Top Valley Gardens event saved by Harrogate Festival

A popular event in the Valley Gardens which attracts 40, 000 people each year has been saved by Harrogate International Festivals.

Monday, 16th October 2017, 3:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 6:58 am
Jane and her team of just five volunteers have done fantastic work" - Chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals Sharon Canavar. (181208GS2)
Jane and her team of just five volunteers have done fantastic work" - Chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals Sharon Canavar. (181208GS2)

After being launched - and run successfully - by the Friends of Valley Gardens, for seven years, it was feared 40s Day of nostalgia and fun would not return to the town's popular park next year.

Unpaid volunteers from the Friends, a local charity dedicated to improving and protecting the park for the public good, said the work involved had outgrown them and they simply could not carry on doing it.

But after an appeal for someone else to take over organising this feast of wartime period costume, music, military vehicles and flypasts, Harrogate International Festivals has stepped into save the day.

FOVG chair, Jane Blayney, said "The event is a victim of its own success really. Although it was difficult to hand over, it was the right time to do so.

"There is potential to develop and expand the event with the professionalism the Festival has as an arts organisation, their reputation for hosting high quality events, and the fresh, young ideas the team can bring.”

Sharon Canavar, CEO of Harrogate International Festivals, said: “Jane and her team of just five volunteers have done fantastic work over the years, and we would like to thank and congratulate her for building such a successful 1940s Day celebration and choosing the Festivals to continue her legacy.

"We are thrilled to be moving forward with such a strong and valued community event in our portfolio.”

The originsal organisers opted to hand over the event to Harrogate International Festivals due to its reliance on volunteers who were mainly retirees, and the increased size of the event.

Jane Blayney said: “It has become a big undertaking to get up at 5.30am and be run off your feet until 7.30pm with two ten minute breaks; it takes time to recover.

“We needed a lot of volunteers to run the event, and as people get older they do shorter shifts.

"Everybody’s getting older and you can live on adrenalin for the day. Having done it for seven years, it needs to have a fresh set of eyes so it doesn’t get stale, and it’s great to go out when we’re on top.

"We are delighted that the Festival is going to bring a breath of young fresh air to the 40s Day."

The 1940s Day features stalls selling vintage clothes, hats and uniforms, a cake stall with the WI Sweethearts, a Pimm’s tent, marching band, spitfire fly-over, displays of military vehicles and vintage cars, and music from a range of local groups including the Harrogate Barber Shop Chorus.

Children’s activities include funfair rides and a bouncy castle, with an annual march from primary school children who dress as evacuees from WW2.

Jane helped found the 1940s Day after having four children of her own, she said: “We wanted to offer a free day out for families with children’s activities so it’s a real community event. It’s a day that has something for everyone, which is why it’s so popular.

"There’s picnics, dancing, the RAF brings a recruitment tent, and we get ex-Forces coming, as well as the older generations who, like me, were born in the 1940s.”

The event honours World War Two, Jane said, “Due to the sacrifices made in World War Two, we have had a war free life on our shores.

"It’s a thank you. I was born during the war myself, and my father-in-law was a pilot in the Battle of Britain. It’s important to remember.”

Over the years, the event has made a major contribution to the total of £230,000 raised in recent years by Friends of Valley Gardens enabling them to undertake a series of projects to improve the Valley Gardens.

Jane has always been heavily involved in Harrogate’s community, she was once Chair of Leisure for the Parks Department.

A qualified social worker, Jane also ran a swimming school for up to 500 children.

On retirement, she completed an RHS horticulture qualification, becoming Chair of the Friends of Valley Gardens group.

The next 1940s Day will take place on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 17, 2018.