'Nothing is impossible' - Mayor's open invitation to Harrogate to do something special for Remembrance and VE Day

The Mayor of the Borough of Harrogate, Coun Stuart Martin, with poppies at the war memorial in Harrogate. Picture: Gerard Binks.
The Mayor of the Borough of Harrogate, Coun Stuart Martin, with poppies at the war memorial in Harrogate. Picture: Gerard Binks.

‘Let’s kick the ball up in the air, we have got nothing to lose,’ is the heartfelt plea that’s come from the Mayor of the Borough of Harrogate, Coun Stuart Martin, as he reveals ambitious plans for Harrogate to do something truly special to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day next year.

Following the overwhelming success of Ripon’s Community Poppy Project last year, where residents of all ages knitted more than 55,000 poppies to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, the Mayor is determined to emanate this same amazing community response in Harrogate - with a wartime-feel street party running from the Prince of Wales roundabout to Bettys, and plans to create an avenue of poppies to line the route for Remembrance Day.

The Mayor of the Borough of Harrogate, Coun Stuart Martin, has launched an appeal to do something special for Remembrance and the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Picture: Gerard Binks.

The Mayor of the Borough of Harrogate, Coun Stuart Martin, has launched an appeal to do something special for Remembrance and the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Picture: Gerard Binks.

Stuart, alongside Hazel Barker, who both coordinate Ripon Community Poppy Project, are issuing a call to action, for Harrogate residents to knit poppies for November, and embrace the idea of throwing a street party for the VE Day anniversary in May 2020.

Stuart said: “It was such a lovely feeling in Ripon, and I want the rest of the district to experience that feeling. As the district’s mayor, I want Harrogate to look really respectful for Remembrance, and hopefully attract visitors to see our commemorations.

“I hope the people of Harrogate take a leap of faith and get behind this - it’s a really good opportunity for the town to really pull together and do something respectful to remember those who made sacrifices in the war.

“We can do anything if we are determined enough to do it - nothing is impossible, and we can do something really memorable here.”

In Ripon, an enormous number of community groups, care homes, businesses and individual residents knitted poppies to commemorate the Armistice, and now Stuart and Hazel would love to see Harrogate following suit, knitting enough poppies to line the route from St Peter’s Church to the war memorial in November - and possibly beyond this stretch, depending on the level of the response.

Stuart said: “I think people feel a great satisfaction and a great sense of belonging by knitting poppies and being a part of it. If Harrogate embraces this the same way as Ripon, we could see footfall increase in the town. We have anecdotal evidence that Ripon Spa Hotel was booked out when we had the poppies up in Ripon, and that estate agents were being contacted by people who wanted to move to Ripon because of its community spirit, after seeing what everybody had worked together to produce.”

From a six-year-old boy knitting bags of poppies, to an elderly lady with arthritis who poured her heart into knitting a single poppy, Stuart and Hazel said it’s a project that can make everybody feel a part of something. And, if it is pulled off, the street party to mark VE Day would be another way of bringing people together.

Hazel said: “It gets people talking to each other - with the poppy project, you saw neighbours chatting who didn’t know each other before, and it’s a great way of tackling loneliness. The social side is brilliant, with all the knit and natter groups and chances to get to know more people in your community. Even if people knit one poppy, that’s amazing - it’s not about the number of poppies you knit, it’s about just being part of something.”

Organising a street party that runs from the Prince of Wales roundabout to Bettys is no mean feat - in fact, it is a mammoth undertaking in many respects, because of the risk assessments, road closures and levels of permissions required. Then there is drumming up enough support from Harrogate residents and businesses to make it happen.

However, Stuart is confident that Harrogate can make all of this happen, and more, if residents make the conscious positive choice to embrace it.

Stuart and Hazel are already in talks with Harrogate Borough Council to make the street party happen from a logistical point of view, and now it is hoped that Harrogate will welcome the idea and work together to create something both magical and memorable.

The VE Day street party would be held on May 7, charged with a feel-good community spirit, and a toe-tapping programme of live music and entertainment - think picnics, singalongs, dancing in the street, and furiously waving flags.

The event will take place during term time, to encourage schools to bring their pupils along and experience the buzzing atmosphere, whilst also giving this next generation an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made during the war that has enabled them to enjoy this freedom.

Stuart said: “There’s a real feel-good factor about a street party, but apart from having a really good day, it passes the message on to another generation - to remember, and think about what the conflict was all about.”

As well as this all-encompassing street party, Stuart and Hazel would love to see neighbourhoods across the Harrogate district stepping up to organise their own.

The VE Day street party would be held on May 7, charged with a feel-good community spirit, and a toe-tapping programme of live music and entertainment - think picnics, singalongs, dancing in the street, and furiously waving flags.

The event will take place during term time, to encourage schools to bring their pupils along and experience the buzzing atmosphere, whilst also giving this next generation an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made during the war that has enabled them to enjoy this freedom.

Stuart said: “There’s a real feel-good factor about a street party, but apart from having a really good day, it passes the message on to another generation - to remember, and think about what the conflict was all about.”

As well as this all-encompassing street party, Stuart and Hazel would love to see neighbourhoods across the Harrogate district stepping up to organise their own.

Be part of something special

There are plenty of ways for Harrogate residents to get involved. Community groups, care homes, schools, businesses, and knit and natter groups can knit poppies, or volunteer to do something special for the street party.

To support the community’s knitting efforts, Stuart and Hazel would be thrilled to hear from any businesses who could provide free wool for residents. All knitted poppies can be dropped off at Harrogate Civic Centre on St Luke’s Mount.

Email bigstu.martin@virgin.net, or call 07811 390448.

Fundraising concerts

To raise funds for his mayoral charity, Yorkshire Air Ambulance, Stuart Martin is organising two special concerts to commemorate the Armistice and VE Day.

On November 6, at St Peter’s Church, Ripon City Band, Harrogate Band, Dishforth Military Wives Choir, and singers from Brackenfield School will be performing. Tickets cost £16, and Stuart is keen to hear from any businesses who could help to sell tickets for the concert.

A second concert at the Royal Hall on May 7, the day of the street party, will have a ‘Last Night of the Proms,’ 1940s theme.

Advertiser comment

Every year, thousands of us attend moving services of Remembrance to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

We stand still, heads bowed at the war memorial, in a state of sombre and thoughtful reflection.

Remembrance is something that is so intensely personal, and yet it has the power to unite us, and bring whole communities together - we all either have a loved one who contributed to the war effort, or know somebody who did.

This year, the Mayor of the Borough of Harrogate has extended an open invitation to us all, that has the potential to bring us together to remember in a way that hasn’t been done before in Harrogate, but has already been so successfully delivered in Ripon.

We have an opportunity to knit poppies for our loved ones, that carry their own personal meanings, but would also mean so much to the town as a whole. Let’s work together so that Harrogate follows in Ripon’s footsteps and is transformed into a sea of red poppies for Remembrance.

Let’s step up to do something special and memorable that shows the maximum utmost respect for those who enabled us to enjoy the freedom that we are blessed to have today.