Thursday, 29 June 2017

CEO Unveils Ambitious 10-Year Plan for Blenheim Palace

Dominic Hare - Chief Executive of Blenheim Palace 

The CEO of Blenheim Palace has unveiled a hugely ambitious 10-year development programme which will revolutionise virtually every aspect of the Oxfordshire World Heritage Site.

The programme, which is being led by CEO Dominic Hare, includes tripling the Estate’s contribution to the local economy, housing 300 families in high quality affordable housing, completing a £40m restoration programme and becoming a net generator of green energy over the next 10 years.

Other goals will see more than 100 apprentices trained, a doubling of Blenheim Palace’s charitable impact on the local community, and the re-purchasing of key historical artefacts which have been lost from the old collection over generations.

'The 10-year plan is a joint initiative devised in consultation with the management team, trustees and the Duke. It underpins everything we are doing here at Blenheim Palace and involves everybody and every area of the Estate,' said Dominic.

'We believe there is no possible vision for a future successful and flourishing Blenheim which does not depend on a flourishing and successful set of communities around it – and the same is true in reverse.

'We have set an ambition to be the economic lifeblood of the area, to enhance the lives of the people in our communities and to sustain, grow and share the precious resources of the Estate, the Park and the Palace,' he added.

Mr Hare also wants the Estate to be rated among the top 100 employers in the country and to achieve annual paying visitor numbers in excess of 750,000.

'It is a huge undertaking but I have been delighted and immensely encouraged by the positive reaction from staff and people within the local community.

'We are an enterprise with a centuries-old tradition of inventiveness, imagination, and boldness. We believe, today, we must continue to marry the decisiveness to act boldly, with a considered and long-term view of prosperity – for Blenheim and for the communities we support and who support us.

'This is a vision that is being shaped by the contributions of our neighbours, so that it serves us all for generations to come.' he added.

Among key projects already achieved this year are the restoration of the Palace’s North Steps, the completion of 27 homes and 10,000 sq ft of new office space in Bladon (the latter supporting 40 jobs new to the area), the appointment of a new sustainability advisor and the strengthening of the Human Resource team.

Blenheim Palace has also received nearly £200,000 via Gift Aid since placing its visitor attraction business into a charity. This guarantees the money raised is ring-fenced and can only be spent on sharing and conserving the Palace and Park.

Blenheim Palace is also currently working on a series of renovation and restoration projects with local churches, supporting a range of locally-based charities, working closely with local suppliers and providers as well as developing a range of new opportunities and benefits for its employees; which include free breakfast, yoga, tai-chi and foreign language classes.

1,000 athletes take on 15 miles of gruelling Sussex terrain

Dame Kelly Holmes

Dame Kelly Holmes will be the honoured race starter and has asked to run the 18th Bewl 15 race to be held on 2nd July 2017 commencing 10:30.

1,000 runners will take on the gruelling challenge that is 'Bewl 15.' The race is part of the Sussex Grand Prix 17 race series, held around Sussex.

The 'Waddies' have raised £2,200 sponsorship for the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust charity.

Bewl 15’s race starts and finishes in Wadhurst, East Sussex and encompasses one loop of the Bewl Water route and is a hilly multi-terrain course; of which 12 miles is off-road and the remainder on quiet country roads. The race will see a range of competitors from the Double Olympic gold winner, elite England Team veterans, club runners and those wanting a challenge in their lives.

The Wadhurst Runners are the current Sussex Grand Prix Champions and also host the Bewl 15.

Last year’s race was voted the '6th Best UK Race' out of 2,636 competitor races held around the UK, by readers of the Runner’s World magazine. Also, Bewl 15 regularly features as the 'Best UK Race of July.'

The 15 mile race is not for the faint-hearted. If the potential July heat and undulating trail don’t tire the muscles then the hill sections at 10, 12 and the final lung bursting ¾ uphill finish might just do it.

The race starts in the picturesque village of Wadhurst taking in the rolling hills surrounding the beautiful Bewl Water and races across fields, trails and roads to finish where it started at Little Pell Farm, Wadhurst.

The course best is 01:27:05, held since 2009, by William Levett of Tonbridge Athletics Club and the female record is held by Katy Moore of Brighton & Hove City Ac in a time of 01:37:25, also created in 2009. Tina Oldershaw, Team GB veteran and Paddock Wood AC will be running her 10th Bewl 15 attempting to emulate Dame Kelly. Scott Richardson Team GB ager tri athlete of Wadhurst Runners will be gunning for the course best.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Didcot Railway Centre Awarded TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for 2017

Didcot Railway Centre has been awarded a Certificate of Excellence for 2017, the third successive year, the award has been given to the Centre.

