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Cockermouth Post Article April 2015 – Development of Kirkgate Centre as an Arts and Heritage Centre

Many people will have heard of the exciting plans to create a heritage hub at the Kirkgate Centre, with the help of Heritage Lottery funding. Our group has sought for many years a greater recognition of the importance of celebrating the rich history of Cockermouth and surrounding area. Whilst many towns nearby have some presence, however small, where local heritage can be celebrated, the town of Cockermouth has been sadly lacking in that respect. We do, of course, have the excellent Wordsworth House, celebrating the life and times of William Wordsworth, but there has been nowhere to act as a base for the history of the town.

Just a few days ago the Kirkgate Centre was successful in the first stage of its application for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will allow a start to be made on turning this dream into reality. As part of this process the Museum Group now gets a new name, the Cockermouth Heritage Group, and in due course will be looking to expand its pool of volunteers significantly. Stage 1 of the plans includes the appointment of a Heritage Engagement Officer to work with volunteers in the Heritage Group and also with a newly appointed Heritage Project Assistant. Significantly, these exciting plans coincide with the 20th birthday celebrations of the Kirkgate Centre, and there will be an event, probably in June, which will celebrate the history of the building. We hope many people in the town will want to support this. For those of you who attended the old All Saints’ School, we would value your memories of those days.

The Kirkgate Centre started life as a National School in 1869, closing in 1972. It was a temporary base for the Derwent Athletics Club, and it was later saved from demolition by members of the Cockermouth Civic Trust. Peter and Barbara Colley, amongst others, played an important role in the rescue of the building, and subsequent fund-raising. It was reinvented in 1995 as the Kirkgate Centre, providing a base for theatre performances and a variety of arts activities. The intention was always there to incorporate a heritage provision, but this never materialised because of the need to rent out potential museum space to other groups. The Heritage Group had to content itself with staging occasional exhibitions, whilst amassing a growing archive of photographs, ephemera, objects and research related to Cockermouth’s past. With the advent of our website we found ourselves answering regular queries, both locally, nationally and internationally. Our collections of artefacts have also been popular, being loaned to schools and residential homes for discussion purposes. The proposed plans for the Centre mean that new and inventive approaches to making use of that local history collection can be planned. Hopefully, we can soon look forward to a new chapter, when the heritage of Cockermouth and the surrounding area can take centre stage. Watch this space!

Gloria Edwards

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