The people of the Garden Quarter know how to put on a street party. They’ve been doing it longer than Hoole or Brook Street. But you’d be forgiven for not knowing it. Previous shindigs have stuck to the enclaves. Whereas the Hoole and Brook Street festivities are heavily trader-focused, showcasing Faulkner as a fine example of the Great British high street and Brook as a hub of diverse independents, the Garden Quarter Residents and Traders Community Association has hitherto focused on the residents, placing helter skelters and circus acts on the front steps of Victorian terraces.
That’s all set to change on Saturday 21st September. On that day, stages, street acts and market stalls are replacing cars on Garden Lane, the area’s main thoroughfare. Popular pubs The Bouverie, The Goat & Munch and The Chichester Arms will be spreading out onto the street with barbecues and European-style pavement seating to complement already alluring beer gardens. While lettings agency Bed will be turned into a green room for performers.
Up-sizing the traditional revelries has required a leap of faith from organisers, not least because of the additional costs involved in staging and security. Two years in the making, fundraising events including an Easter family fun day in Water Tower Gardens and a wine tasting at Bishop Lloyd’s Palace helped to swell the association’s coffers (while also being enjoyed in their own right) but the big event remained dependent on grant applications to One Stop’s Carriers for Causes, the Ursula Keyes Trust and the National Lottery Community Fund. When all three gave their backing in the space of three days in late July, combined with a profitable crowdfunding campaign, it was full steam ahead with the festival and a sign, hopefully, that the heavens are smiling on it (the heavens opened on the Garden Quarter’s last street party on Cambrian Road and their track-record with the weather is patchy to say the least!). Councillors Rudd, Dixon and Delaney of the newly established Chester City and the Garden Quarter ward have also supported community endeavours with a generous contribution from their members’ budget.
Festival on the Lane is the upshot of a lot of hard work from a dedicated group of residents. However, the prime mover and shaker behind it all is Sarra Cooper, chair of the Garden Quarter’s festivals and events committee. A former University of Chester student, she loved the area so much that she hung around and now lives on Catherine Street with her husband and six-month-old child. Fair to say there aren’t many first-time mothers who devote a sizeable chunk of their maternity leave to organising a major community event expected to attract a crowd in the hundreds, if not thousands. “It’s definitely a team effort,” clarifies an enthusiastic but ever-so-slightly anxious Sarra. “Things are coming together and I can’t wait to see the fruits of everybody’s labour but at this stage of proceedings I’m also beginning to pray that everything will be alright on the night!”
She’s ably supported by association co-chair Matt Baker, founder of Theatre in the Quarter and musical director of the glitzy A Handbag of Harmonies and Chester’s first LGBTQ choir Proud Marys, both of whom will be performing on the main stage. They will be joined by The Fakes, The Haphazards and customary headliners, the twelve-piece powerhouse Safehouse, among others. The acoustic stage, meanwhile, will play host to talented local singer-songwriters, a University Quartet and a quirky pets’ parade in which the Buddy Cup, named in honour of a previous winner, will be awarded to the victor. And appealing to the younger population, a play bus will be parked at one end of the Lane, with storytelling and relaxing craft activities taking place in the gorgeous wildflower meadow on the adjacent Orchard Street. Volunteers from Northgate Church will also be manning a ‘games alley’ featuring the likes of hook-a-duck and beat-the-keeper.
The key message behind the event? The Garden Quarter celebrates its diversity: home to families, students, churches, care homes and a primary school at which more languages are spoken than any other in Cheshire West and Chester, all are welcome here. Sarra explains, “There’s a strong sense of community in the Garden Quarter and a very active residents association but we’ve still had feedback from previous events held on residential streets that some people didn’t think they were invited. By holding this year’s party on Garden Lane, as well as giving the traders a chance to join in, we wanted to make it clear that EVERYONE is welcome!”
The re-arranged Chester Pride takes place the following day but if you want to see local colour and community pride then Garden Lane should be your first port of call next weekend.
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