The prestigious Certificate of Excellence designation recognises establishments that consistently earn great TripAdvisor reviews from travellers.

The Certificate of Excellence accounts for the quality, quantity and recentness of reviews submitted by travellers on TripAdvisor over a 12-month period.

To qualify, a business must maintain an overall TripAdvisor bubble rating of at least four out of five, have a minimum number of reviews and must have been listed on TripAdvisor for at least 12 months.

Ann Middleton, Commercial Manager of the Centre said:

‘I am delighted that Didcot Railway Centre (DRC) has again been awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for the year. ‘It is very gratifying for the many volunteers involved here, and shows that their continued hard work has been worth it.’ Richard Croucher, Chairman of the Great Western Society, which runs Didcot Railway Centre said:

‘It is great news that Didcot Railway Centre has again been awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. Heritage railways and living history museums are an important part of explaining our heritage to current and future generations of enthusiasts.

‘Being given this award again reflects a high degree of professionalism within an organisation. It is a real achievement that shows how Didcot Railway Centre has developed into the successful visitor attraction it is today.’

Chewton Glen’s Festival fundraises for BBC’s Children in Need

On one of the hottest days of the year, Saturday, 16 June 2017, Chewton Glen hosted the ultimate festival experience, organised by driving force and BBC Radio 2 broadcaster Chris Evans. This is the tenth year that Chewton Glen has supported Chris Evans’ fundraising efforts for BBC’s Children in Need appeal, and the anniversary celebration resulted in an exceptional ‘Festival in a Day’.

Headline musical acts included Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Sharleen Spiteri with her band Texas and a surprise guest appearance by Paloma Faith.

Paloma Faith

Highlights featured team competitions involving classic and quirky country pursuits with the likes of duck herding, ferret racing, laser clays, Segways and falconry display (much enjoyed by Chris himself), with the winning team invited to join Chris on his popular Friday morning breakfast show.

This was followed by cocktail making and an afternoon picnic before the evening entertainment began with a Champagne Taittinger reception among the trees of Chewton Glen’s heritage orchard.

‘Posh Street Food’ was created in the Walled Kitchen Garden by a team of some of the UK’s very finest chefs: Tom Kerridge spit-roasted lamb served with flat breads and salsa verde; Atul Kochhar created delicious Indian street food such as butter chicken marsala wraps; and Jose Pazarro served authentic Spanish tapas. Meanwhile Chewton Glen’s own award-winning Executive Head Chef Luke Matthews produced pizzas with pizzazz from the Walled Garden’s Gozney wood-fired pizza oven. It was all accompanied by Olly Smith’s inspired selection of wines and finished off with Mo Gherras’ sweet crepes topped with local Purbeck Ice Cream.

A high spot of the evening was the surprise ‘flash mob’ when waiters and waitresses started to dance, encouraging guests to join in. Now that’s service!

Finally, screens that had provided a backdrop to the evening’s dining experience in the orchard were lowered to reveal a pathway illuminated by flaming torches to the festival village of tepee’s - the setting for the musical entertainment provided by the legendary Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Texas, Paloma Faith and, of course, Chris Evans’ lively DJ set.

Chris Evans

Andrew Stembridge, Managing Director of Chewton Glen, commented:

‘It is always a tremendous privilege to help Chris and his team with their exciting plans for raising funds for such a great charity, but this year’s event has been truly remarkable. I think everyone has excelled themselves.

‘I would like to say a big thank you to all those who have put so much effort into the event, including my hardworking team here at Chewton Glen, all our suppliers and our friends who have been so generous.

‘Together they have ensured that our ‘Festival in the Day’ will help to make a real difference to the lives of children who benefit from those who donate to BBC Children in Need.

‘Our especial thanks to Chris Evans, who masterminded the Festival; in excess of £1.7 million was raised for 2016 Children in Need appeal with the live-on air ‘Dine & Disco in the Forest’ auction, possibly Jeff Lyne’s Mister Blue Sky was never sung at a more appropriate event.’

