“Many people have risen to the surface and found that joy and pride that comes from giving as well as receiving.”
We had a terrible time in Slaithwaite (pronounced Sla-wit!) in the 1980s and 1990s. As the textile industry in the Colne Valley began to collapse, mill closures resulted in many redundancies and short-time working. Around that time, as part of Kirklees Council’s daring cultural strategy to invest in these declining communities, participatory theatre companies were encouraged to come and live and work in the area.
One of these was Satellite Arts who have now been running the Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival in the February half-term holiday since 1985. This biennial celebration of lanterns, music and storytelling is based on a local legend, and has grown from the very modest beginnings of a couple of dozen participants to thousands of people from all over the country attending the lantern-making workshops and joining in the parade.
This year, of course, was different. People couldn’t meet to make lanterns or to parade through the streets together. Undaunted, Satellite Arts had another idea. They secured some funding and raised money through local donations and then formed a network of volunteer street ambassadors, connected by WhatsApp. Their job was to recruit people in their street to make lanterns in their homes, and to distribute free packs of paper and art materials so that these home-made creations could go up in windows all over the village.
An astonishing 472 houses took part and a “Moonshine Map” was created on the website to help people navigate the village streets to view the lanterns over the three evenings of the celebration. People were really creative – producing everything from stained glass windows to Peppa Pig displays.
It’s all on the Slaithwaite Facebook Page and was covered by BBC Look North.
This year the festival has reached parts of the community it hadn’t reached before. Children have had a go, families have worked together, and it’s connected people who haven’t previously been involved. There were some lovely, and very moving, messages from local people. One woman who is housebound and has been here for a few years says she is now connected – kids wave to her and people do her shopping – exactly what this is all about. What’s brilliant is that it has created a network that can be used to share information, which is important now during this Covid pandemic to make sure people know what’s happening, but also beyond that. People now know where they can get support if they need it and that everyone can have a role in strengthening their neighbourhoods and therefore their community. Hopefully these relationships are here to last.
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Photos and video from Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival
Thank you to Victoria for sharing this story after participating in one of our “How can more people come together to make local places better?” online workshops for Kirklees citizens.