousands of visitors who are keen to discover new stories.

We start with a theme

Not just any theme, of course. Our starting point is the national HODs theme. This is all the inspiration we need! In 2016, we presented Canute’s Crossing, a leap through 1,000 years of history with European links. In 2017, we presented Alan Turing and his legacy, based on the national LGTBQI theme and our own unique connection as the town where Turing’s court case took place. As one of four locations for #unsungstories, people still talk about our remarkable festival with Regina v Turing and Murray as its highlight, along with support from the likes of ‘Judge’ Rob Rinder and Sir Dermot Turing. This year, it’s Extraordinary Women and once again, we have a winning combination of well-known and hidden histories to present.

We have lots of coffee

Our first meetings are very creative! My approach is always ‘if there’s a will, there’s a way’ so we start with a big vision and see how far we get. Luckily, we have built up a huge number of wonderful partnerships, sponsors, volunteers and contacts who are brilliant at making things happen.

We have local Extraordinary Women…

We were so excited when we were told that this year’s HODs theme was Extraordinary Women with put her forward as the Unsung Stories commission. Knutsford was novelist Mrs Gaskell’s blueprint for Cranford; she lived in the town from infancy until her marriage and is buried here, with her husband William and two of her children.  Alison Uttley, another grande dame of English literature, also lived in Knutsford, so that got me thinking…

…connected by a train line?

Our community rail partnership launched a booklet called Amazing Women by Rail that features historical women who hail from towns along the Mid-Cheshire Line, from Chester to Manchester. It’s a cultural powerhouse! Mary Fildes (Peterloo Massacre) to Emmeline Pankhurst via Elizabeth Raffald, Mrs Gaskell, Helen Allingham and many others. So, I thought, why not commission a piece of community theatre that interweaves their stories with one of the performances taking place on the very train line that connects them?

Introducing From Station to Station

So this year we have a festival of talks, walks, hidden gems and historic sites about local women who’ve shaped history, with a new community production as our centrepiece. From Station to Station is a literal journey through time, space and imagination: Mrs Gaskell and Alison Uttley meet face to face in the modern world, due to a ‘time slip’ – an idea inspired by Uttley’s book ‘A Traveller in Time’. The props represent the women and their towns and were created by local communities. Two performances take place in Knutsford; one on the 1102 from Chester to Manchester; and one at Manchester Piccadilly.

Add Eccles cakes, a brilliant artist, Charlotte Brontë…

What other festival combines so many strands? As well as our extraordinary women, we’re featuring unexpected links between Alison Uttley and Charles Tunnicliffe RA, Elizabeth Raffald and Eccles cakes, Mrs Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë and much more - Heritage Open Days is a gloriously eclectic mix! Check out www.knutsfordpromenades.co.uk or the national event directory for full details.

About Sarah Flannery

Founder and Chair of Knutsford Promenades