That was the day that was
Last Saturday saw the triumphant return of the St Leonards Festival to the weekend, after last year’s midweek rescheduling to allow our proud gold-suited local ambassadors to serenade the Olympic flame in the immediate run-up to that ultimate feel-good summer. Another 7 Streets blog from Chris Connelley.
And reflecting the commitment of our emerging 7 Streets team to engage with the town every which way we can, a small group of us headed off to Warrior Square Gardens, determined to play our part, armed with our pop-up Nivea tent and a fistful of ‘cut out’ hearts – our logo – and fibre tips, to try and capture what it is that people love about our town.
On a day that prompts much anticipation, excites strong emotions and showcases St Leonards at its very best, we had made the decision to focus on the positive. Or at least to begin with, as we went about our impromptu conversations with sun kissed revellers, most of whom effortlessly got into the spirit of things and happily outlined the reasons they rate our town.
The sample, though unscientific, was diverse. Old, young, newcomers and lifers got the 7 Street overture with – and this is the interesting bit – a strangely consistent range of responses. Focusing on the unique and very special quality of the place, which, with prompting, usually came down to something about the positive effects of its diversity and ‘quirkiness’. Even those from outside the area – and we picked up surprisingly large numbers of visitors from our more sedate neighbour, Bexhill-on-Sea – paid homage to our distinctiveness. And our frontier spirit in an age of ‘clone town’ blandness.
Which is not to say that everything we heard was positive. A number of respondents picked up on the noise, drunkenness and anti-social behaviour that for them blights the overall appeal of the place, testing their tolerance to the very limit, however sympathetic they might be to diverse lifestyles. Others made reference to their feeling that many vulnerable people were lazily placed in the area, only to be left un(der) supported and vulnerable in often-poor conditions. This will surely represent a continuing concern as public funds tighten for the foreseeable future, whoever is in power.
Much of this will come as no huge surprise, though the strength of public affection for St Leonards, and the positive feeling our identity elicits, coupled with the growing excitement many feel about living here will warm the soul, and should give pause for thought.
In fact, thinking about it, the Festival itself rather models and mirrors those feelings, offering a deeply ambitious yet pleasingly informal fusion of art, culture, celebration of community and family-friendly activity that is offered entirely free of charge and is delivered for the most part by a typically eclectic ‘club mix’ of volunteers for no greater reward than a plastic bottle of still water.
Like all good ideas, the Festival has evolved over time.
One noteworthy twist this year, reprising a popular blast from the past, was the return of the Kings Road street market, which saw cars banished from this major thoroughfare for one day only, to be replaced by a day glow rainbow of gazebos and tents, offering up mouth watering foodstuffs from across the globe, along with antiques and ephemera, clothing and accessories, books and novelty products.
Bringing together new stallholder talent and established traders, quite literally able to take to the streets outside their usual premises, the market showcased the vividity of our independent traders, bringing much needed new money into our local economy.
As the afternoon wore on, the street chic ambience was further enlivened by live music making linked to the always enticing Kave Gallery, captivating the crowds and keeping visitor milling around with a smile on their face, toe tapping and spending into the evening.
Congratulations to the Town Team for running with the idea, to Anton Burton for delivering it with such aplomb, and to the Community Forum for making the whole thing possible once again.
So, the St Leonards Festival 2013. A day to remember, a day to celebrate, a day to build on and a day to be proud of.
See you next year.
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