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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

Big ideas come to life at Rochdale’s 'NEW IDEAS' festival

Review by Steve Cooke


Imagination, creativity and discoveries were celebrated during a busy week of inspirational events accompanying the re-opening of Rochdale Town Hall at the first Rochdale Borough Festival of Ideas.


Over 20 free family-friendly events took place, including eye-catching visual arts, live music, theatre performances, games, thought-provoking talks, dance and interactive installations.


The festival opened with a dramatic and colourful light show at Rochdale Town Hall attended by over 1,000 visitors. The illuminating performances were set to a new soundtrack created for the event by Daniel Mawson and a new spoken word piece by Jenny Berry combining Rochdale’s past achievements and famous names with aspirations for the future as the town hall begins a new chapter.


There were two sold out concerts by the legendary Black Dyke Band, repeating a famous piece of history as they were the band who performed at the ceremony when the building first opened back in 1871.


In a celebration of young people’s ideas, the festival worked with 1,850 school children to generate 10,000 brilliant ideas, which was displayed as part of a giant sculpture.


The festival saw a world premiere of a stunning outdoor installation - ‘The Living Dress,’ a large-scale naturally-dyed, handmade dress worn by a five-metre high sculpture on The Esplanade.


Fluid Motion Theatre presented their ‘Take Ten’ performance installation; inviting guests to relax and take a moment on colourful swing chairs, guided by a soothing soundtrack. The artistic performance was around the idea of mental wellbeing, underpinned by the ‘Five steps to mental wellbeing’ and lots of positive feedback was received from residents.


Power Up – was a fast-paced and popular event where visitors tried out an exciting range of ESports games at Middleton Arena in partnership with Hopwood Hall College. Visitors learnt what it takes to create a brilliant game and how new technology is being used.


Number One Riverside hosted ‘Theatre Electric; an immersive virtual reality experience which took players on a journey into another world using cutting-edge technology for a thrilling adventure.


Muslim Hikers, the largest community in the world for Muslims interested in the outdoors held a gentle hike through some of the borough’s beauty spots around Littleborough.


Move Manchester presented ‘Zugzwang’ at Rochdale Town Hall – their dynamic dance performance set on a giant chess board, commissioned and supported by M6 Theatre.


There was no shortage of local ideas, with the festival showcasing ideas home-grown in the borough commissioned in partnership with The Culture Co-op, Rochdale borough’s Creative People and Places Programme, funded by Arts Council England.  These included the weird and wonderful ‘Maker Games’ at Castlemere Banqueting Hall - a battle of creativity and ingenuity as teams battled it out in a mix of Scrapheap Challenge and Taskmaster.


The Nigeria Community Association hosted African Fashion Week at the town hall on International Women's Day, showcasing a range of styles from Africa and beyond. The event drew a big audience as models walked the runway in stunning garments to a live DJ set.


Rochdale’s music heritage was celebrated with ‘Rock Dale Wall of Sound’ bringing to life the important role it played in string of small and innovative music studios from the late sixties onwards with an installation inside Rochdale Exchange Shopping Centre. A pair of giant headphones and accompanying soundtrack moved visitors through the decades alongside a mural bringing to life the story of the music, the studios and bands.


Award-winning Emma Reynolds, author-illustrator of ‘Drawn to Change the World: 16 Youth Climate Activists, 16 Artists’ hosted comic-making workshops to show how the power of imagination and art can transform our collective future.


The festival’s eclectic programme also included salon talks across the borough and sessions with local organisations about how we can all make the future as green as possible. A ‘Future Green Spaces’ debate in Littleborough heard young people share their ideas of what places like Rochdale could be like in the future. Facilitated by Elizabeth Zeddie Lawal it was organised in conjunction with The Lowry and the National Theatre's Speak Up Programme that aims to inspire a movement of young people to speak up about the issues that matter to them.


The event closing this year's festival was ‘Speakers' Corner’ at the new Pionero Lounge in Rochdale with guests including Mohammed Rahman from Rochdale Science Initiative, Asma Begum from Soul Sisters: Empowering People, Anne Cleary from Rochdale Empire and Steve Cooke from All Across the Arts & Vibe Rochdale along with live music from folk singer/songwriter Kirsty Almeida.


Councillor Janet Emsley, the council’s cabinet member for equity, safety and reform, said: “This new festival provided a fascinating mix of events and activities which educated, entertained and inspired audiences of all ages. It certainly broke a few boundaries and delivered things that visitors will not have seen before and we’ve already received wonderful feedback. Accompanying the re-opening of the town hall gave the whole week a very special feel, a real milestone and the opening evening event was spectacular. The festival certainly lived up to its name and we’re already collating ideas for the next one!”


A number of events incorporated the climate emergency and this theme will continue with a ‘Climate Conversations’ schools debate at the town hall later this year and other opportunities to share your views on what you think the council should focus on to tackle it.


Rochdale Borough Festival of Ideas was staged by the council, produced by Outdoor Places Unusual Spaces Ltd and supported by The Culture Co-op. It received government funding through the Shared Prosperity Fund, Arts Council England, DCMS Cultural Development Fund. The major restoration of Rochdale Town Hall was funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Rochdale Borough Council.

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