Saved! The Gathering goes on

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THE show will go on after all for Morpeth’s 44th Northumbrian Gathering.

Concerns had been raised late last year that the popular annual festival could be called off as organisers struggled to find funds.

But as the organising committee came together for its annual general meeting last month, members agreed that they would pull out all the stops to ensure some form of the event would go ahead.

And despite the difficulties, a packed programme has been planned for the weekend after Easter once again.

Committee Chairman Kim Bibby-Wilson said: “The AGM took place with those able to get along keen to make the best of the situation and plans are afoot to seek a more solid foundation for the future once the extent of Government and other cuts becomes apparent.

“Weather problems have interrupted the process of seeking funding and we can’t cut overheads, such as insurance, licences and hall hire, so any savings would have to be in artistic programming, which is the whole point of the event.

“However, some local performers have kindly offered to help out without taking fees over the Gathering weekend.”

Organisers were braced for funding difficulties for this year’s event given the difficult economic situation, and county council core funding for the Gathering was slashed by 88 per cent, with little chance of there being any more in the future.

However, there was also an unexpected problem to add to the uncertainty when the Gathering’s parent body, Morpeth Antiquarian Society, had to move its museum collections from the Town Hall to make room for offices.

The search for alternative premises and packing for the move took up considerable time, preventing the volunteers from organising the Gathering’s usual autumn fundraising events and impeding the grant application process.

Members are still applying for funds, but a substantial programme will now go ahead.

This year’s event takes place during the Royal Wedding weekend of Prince William and Kate Middleton so there will be activities planned to celebrate the occasion, including artwork at the Saturday morning pageant reflecting the traditional marriage customs of the area.

There will be maypole dancers to mark May Day and workshops and performances by traditional Spanish dancers Es Rebost, who come from Menorca, the former Mediterranean home of Morpeth’s naval hero Admiral Lord Collingwood.

Unfortunately, the main battle re-enactment group cannot attend this year’s festival, but there will be smaller-scale battles based on the Border Reivers.

Locals will be recruited to join in. It is hoped that it will appeal particularly to those who share surnames of the Reiver families, such as Charlton, Armstrong, Hall and Robson.

The On the Write Lines theme will put local stories and legends in the spotlight, and there will also be a celebration of the railways, including a gala concert supported by the Robert Stephenson Trust, featuring music relating to the railways and headliners the High Level Ranters.

There will be a Winners’ Concert, topped by school group Fligarishon and their tutor Stewart Hardy, as well as the usual programme of music, workshops, literature, dance and craft competitions, exhibitions, films, drama, puppets, bellringing, street theatre, storytelling, orienteering, walks and talks.

Mrs Bibby-Wilson said: “The Gathering is seen as a highlight of the town’s cultural and tourism offer and it aims to populate Morpeth’s spaces with a mix of enjoyable, welcoming experiences, while also boosting the local economy and community morale at a time of considerable uncertainty for retailers and residents, many of whom are local government employees.”

The Gathering winter concert will take place at Morpeth Town Hall on Friday, March 11, starring Alistair Anderson. Tickets are available from the Tourist Information Centre in Morpeth Chantry.

The main festival runs from Friday, April 29 to Sunday, May 1.

For further information, or to become a patron or donor to the Gathering, contact Mrs Bibby-Wilson on 01670 513308 or visit www.northumbriana.org.uk