On your Doorstep in Wirksworth – The historic Dales town brings something new and vibrant to life in the 21st century

sp91584'Nightingale Chorus at Waltham House
sp91584'Nightingale Chorus at Waltham House

Centred on an ancient church, its higgledy piggledy streets rising and dipping around the surrounding hills, Wirksworth is a place like no other.

And its one-off setting has led to a unique sense of community in the compact, stone built town.

On Your Doorstep: Tutor Jill Rapoport guides members of the Wirksworth Yoga Club through a series of stretches at their weekly session at the Town Hall.

On Your Doorstep: Tutor Jill Rapoport guides members of the Wirksworth Yoga Club through a series of stretches at their weekly session at the Town Hall.

I spoke to some of the groups and people who make Wirksworth such a vibrant, community-driven place.

One of the biggest and most famous community events in the town is the Wirksworth Festival, which starts on Friday, September 9 for three weeks.

Each year the festival brings new contemporary visual art to the streets, churches, cottages, houses, halls and outdoor spaces of the town. Lacking gallery or theatre spaces, the festival makes a virtue of its location, seeking out and infiltrating the town’s abundance of quirky and distinctive spaces.

Alison Foote, manager of Wirksworth Festival, said: “Some people come to browse, others are looking for that perfect, unique piece of artwork but I think what people are really interested in is a great day out and we try hard to make sure that happens.”

Transition Wirksworth

Transition Wirksworth

With so much going on it’s quite a feat of organisation for Alison and her team of part time staff and volunteers but one they find rewarding as well as challenging.

She said: “The best thing is the wonderful comments we get from the people who come along; and our audiences are growing every year so we know we are doing something right.

“The festival relies heavily on the goodwill of Wirksworth people to grow and survive. The community is where this fantastic festival came from and it’s where we will always go back to.”

The Wirksworth Transition Initiative formed 18 months ago as part of the nationwide Transition network, which aims to make a positive response to climate change and fossil fuels running out.

Wirksworth on your doorstep community football sessions

Wirksworth on your doorstep community football sessions

Organiser Glennie Kindred said: “Somebody in the town put out a little card asking if we were interested in sustainability and supporting local businesses. Several of us went to a meeting in the town hall and since then we’ve held various film nights raising people’s awareness about the possibility of being prepared for when oil get so expensive that we won’t be able to use cars.

“It’s important to strengthen local resilience. The whole thing about Transition is to support local people.

“We grow and buy as much locally as we can. We support local shops, and out of that we’ve got several groups.”

The group also has a website, at www.transitionwirksworth.co.uk

On Your Doorstep: Wirksworth Festival board member and volunteer Wendy Johnson, festival manager Alison Foote, volunteer Tim Child and trails administrator Frances Rostron pictured outside their headquarters in North End.

On Your Doorstep: Wirksworth Festival board member and volunteer Wendy Johnson, festival manager Alison Foote, volunteer Tim Child and trails administrator Frances Rostron pictured outside their headquarters in North End.

The community-led nature of the town is reflected by the Friends of Waltham House, a group that works to promote the wellbeing of the residents of Waltham House care home and older people in the community by supporting a wide range of activities, such as gardening, singing, music, visits and outings.

Secretary Anne Oldak said: “We’ve got a working community. A lot of people have pledged to be part of the Friends group.

“We’ve just carried out a gardening project to try and improve access to the garden and involve residents. They have their own choir as well.

“The choir will be singing in Wirksworth Festival this year. They’re joining forces with our community choir to put on a social evening. One of the singers used to work with opera singers, training them to a very high standard, so she is a great addition to the choir.

“There’s also an arts group organised by Susie Botting that goes on every Saturday.”

The Friends keep a data base of community skills offered by volunteers and match them with the type of interests and activities which the users of Waltham House would like. Anybody who would like to get involved should contact the Anne Oldak on 01629 822844.

Elsewhere in Wirksworth, people are getting in touch with their spiritual side at Liila Yoga.

Livvy Punnett and her sister Siobhan set up Liila in 2008 to be a creative yoga centre that anyone can do, take part in and have fun with.

Livvy Punnett said: “We’re one of the only centres in the UK outside London to do Anusara yoga. The philosophy of Anusara yoga is non-dual and honours people’s individuality on many levels.”

Livvy, Siobhan and former GP Jill Rapoport all teach classes at Wirksworth Town Hall.

Livvy said: “It’s going down really well. Jill was a GP for years and now she’s qualified to teach yoga. I’ve done my teacher training and now I’m one of only five people in the UK who have got spirit status.

“The rest are all in London, so we’re almost unique in this country.”

Details of classes are available at www.liilayoga.co.uk

And the community spirit has been riding high at Anthony Gell School over the summer holidays.

Students have been enjoying free football sessions run by Derby County in the Community coaches and funded by police and the Derbyshire Dales Community Safety Partnership.

There’s still time to get involved, as the sessions will be available every Friday evening until early September on the school’s all-weather outdoor pitches.

PC Doug Eyre from the Wirksworth Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team said: “These sessions are a great opportunity for young people of all ages to learn skills from professional football coaches and it gives them something enjoyable to do during their holidays.”

And he praised the town’s community spirit.

He said: “There’s so much going on in Wirksworth, there’s a real sense of community. Everybody just gets on with things, there’s so many different groups and organisations. It’s great.”