Assembly Hall Theatre’s ‘Rent’ Raise £8,000 For Manchester

Amazing audiences at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells have raised nearly £8,000 in support of the victims of Manchester's bombing, a staggering amount carrying a powerful message about solidarity and justice in our community.

The terrorist attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester left 22 people dead with 59 injured in the explosion moments after the singer left the stage.

The 20th Anniversary production of Rent opened in Tunbridge Wells on the day after the Manchester attack, as the full details of the tragedy were emerging. It was the production company’s wish to show support for the victims and with the backing of the theatre who shared the sentiment, it was agreed that a collection would be taken after each performance.

John-Jackson (JJ) Almond - Theatre Director says:

‘We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of public support. Our patrons have given their generous support to the appeal, all money donated will be handed over to the "We Love Manchester” Emergency Fund in partnership with the British Red Cross which will help the families and dependents of those killed and injured in the attack’.

Bruce Guthrie, Director of Rent says:

‘Myself and the Rent Company were greatly moved by the generosity of your audiences. We had a great week at the Assembly Hall and such a lovely venue to finish the Rent tour, with such responsive audiences.’

The cast made an appeal at the end of each show and the theatre’s front of house staff collected the donations. The running total was confirmed by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and transferred to the appeal fund.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to host first-ever Rum Festival

On the 1st and 2nd September 2017, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will host its first-ever Rum Festival to honour the link between the Royal Navy and its favourite liquor.

Kicking off with an exclusive black tie dinner on board The National Museum of the Royal Navy’s HMS Victory on the evening of the 1st September 2017, the Rum Festival will be sponsored by Pusser’s, who have held the Admiralty’s own recipe since 1979. Pusser’s Rum is the only rum blended in exact accordance with the Royal Navy’s specifications; last used on 31 July 1970 on Black Tot Day – the day that marked the end of the Navy’s daily rum rations, a tradition that spanned over 300 years.

The HMS Victory Black Tie Dinner will be a unique occasion, experienced at no other time at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. As well as a lavish three-course meal, hosted amongst the guns and mess tables as sailors would have dined, guests will visit four ‘Rum Stations’ whilst on the flagship. Experts from The Rum Club will introduce a range of rums from around the world, explaining the different brands and their unique heritage and flavours, and after dinner guest speaker, Peter Holland from The Floating Rum Shack, will talk guests through rum appreciation.

The dinner has only 90 places available and tickets cost £200 each with tables of six available. To book call 02392 989776.

The next day, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will continue the Rum Festival for visitors. With a wide variety of rums, from local classics (like Pusser’s) to new potential favourites visitors can enjoy a ‘tot of rum’ whilst taking in the country’s most spectacular collection of historic warships including HMS Warrior 1860 and the Mary Rose Museum. Local musicians and food stalls complete the experience that should not be missed.

Tickets cost £20 each and can be booked on the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard website.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Summer adventures with the National Trust in Sussex

Round up the family and join in summer fun at special places near you.

Join in a Summer Party trail for families at Sheffield Park and Garden, inspired by the stories of their extravagant earl and his mile long picnic.

Have a memorable day at Petworth with your family this summer, come rain or shine with family trails, weekly drop in craft workshops and play packs

For the more intrepid adventurers schools’ out and nature’s in, with nature themed activities at Birling Gap.

Meanwhile there’s the chance to camp out, go on bat walks, try countryside crafts and delve into the secrets of our meadows at our special places across the South Downs.

The countryside and parkland in our care is perfect for summer adventures. Bring your 50 things notebooks for a host of inspiring activities and take your pick from our county highlights:

The National Trust website has plenty to things to do in Sussex over the summers so make sure you check it out!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard set to celebrate Armed Forces Day

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will be hosting an Armed Forces Day event this Saturday on 24 June 2017, welcoming veterans of all ages as well as active servicemen and women.

The Royal Marines School of Music will be performing at 1300hrs and there will be a flypast by a Chinook helicopter at 1430hrs.

The site will be a hive of activity with armoured fight vehicles arriving to delight visitors of all ages. The Stormer vehicle from the Local Army Reserve unit in Portsmouth as well as the 106 (Yeomanry) Regiment RA from London will offer plenty of wow moments.

If visitors are feeling particularly competitive, families can visit Action Stations to take part in free activities. Adventurous visitors can try the minesweep challenge and see how many they can spot. For the traditionalist out there, the DICE group will be challenging one and all with military-inspired board games to set the mood.

