The Winter Lantern Festival
The Winter Lantern festival started in 2004, since when it has become established as key cultural event for the community for the West End helping to promote a positive profile of the neighbourhood while contributing to its cultural regeneration. Each year local artists make paper and willow lanterns with local people and each year increasing numbers come from near, and far to join an enchanting procession that gathers as dusk falls, and the streets suddenly become alive with the light of scores of lanterns.
The parade, led by Baybeat Carnival band, wends its way to the square in front of The Hothouse, where the lanterns are distributed to create a dazzling display and provide a beautiful backdrop for the musicians and street performers who entertain the crowd. Hot drinks and mince pies, donated by local shops, are distributed to the audience.
For two of the last 3 years the festival has been blessed by cold, crisp starlit evenings, perfect for a twilight walk. 2014, however, was a different matter and for the first time in a long time the elements were seriously against us and it became clear early in the week that some compromises would be necessary. At 1pm on Wednesday we took the decision to cancel the procession and to move all entertainment inside The Hothouse.
We had time enough to alert the schools and to publicise the change on the website, facebook and twitter and to our various networks. It also gave us the opportunity to transform the Hothouse with twinkling fairy lights and the lanterns, and to create a magical environment that also included a grotto for Father Christmas, who gave out chocolates to all his visitors while they waited for their turn on the splodge-o-matic. The splodge-o-matic is the brainchild and wonderful invention of Shane Johnstone, a great community artist who works often with More Music. There was entertainment from the extraorinary magician and circus performer Astral Circus, from Baybeat Street Band, the Fastest One Man Band in the world and a massed choir of 40 singers from local groups came together as the Township Café Choir to sing a set of South African songs first performed in Lancaster of the AfroVibes festival in November. There was more singing from a new young peoples' singing project called LYVE (Lancashire Youth Vocal Ensemble) who were astonishing, and greatly appreciated by the audience.
A specially written Christmas song was performed by a group from More Music's Stages group showcasing the creative energy and talent of local teenagers, and the highlight of the event was a wonderful set of songs confidently and beautifully sung by the children of West End Primary School choir. Boogie Bill Roberts rounded off the evening with a suite of Christmas classics accompanied by Baybeat and the enthusiastic voices of the audience. It was a great shame that we were unable to parade the lanterns through the West End, however, transferring the rest of the event inside was certainly a good move; people stayed around longer than usual, were able to sit, to have a cup of tea, to relax in the warmth, to enjoy the entertainment and the atmosphere, rather than rushing home to get out of the cold. There were many positive comments, people really enjoyed the whole evening and there was a real sense of community with people of all ages joining the celebration.
More Music remains committed to the sustainability of seasonal community celebrations such as the West End Winter Lantern Festival and believes that they can have a profound effect on the way in which a community is perceived and how it sees itself. It is well documented that engagement with the arts and culture has a meaningful effect on the health and wellbeing of individuals as well as other positive social and economic impacts.