Get set for this weekend's Lancashire Encounter

Dance will play a key role in Lancashire Encounter  (photo M.A. Porter)
Dance will play a key role in Lancashire Encounter (photo M.A. Porter)

For three days Preston is set to be transformed with an arts spectacular for all age groups. Fiona Finch previews this weekend’s Lancashire Encounter and learns how culture could help regenerate the city

It should not be a case of once every Preston Guild.

A Virtual Playground will be open on the flag market for part of Encounter

A Virtual Playground will be open on the flag market for part of Encounter

That is the thinking behind the county’s next big arts event.

Friday sees the curtain go up in Preston on the biggest arts event since, well, since the last Preston Guild.

Encounter takes place across six venues and encompasses everything from song, dance and drama to film and music. It is mostly free and it is hoped it will attract people not just from the city, but from further afield too.

The main venue is the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in the heart of the city. It will also spill over onto the streets, be on the flag market, at UCLan and in city parks. Preston Council spokeswoman Shirah Bamber said: “It’s a world of creativity, culture, live performances and there is something for everyone - it’s quite a diverse programme.”

Acrobatic performers BLOCK in action  (photo Dan Tucker)

Acrobatic performers BLOCK in action (photo Dan Tucker)

The roots of Lancashire Encounter reach back to the Preston Guild of 2012. The Guild celebration takes place every 20 years. Shirah, the council’s communications and marketing manager, said: “People didn’t want to wait for another 20 years before there was a mass spectacle in the city, so we trialed a small pilot in 2015.”

In 2016 a larger festival followed. The now biennial event has got the backing of numerous sponsors including the Arts Council.

She said: “It’s very much about the community across Lancashire. There are community groups from a very major area - whether it’s in the parade or the 300 plus choir going on the Harris balcony on Friday and Saturday - it’s made up of people across the county.”

Other key players in the event include the Without Walls Network and the National Touring Arts Consortium.

The strength of backing means that the city has been able to extend invitations to acts and organisations such as BLOCK, who will perform in Winckley Square on Saturday, dance group Sufi:Zen and the Hackney Colliery Band, which played at the London 2012 Olympics and is said to have “ reinvented the brass band sound for the modern age.”

The Harris Museum and Art Gallery (pictured) is the Festival Hub and Jon Finch, Head of Culture for Preston Council, said: “It is the biggest arts festival in the city. It’s something we’ve encouraged over the past few years. We need to fill that gap between Guilds. It is something that is growing in significance in the city but also becoming something renowned across the county and the region. It shows the diversity of the arts we have in Preston and in Lancashire and the strengths of that offer.”

He continued: “There are a range of festivals that go on across the county but we have ambitions to make Lancashire Encounter into something that really is celebrating what is good about Preston and Lancashire.”

Previous Encounters have proved an economic boost, increasing footfall and spending in the city. Jon sai :d“As the Encounter continues and evolves more and more local businesses are appreciating the value it adds."

Encounter will also provide an opportunity to quiz people about the future of arts activities in the city and the way the Harris could and should develop.

He said: “The Harris seen by many as a cultural focal point of the city and it’s natural we utilise the building as one of the key hosts of the festival. There are a range of events and activities that will appeal to families and children and grown ups. Some people will want to simply watch, others want to engage and be part of it ... It’s about experiencing the arts offer.”

He believes the Harris should be playing a major role in championing and supporting the arts and cultural scene across the county and beyond and encouraging even more people to visit than the 360,000 visitors the Harris welcomed last year.

The consultation takes place at the Harris on Saturday from 11.30am to 12.40pm and will include a look at the future of Lancashire Encounter and the development of a cultural strategy for the city. The third strand will look specifically at how Preston Council can ”reposition/redevelop the Harris in the longer term.”

Jon added: “There’s a great recognition that culture should be playing a key part in the regeneration of Preston, just as it has played a key part in the regeneration of cities like Manchester.”

Jon also praised the involvement of city university UCLan in the event: “The university is critical to the success of the city and it’s been a strong supporter of the festival.”

Coun Peter Kelly, the city council’s cabinet member for culture and leisure services said: “ This year’s programme is extremely diverse with a very exciting line-up of local, regional and national artists and groups, making Lancashire Encounter festival a truly worthy legacy of the Preston Guild. I hope to see Prestonians and Lancastrians alike coming out to enjoy this exciting weekend and perhaps discovering a new side to the city.”

For film maker Amy Azra Dean the Lancashire Encounter has provided a chance for people to share what they love about Lancashire. Amy has made a 10 minute community film entitled “Show us what you love about Lancashire” which will be shown in the Harris Cafe between 5.30pm - 7.30pm on Friday.

The research associate for media practice at UCLan promises not just Preston but places as diverse as Burnley, Blackburn, Chorley, Ormskirk, Morecambe and Lancaster but also hidden parts of Lancashire will feature. She said: “It was an open call, an opportunity for people to send in their films clips and photos. It was an opportunity for the community to come together.”

* Lancashire Encounter runs from September 21 -23. Full details can be found at www.lancsencounter.co.uk