Charity Dinner Raises £50,000 for Children’s Hospice

A charity dinner at Blenheim Palace has raised over £50,000 for an Oxford-based children’s and young adults’ hospice.

Hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, the VIP event featured a silent auction and live music, and tickets to the charity black tie function were £1,000 to raise vital funds for Helen & Douglas House. More than 70 people attended the Dinner.

Opening music was provided by the world-renowned harpist Baroness Wigley, whose professional name is Elinor Bennett.

Elinor agreed to play in order to say ‘thank you’ to Helen & Douglas House colleagues for the tremendous love and support they shared with her two sons at the end of their lives in the 1980s.

The Rt. Hon. David Cameron, whose family also share a close personal involvement with the charity, was the guest speaker.

Emily Watkins, Chef Proprietor of the acclaimed Kingham Plough, who had previously worked closely with Heston Blumenthal, and won two Great British Restaurant awards, devised a superb locally sourced menu.

A further musical interlude was provided by talented young musicians: violinist Matthew Trusler and pianist Ashley Wass played a piece from the new CD ‘Wonderland’, which revisits the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ stories and features pieces by some of today’s most illustrious classical composers.

Matthew’s son sadly died when just a few hours old 10 years ago, and the proceeds of the CD are being donated to support Helen & Douglas House.

A Silent Auction held on the night raised over £30,000, with a bronze ‘Mother & Child’ statue raising an amazing £10,000 after being auctioned off in a spontaneous action by David Cameron.

Kay Honner, Major Partnerships Manager at Helen & Douglas House, said:

'The evening was most definitely one to remember for a long time to come, and our heartfelt thanks go to the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, and to all who worked so hard to make the evening such a great success,'

The charity is currently caring for around 300 families and they also actively support over 60 bereaved families from Oxfordshire and surrounding counties.

Helen & Douglas House provides medical, emotional and practical support helping families deal with the implications of living with a child who will die prematurely, so they can make the most of their time together.

The charity needs to raise over £5m a year to run the two hospice houses and to provide its specialist outreach nursing and family support and bereavement services.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Celebrate Father’s Day at Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace have put together a Top 10 ideas list for you to treat your Dad this Father’s Day weekend.

1 Duke’s Floor Tour

Discover the world of the aristocracy this Father’s Day at Blenheim Palace in the new Upstairs Tour. Explore the Guest Rooms, none of which have been open to the public before. Previous guests have included Queen Mary, King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, as well as Cecil Beaton and Yves Saint Lauren. Visitors will also see family rooms such as the Blandford Bedroom, the Sunderland Dressing Room and Bachelors' Row in the tour which includes secret corridors, interlinking doors and spiral staircases.

Daily Tours at selected times see, Adult £24.90, Child £13.90 Palace, Park & Gardens ticket + £6.00 Adult & £5.00 Child

2 Estate Gardeners Kit

Treat your Dad to some of the best gardening tools in Oxfordshire! Available in the East Courtyard Shop the beautifully designed range includes a Hand Rake, Hand Trowel and a Hand Spork! The range also includes something even the toughest hands may like; Estate Gardeners Rosemary & Lavender Soap.

Individual items from £4.00, available in the East Courtyard Shop, Park & Gardens ticket required

3 Blenheim Palace Flower Show

Perfect for gardening enthusiasts, Dads will love tickets to the Blenheim Palace Flower Show. It will be opened by Alan Titchmarsh who will join visitors in celebrating the very best of gardening. The Grand Floral Pavilion will be full of the UK’s finest nurseries and growers giving you expert advice and ideas for your garden. There will also be 250 stalls in the Shopping Village to enjoy.

23 - 25 June, Adult £15.90 Child £7.10 (Park & Gardens ticket),

4 Pre’50 American Auto Club ‘Rally of Giants’

For the motoring enthusiast Dad why not get tickets to Blenheim Palace’s Auto Rally? See over 400 vehicles, including some of the finest and most valuable examples to be found anywhere in Europe, dating from the early 1920's through to the seventies, the Rally of the Giants is the must-visit event for anyone with an interest and passion for American motorcars, trucks, military vehicles and bikes.

9 July, Adult £15.90, Child £7.10 (Park & Gardens ticket)

5 Downstairs Tour

Servants were essential to the aristocratic way of life. It would have been completely impossible for the family to take care of themselves, to manage the house, look after the children and let alone host a fancy dinner party, without the help of servants.

