Craigmillar Festival prepares to mark its 50th

Festival founder, the late Helen Crummy in 2005. Pic: Kenny Smith

Festival founder, the late Helen Crummy in 2005. Pic: Kenny Smith

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AFRICAN drummers and dancers, a pipe band and a cavalcade of bikers will all be helping make the 50th Craigmillar Festival an event to remember.

The two-week community celebration will kick off with a fun day next Saturday featuring red-hot performances from the Beltane Fire Society, and the traditional riot colour that is the annual parade.

Organisers expect up to 3000 people to flock to the action-packed festival opener, just off Niddrie Mains Road, to enjoy everything from motorbike displays to birds of prey and life-size cartoon characters.

Susan Heron, a member of the 12-strong Festival Fun Day Committee, has been involved in the festival since she was a little girl.

“We have tried to pack in a lot more because this is the 50th year,” she says.

“This is when the community comes together and celebrates everything that this community achieves.”

Performers at the fun day will include hard rock and blues band Dirty Betty, ska group Red2ed and sax player Kenny Tomlinson.

There will also be performances from quartet Audability, supported by Drake Music Scotland, from close harmony group The Elderly Brothers and also from soloist Elizabeth Currie.

This year the committee’s coffers have been bolstered with additional funds from the Lottery Celebrate Fund, allowing them to make the arts festival bigger than it has been in years, Susan has revealed.

David Walker, Labour councillor for Craigmillar, says: “This is a chance to showcase some of the arts and cultural expertise and a chance for the community at large – children and families – to have a good day out.”

But the festival is not just a celebration. It is a declaration in which the people of Craigmillar reject some of the more negative views people may have of their community, showing how wrong they are.

“This is a community that gets battered by the press,” says Susan. “But this is a day where we say ‘We are here, it’s our area and we are proud to be here’.”

This is very much in the spirit of the original festival established by “heroine of Craigmillar” Helen Crummy MBE who was always convinced of the worth of her community. It was she who galvanised families in the area to overcome the effects of poverty by using the arts, and in doing so inspired a community movement that has been studied and adopted across the world.

She was a founder of the Craigmillar Festival Society (CFS), set up in 1964, a venture that helped people in difficult circumstances rebuild community spirit by becoming involved in the arts and performing.

Mrs Crummy pushed for the arts at a personal level first, when she asked the headmaster of the local primary school if her son Philip could be taught violin. He replied by telling her that it took them all their time to teach these children the Three Rs.

But she didn’t take no for an answer, and got a group of mothers together to create their own festival to celebrate local talent.

The festival grew over the years and attracted many thousands, reaching international acclaim and gaining support from personalities including actor Bill Paterson, comedian Billy Connolly, arts impresario Richard Demarco and singer songwriter Annie Lennox.

Opening this year’s will be former Greendykes resident Billy McElhaney, also known as Jimmy from BBC’s River City.

A colourful parade will leave the Jack Kane Centre at 11.30am, with children dressed in costumes from all the Commonwealth countries.

Adults meanwhile will be dressed in swinging ’60s-style outfits in homage to the decade which spawned the inaugural arts festival.

This year’s parade will be extended slightly so that it passes by the commemorative statue of Craigmillar Festival founder Dr Helen Crummy MBE, in front of the East Neighbourhood Centre. “She started all this 50 years ago so it’s only right that we walk past in memory of her,” Susan says.

The festival enjoyed its heyday in the 1970s. Back then it was known as the “fayre day” and there were events in Craigmillar Castle, including medieval-style banquets prepared in the 
traditional manner.

In some of the old programmes there was even jousting, and organisers have revealed that there are ambitions to use the castle again in the future.

“We are building up our fun day, and we can only hope that it gets better and better every year,” Susan says.

“We want local people to say ‘I want to be part of that’. We need volunteers.”

The festival events will include bingo at Caring in Craigmillar, on Niddrie Mains Terrace, on Monday June 30, and a free photographic exhibition in the White House, on Niddrie Mains Road, from Monday June 30 until Friday July 11.

There will also be a creative writing competition on Wednesday July 2 at Craigmillar Library, a craft fair and car boot sale on Saturday, July 5, and various dance workshops throughout the festival.

john.connell@jpress.co.uk