Ulverston’s identity as Furness’ premier ‘Festivals Town’ was really a development of the 1980s and 90s kick-started by the initiatives of a community arts company known as Welfare State International. They were pioneers of a movement known as ‘socially engaged art’ where, basically, everyone is encouraged to join in, to create art for themselves, and be involved in the results. They arrived in Ulverston in 1979, by which time they had already been responsible for many spectacular outdoor events both nationally and internationally. Their early initiatives in Ulverston included family-oriented Carnival Nights in The Gill, the now famous and award-winning Lantern Parade, and the Spring Flag Festival.
Ulverstonians already knew of course how to put on a show, as seen in the annual Carnival parade (whose origins actually go back as far as 1899), and through the various music and drama festivals which were already firmly established. But when WSI arrived on the scene it was as if the creative energy which had fuelled these events was, at that time, somehow laying dormant. It was then as if WSI’s activities lit a fuse which would unleash a level of energy and creativity which would ultimately produce the explosion of festival events which now make up Ulverston’s annual programme. These include celebrations of local food and drink, Ulverston’s heritage, walking, cycling, printmaking, music, comedy, Cumbrian folk traditions – all rounded off each year by the increasingly popular winter Dickensian Festival.
All of these events of course bring great economic benefits to the town. We know well that High Streets everywhere are being crushed by out-of-town retail parks, supermarkets and on-line shopping. Over the last 20 or 30 years Ulverston’s festival programme has undoubtedly played a major role in the town’s economic regeneration where the emphasis on fun and community involvement has brought large numbers of people back to the High Street. It’s a model that many other towns are now following.
Further details of the history and origins of Ulverston’s Festivals can be found in Graham Whalan’s new book “Ulverston: Festivals Town”. He describes it as ‘a celebration of Ulverston and its people, as well as its history and values as a community.’ John Fox MBE, a founder member of WSI, says in the Foreword, it should be ‘recommended to every town planner as an inspiration.’
“Ulverston: Festivals Town” (ISBN: 978-1-5272-4187-9) is published by Stable Door Press, and priced at £8.99. It is available in Ulverston, or via Amazon.co.uk.
Annual Festivals & Events
Listed below are Ulverston’s major annual festivals and events. There are many other festivals and recurring events in Ulverston that you’ll find in our events calendar. Almost all of these events are run by volunteers, and the organisers rarely turn down offers of help!