Enjoy learning all about life downstairs at Blenheim Palace this Father’s Day. You will wander through the network of corridors, see the iconic bell system and learn the gossip and perks of the job from the staff’s point of view.

Daily Tours at selected times, Adult £24.90, Child £13.90 Palace, Park & Gardens ticket + £6.00 Adult & £5.00 Child

6 Blenheim Palace Preserves

Treat your Dad this Father’s Day to a very special gift from the East Courtyard. Choose from a selection of delicious Blenheim Palace Preserves including Red Onion Marmalade, Mango Chutney and Whiskey Marmalade. Add in a bottle of Churchill’s Reserve Port and you have the perfect cheese and biscuit accompaniments.

Individual items from £3.95, available in the East Courtyard Shop, Park & Gardens ticket required

7 Battle Proms Picnic Concert at Blenheim Palace

Pack up a picnic, stock up on fizz and join the party for the Battle Proms Concert. Enjoy an exceptional evening of classical music, carefully choreographed Spitfire and cavalry displays, dramatic cannon fire and a stunning firework finale. The concert will take place at a new location within the Park for 2016 - just west of the spectacular Column of Victory.

22 July 4pm – 10.15pm,

8 A Taste of Summer with John Campbell

Celebrate Father’s Day with an exclusive Tasting Dinner on 22 and 23 June with Chef John Campbell of The Woodspeen. Attend a champagne reception, three course tasting menu, wine pairings, and insider tips from Chef John Campbell to recreate each dish.

Booking essential, £70 per person,

9 Nocturne Live Concert Tickets

Take your Dad an unforgettable evening of live music in Blenheim Palace’s Great Court. The atmospheric line-up includes; Max Richter – award winning composer, Gregory Porter & Jamie Cullum with special guest Corinne Bailey Rae, and The Jacksons and Kool & The Gang with Andreya Triana.

15 – 18 June,

10 Father’s Day Lunch in the Orangery

Perfect for Father’s Day book a very special lunch in the new Orangery Restaurant. Overlooking the private Italian Gardens and serving up a delicious selection of dishes enjoy lunch followed by an exploration of the Formal Gardens.

Table booking available online,

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Discover Lewis Carroll’s Very Own Wonderland in Eastbourne

Culture and Cake returns to the Redoubt Fortress on 17 June as it turns back the pages of time to reveal Lewis Carroll’s very own wonderland, Eastbourne. 'A Perfect Dream of Delight' tells all about the 19 years Carroll spent holidaying in Eastbourne, followed by a slice of cake that would have the Mad Hatter’s seal of approval.

From 1877 to 1896 Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Jabberwocky, spent his summers by the sea in Eastbourne. He visited the sunshine capital 19 times, with his first visit to Lushington Road in 1877 being marked with a Blue Plaque that can be followed in Eastbourne’s Blue Plaque Trail.

The talk will be led by Heritage Assistant, Victoria Lambert, who is an expert on the history of Lewis Carroll in Eastbourne and has previously led a talk on behalf of the Lewis Carroll Society. By piecing together diary entries, personal letters and local photographs, Victoria will recreate a picture of the late 19th century town and how it evolved into the ideal spot for Carroll to escape from his busy, city life.

There will be plenty more servings of Culture and Cake this year, with sessions available to book until September. Ahead of Eastbourne’s International Airshow in August, a session on “Planes, Trains and Airships” will take off on 15 July which uncovers the stories of the incredible pioneers in Eastbourne’s aviation history, from the beginnings of the Eastbourne Aviation Company to the vital work of airships along the south coast during the First World War.

The insightful heritage talks continue with 'Wobbly Ditches and Splodgy Banks' which traces Eastbourne’s Neolithic ancestors in Butts Brow on 12 August.

Tickets to ‘Culture and Cake’ costs £6 including entry to the Redoubt Fortress and a slice of cake from the cosy Outpost Café which offers sweet and savoury treats and more on a daily basis.

Celebrate Summer at Blenheim Palace's The Orangery

Celebrate Summer at The Orangery, Blenheim Palace with an exclusive Tasting Dinner on 22 and 23 June with Chef John Campbell of The Woodspeen.

Searcys are holding launch events for diners to attend a champagne reception, three course tasting menu, wine pairings, and insider tips from Chef John Campbell to recreate each dish.

