Reinvigorating Ashford's high street

EEA are currently working with Ashford Council developing and delivering a 2-year programme of culture and arts events with a focus on reinvigorating the High Street, place-making, legacy, growth, and accessibility. Our goal is to bring Ashford's high street back to the centre stage creating a destination through a programme of attractive, vibrant and creative seasonal events.

Additionally, our work with local artists and groups seeks to promote community cohesion, connecting local businesses, community groups and creative practitioners, highlighting and raising the profile of Ashford’s creative community and adding vibrancy and excitement to the town centre.

Our work in Y1 (Aug 19-July 20) was exceptionally well received. Major events attracting large numbers of people to the High street. Local shops are on-board with the project and have signed up to events. Local artists and practitioners have learned new skills and are making partnerships with local businesses and schools. Our Christmas event ‘Carnival of the Baubles’ was very well received and has now become a staple in Ashford, with an adapted covid-safe event delivered this year and ongoing talks for its return winter 2021.

Event satisfaction and enjoyment are also linked to the quality of the event. EEA’s proposal for Love Ashford set out to provide “ambitious large-scale, high-end” outdoor events. Audiences thought that both the events had a high quality with 65% of survey respondents rating the event quality as “very good” and a further 30% as “good”. This suggests that EEA’s programme has been successful in providing stand out experiences for audiences in Ashford.

Dr Ulrike Chouguley, Independent Evaluator

The Fabric of Ashford

Fabric of Ashford was a community co-creation art project which saw the bandstand beautifully decorated with fabric-based artworks following a design by local creatives in partnership with Made in Ashford. The installation grew over the summer with contributions from members of the public, community groups and local businesses to form a poignant tribute, making it a living, growing piece of art!

Alongside the workshops were the The Recovery Poems; inspiring, illuminated, poems written collaboratively by poets Deanna Rodger and Robert Montgomery who served as inspiration for the community to create and share their own messages. The Fabric of Ashford was an epic community effort that captured the thoughts of the community during this difficult year, but also helped us look ahead with hope and positivity.

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Carnival of the Baubles

Carnival of the Baubles was the 2nd event in EEA’s programme of cultural events in Ashford and the flagship event of the year’s programme. It was a great success with both the live event and the outreach around very well received landed locally. Carnival of the Baubles returned in 2020 with a Covid-safe adapted programme and it will come back again in 2021, hopefully in full force.

Ahead of the main event on Ashford high street, we delivered an extensive outreach programme where the community learnt to create their own withy lanterns handhelds at free art workshops delivered by local artists trained by EEA. We also worked with 6 local schools allowing the children detailed learning of the withy process and meaning that they could make their own lantern from start to finish. The 2019 event saw a 450-strong crowd process through Ashford’s high street bearing their illuminated creations. They were accompanied by two of our giant mechanical creatures, Nelly the Elephant and Roberta the Robot, our 3 Christmas ghosts, as well as a 25-strong Kentish samba band, Samba Pelo Malor, plus local dance groups including Liv2Dance. The carnival ended with a brief handheld pyro finale on the High Street before dispersing.

Carnival of the Baubles was different in 2020. Given the ongoing pandemic, the revised programme focused on finding alternative ways to continue bringing art and culture to the people of Ashford. This year Carnival of the Baubles landed not only on the high street but also made it to the safety of home with hundreds of lantern-making packs delivered across town, a big logistical operation that we completed successfully. Our packs included all materials necessary to make your own lantern, accompanied by print instructions as well as a link to a video tutorial we filmed in Made in Ashford. Our processions this year moved to the digital world with participants sharing their creations online.

Ashford Co B2020 collage participants

“Not as beautiful as many of the wonderful lanterns I have seen, but this is in memory of my next door neighbour and anyone who has received hospice care this year.”

Participant of Carnival of the Baubles 2020 - At Home

Lantern Trail - Engaging local local businesses

In 2019, We worked with 9 businesses on this project - they displayed lanterns in their shop windows and these were then paraded in the carnival, shining a light on independent business in Ashford town centre. The businesses either created a bauble whilst supported by our artist team, or they received an illuminated bauble to display in their shop window. The lantern trail returned in 2020, involving 15 different local businesses.

Made in Ashford was a very valuable partnership for this project. They are a small creative business on Ashford high street, selling art and crafts made by local artists. Their connection with the local creative workforce allowed us to reach out and employ local artists to train with us and deliver the creative making workshops. Also with Made In Ashford we were successful to raise an extra £15k from the Arts Council which helped to support the project.

We decided [the design] together and the final product was amazing. It had the message we wanted to pass across for the holiday season and brought bright presence to the shop. The bauble was something our customers asked questions about. It was nice to tell them about how Ashford businesses are in community of Loveashford and we collectively participate in such projects. They were interested with how the collabration works and were surprised and impressed such community exist. We also got quite a lot of feedback on how eye catching it was when walking past the shop. It definetely brought some colour to the shop. Looking forward to the next one!

Bahar Atilgan, Salata

Illumination Station - A hub for creation

County Square kindly donated an empty shopfront space to run open workshops for local residents. The shop space was a huge plus point to the project, sitting centrally and tieing it all together as a whole. The physical space for the artists to drop into and work from which was so highly visible to participants was invaluable.

‘Carnival of the Baubles had a positive effect of the high street on the event day. Nice community feel and increase in sales.’

Glass House owner

High Colour

High Colour was our banner-making project for Ashford designed as an enquiry into the Ashford community’s strengths and needs.

October 2020 kickstarted this project with a mix of socially distanced and online workshops with several groups across Ashford. These sessions were a creative mechanism for engaging in a non-direct and gentle way with people’s experiences from the Covid19 period which has been a time of huge change, isolation, anxiety and in some ways a period of collective grieving across society. In Spring 2020, Ashford residents were able to discover these beautiful artworks displayed on shop windows of selected businesses and also some of the empty shop units along the high street.

The workshops were kick-started with help from leading UK banner artist, Ed Hall. Hall is renowned for banner making and his eclectic and colourful banners have inspired the work of Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller and were integral to Alan Kane’s Folk Archive in 2007, with work also exhibited in Paris, Belgrade and Shanghai.  Talking about the inspiration behind the banner, Mr Hall said: "I wanted to make a banner celebrating food and drink from the Garden of England. As Dicken’s said, ‘Everyone knows Kent’ so it will feature cider, wine, hops, apples and farming and people enjoying life. The 2-m tall banner (image below) was custom made for Macknade, a local independent organic grocer.

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