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  • Writer's pictureSofia Cann

'For The Love of Wetherby'

Updated: Mar 5, 2022

Wetherby Stories told by the people of Wetherby


A project supported & funded by Leeds 2023 Year of Culture

‘For the Love of Wetherby’ is a project that came to fruition during lockdown when the arts and culture sector was forced to go dark due to the pandemic. Two local theatre directors planted a seed of an idea that has since grown and is now ready to bloom thanks to support and funding from Leeds 2023. The project focuses on the identity of Wetherby as a ward of Leeds and part of Leeds 2023. It’s a collaboration between the lead artists John R. Wilkinson and Ali Pidsley, and the community to share stories they want to tell. The project is now at the stage of collating memories and stories of this historic town located in West Yorkshire via a call out to anyone who wishes to take part in this legacy project.

Wetherby-born John R. Wilkinson and Ali Pidsley were keen to keep on working and using their skills and knowledge to help give the people of Wetherby a voice and an outlet for creativity by sharing their stories, real or imagined, of the area.

Wilkinson and Pidsley are proud of Wetherby and are frustrated at having had to venture outside the area and travel across the country to find opportunities to feed their creative ideas with one of them working at York Theatre Royal in North Yorkshire and the other living and working in London pre-pandemic. With almost two years in and out of lockdown due to COVID, they have had plenty of time to come up with creative ideas, but this time closer to home, and as part of this project, they are running free writing and storytelling workshops in the new year for the residents of Wetherby as a way of sharing their knowledge and experience for free whilst collating some heart-warming stories of the town.

Wetherby in West Yorkshire is a town known for its horticultural, Britain in Bloom titles, and is steeped in rich history with it being a picturesque market town. Technically it’s a City of Leeds metropolitan borough, but right on the very edge and the residents are fairly forgiving of those who haven’t recognised it as part of the Leeds borough. Many have probably passed by the town or had a short stop off in the area as a break in their journey up and down the country. But there is far more to this stunning town and this project aims to seek out the stories from the people who know it best.

Wetherby is actually situated 12 miles from Leeds, 12 miles from York, and 8 miles from Harrogate, on the River Wharfe. It sits within the Elmet & Rothwell parliamentary constituency (traditionally Labour but turned Blue in 2010 and Alec Shelbrooke has been MP since). The town square hosts a regular market on Thursdays with highlights including the classics, Yorkshire Cheese, ‘The Fish Man’ and the Biscuit Stall.

The library is just off the Town Square and then there’s the famous Wetherby Whaler! Rightly enshrined in takeaway folklore, labelled the best inland Fish & Chips in the country. Founded in 1969, and has branches all over the region – Pudsey, Guiseley, Tadcaster, York and Wakefield. Their notoriety led to them becoming a Walkers Crisps taste icon with 4 million packs of Wetherby Whaler fish and chips inspired crisps were sold during the summer.

John and Ali know that their hometown very much has its own rich identity within the community, many of whom have a story of their own and yet they often risk being lost as the generations pass on and people pass through the area.

Residents from the area and anyone with a story relating to Wetherby are being encouraged to share their stories and experiences of Wetherby to initiate a culture and community of creative people showcasing the best of Wetherby to those in and outside of the area.

The project would like to hear from the young to the old, from the landowner to the till operator, and to the young person residing at the local young offender’s prison. Those within the community or passing through can receive free advice and skills on how they can record the memories they have, not only for just their own families and friends but for all generations to come.

The stories can be told and shared in writing, spoken word, performed, painted, or drawn. The overall aim of the project is to bring people together through storytelling as we approach another tough period with the Omicron COVID virus and at a time when so many will already feel alone and isolated. The project also aims to encourage people from other wards of Leeds to visit the area and enjoy these heartfelt stories.

The free workshops will start the process of collating stories from those taking part. People will be coached, advised, and encouraged to share and record their memories so their stories will never be lost, and so others can experience the fascinating insight into the welcoming community of Wetherby’s past and present, and far into the future.

Those who wish to take part will be supported by the duo and other professional partners such as theatre and TV writers with the free workshops that will be available in person and or via Zoom - depending on the updates from the Government regarding COVID. For more information, to attend the free workshops and share stories,

email or Ali Pidsley on or call 07894 240982

John R. Wilkinson said, “Living in Wetherby, we have had to work harder to establish strong networks in urbanised centres. I believe the work created during this project presents an exciting, exemplary case of making art outside of accepted locations: A city-based festival aiding creativity in one of its most decentralised wards. The opportunity will enable future collaborations from existing and new relationships, presenting learning points around community co-creation and green-conscious making. Increasing LS22’s profile will encourage artists to stay in the area, increasing opportunities to deliver outstanding work.”

John is a theatre director with Cerebral Palsy. He’s the tenth recipient of the Genesis Future Directors Award at the Young Vic. Most of his credits are intense, modern classics but he has also worked on large-scale musicals and festivals of new work for young people. For the past two years, he’s been Associate Director on NT Connections. He trained at Bretton Hall College and on the National Theatre Directors Course and undertook research into new work and touring companies with English Touring Theatre, Wise Children, Stockroom and the Royal Court, via Arts Council England’s Developing Your Creative Practice. Trusteeships: Pilot Theatre, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Middle Child, SDUK.

Ali Pidsley said, “We want to hold a series of open-access workshops - in-person & online - that encourage story-telling. The stories might be fictional or based around peoples' own experiences. They might be directly connected to Wetherby, but they might not be. The stories might be written, spoken, performed, drawn, shared in some way with others. We're open to anything. The point of this is to let the people of Wetherby have their voices heard, and for people to see Wetherby as a place to get involved in culture & art. It's a project we're dead excited about. What we need now are local partners who can get similarly excited about the project and ideally support the delivery - help us get the word out, talk to your customers or members about it, maybe host a workshop, participate in the activity yourself, that sort of thing!”

Ali’s practice is rooted in collaboration and ensemble. His background is in devised performance and working with text, forming theatre company Barrel Organ in 2014. Ali now makes work collaborating with young people, non-professional makers and artists at the very beginning of their careers. He is developing an adaptation of a classic novel working with a company of 15 young people from all over the UK, who worked together remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic to explore how (and if) old stories still have relevance today. Ali is an Associate of NSDF and a Mentor Director with NT Connections. In 2019-20, before moving back to his hometown of Wetherby, Ali did a project with the Young Vic’s Taking Part department working with young people from Travelling communities around London.

‘For the Love of Wetherby’ is a project that’s very much a part of the concept of ‘My World, My City, My Neighbourhood’ which will contribute towards arts engagement and participation to confirm Wetherby as a creative hub of Leeds, and very much part of Leeds 2023, year of culture. The project is also supported and funded byLeeds 2023.

Anyone interested in this community project can find out more and express their interest by subscribing to the dedicated newsletter online by emailing the team or call 07894 240982 at the earliest opportunity so their stories can be captured and shared by March 2022.

For more information, please contact Cann Communications

Sofia Cann - Publicist

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