Wine specialist John Ferguson-Smith has selected a range of unusual wines that pair perfectly with the flavours of each dish and will discuss tasting notes for each course’s wine. Grapes have been identified from unusual regions, or for their particular style, so that they are a little out of the ordinary to provide an interesting culinary match.

Each course will offer the opportunity to sample seasonal ingredients and a discussion on the recipe and cooking techniques, as well as the art of pairing the dish perfectly to the selected wine.

Chef John Campbell said:

'I am thrilled to work with Billy and the Searcys team at Blenheim Palace on this exciting new menu. Incorporating exciting seasonal flavours, locally sourced ingredients that celebrate everything about the summer and what it offers. 'The exciting collaboration between Billy and I will also include some of the produce from the stunning grounds of Blenheim Palace.'

There will be champagne reception, three courses with wine selected for each dish costing £70 per person. Booking is necessary.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Basingstoke marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death

As the birthplace of Jane Austen, Basingstoke is set to mark the 200 anniversary of her death with celebrations, events and specially commissioned artworks throughout the borough in 2017.

Born in 1775, the celebrated author lived the first 25 years of her life in Steventon, in the Hampshire countryside, and was known to often frequent the nearest town of Basingstoke for dances.

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Deputy Leader Cllr Terri Reid said:

'On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, it is only right that the borough where she was born, should hold events and celebrations to highlight how her work still entertains and inspires people today.'

Basingstoke Festival

‘Born in the borough’ has been announced as the theme of the sixth Basingstoke Festival in honour of ‘local girl’ Jane Austen. Events and performances will be held throughout the festival to celebrate the world-renowned 18th century author, who drafted some of her best known works while living in this area.

Inspiring new pieces are being commissioned showing the continuing relevance of the themes in Jane’s writing. Attracting international artists and big name acts to perform in the borough is part of the planning work now underway for the Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council-run festival from Friday 16 June to Sunday 9 July.

The Basingstoke Jane Austen Statue

Local artist Adam Roud has been commissioned to create the first statue of Jane Austen to be cast in Bronze. The fundraising for the statue, which will be installed in Basingstoke’s Market Place, has been led by the town’s MP Maria Miller, through trust grants and individual donations. Once completed, the statue will be the first ever of Austen in the world. A maquette model has been produced by the artist, with the actual statue to be installed a week before the anniversary of her death on Monday 10 July outside the Willis Museum. It will be launched on the anniversary of her death.

‘Sitting with Jane’ Project

As a part of the celebrations, visitors will be able to follow a trail of ‘Sitting with Jane’ BookBenches. Sitting with Jane is part of Hampshire Cultural Trust’s Jane Austen 200 project (see It is a Wild in Art event organised by Destination Basingstoke in association with Festival Place shopping centre.

It will be a public art trail made up of 25 BookBenches in and around Basingstoke, each uniquely designed and painted by a professional artist to celebrate Jane Austen’s life. The trail will give visitors the opportunity to explore north Hampshire - from beautiful villages and some of the unchanged landscapes that inspired Jane Austen’s work, to modern and traditional visitor attractions and great shopping – you don’t need to know anything about Jane Austen to enjoy it and it is suitable for visitors of all ages and nationalities. The trail combines culture and history with a stunning collection of modern and traditional art work inspired by the world famous author.

The trail will only be in place between 17 June and 31 August, and is free to do. Each BookBench is located somewhere of interest to visitors – from Steventon – the village where she was born, to Winchester Cathedral where she is buried, and many places in between that inspired her.

At the end of the event, the ‘BookBenches’ will be auctioned with all proceeds going to The Ark Cancer Charity.

Summer of Fun at Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace
There’s a whole host of fun activities taking place at Blenheim Palace over the summer holidays which are guaranteed to inspire and entertain visitors young and old. Enjoy the sun in the wonderful settings of the Palace and enjoy what's on at over the summer break.

Throughout July and August youngsters can enjoy hours of fun in the Pleasure Gardens, with a range of special workshops and activities to get involved in.

Explore the giant hedge maze, Butterfly House and Adventure Playground. There is also a bouncy castle, giant board games and the Lavender Garden to enjoy.

Adventure Playground

Bring history to life and explore the Palace Courtyards on one of the Servants’ Tours in the company of Victorian housemaids and butlers.

Gain a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Palace and the people who have lived here from the servants' point of view.

Tours will run daily from the East Courtyard from 11am -4pm every hour on the hour.

Plus, families can enjoy delicious wood fired pizzas on offer in the Pleasure Gardens Café throughout the summer.

As well as the daily activities there are also a host of amazing one-off events taking place.

Blenheim Palace Flower Show - June 23rd-25th

This three-day show celebrates the very best of gardening in the UK and is packed with inspiration and colour. Visitors can expect a treat on the first day as the event is officially opened by gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh.

The Grand Floral Pavilion will be full of the UK’s finest nurseries and growers giving expert advice and gardening ideas.

The shopping village will feature trade stands selling everything from unique garden gazebos, greenhouses and arbours to beautiful flowers, gardening sundries and hundreds of other products.

Dogs on leads welcome.

Pre '50 American Auto Club 'Rally of the Giants' – July 9th

The must-visit event for anyone with an interest in American motorcars, trucks, military vehicles and bikes.

This year more than 400 classic American vehicles will be on show, including some of the finest and most valuable examples to be found anywhere in Europe, dating from the early 1920's through to the seventies.

Mad Science – July 22nd-23rd

These hugely entertaining scientific workshops and presentations provide a fun introduction into how dry ice is made. Four 30-minute workshops daily from midday. Science lessons have never been so much fun!

Victorian Zoolab – July 29th-30th

Travel back in time to discover what life was like for a Victorian street urchin in these interactive ‘zoolab’ workshops. Find out about everything from rat-catchers and cholera to alternative medicine and prison hulk ships with the help of live rats, cockroaches, spiders and scorpions.

Workshops 12-4pm on the hour lasting 30 minutes each session.

Inspire Drums drumming workshops – August 12th-13th

Groups of people will be able to try their hand at steel drumming in a relaxed fun, environment. Players will be taken through progressive routines whilst enjoying a collective sound. 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm, 30 minute workshops

Family Cycling Day – August 13th

Enjoy this unique annual opportunity to cycle around the picturesque Parkland of Blenheim Palace.

Bring a bicycle (and helmet please!) and take in the scenery and fresh air. Pack a picnic and make it a day to remember.

First aid staff will be on site. There is no age restriction for children participating in Family Cycling Day, but they must wear appropriate safety equipment and must be accompanied by adults. There is no need to pre-book.

Two routes will be available; one around Queen Pool and one around the Park perimeter. Extra bike racks will be available for cyclists wishing to make the most of their day to include a visit to the Palace.

Summer Jousting Tournament - August 18th-20th

Experience an epic Jousting Tournament on the South Lawn with the 'Knights of Arkley' and their mighty steeds.

Gallant knights and their noble steeds will battle for glory charging in the traditional tilt, and battling on foot with the mighty mace and quarter staff.

Alice and the White Rabbit – August 19th-20th

Join Historical Promotions in a game of hide and seek with Alice and the White Rabbit. Help Alice find the White Rabbit hiding somewhere in the Pleasure Gardens.

Pony Pursuits - August 26th-27th

Pony rides for children in the Palace grounds 11am-3pm. £2 per ride.

'Wind in the Willows' with The Immersion Theatre – August 27th

Pack your picnics and join the boat-loving Ratty, the sensible yet curious Mole, wise old Badger and the fantastically irrepressible Toad as they embark on the adventure of a lifetime to save Toad Hall!

Eye-catching costumes, toe-tapping music and larger than life characters promise to capture the imagination of the youngest of audience members whilst the sheer nostalgic charm of this beloved story is guaranteed to take older generations on a glorious trip down the riverbank onto memory lane.

Blenheim Palace Festival of Transport – August 27th-28th

On Sunday the festival will feature the Classic Car Show and on Monday they will be joined by motorcycles, Minis and VW's, Customs, Hot Rods and Americans, Kit and Sports Cars.

The two-day event has the added bonus of vehicle judging and an experienced motor commentator to talk us through the day's events.

Monday, 5 June 2017

David Walliams' Gangsta Granny comes to Assembly Hall

Birmingham Stage Company, the acclaimed producers of Horrible Histories and George's Marvellous Medicine are bringing their world premiere of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny to the Assembly Hall Theatre, Royal Tunbridge Wells,  from Wed 21 – Sun 25 June.

Walliams’, who is one of the judges on the popular Britain’s Got Talent TV show that finished just last weekend and creator of the ground-breaking comedy series, Little Britain and Big School, is now the best-selling author for children in the country!

David began his publishing career at Harper Collins in early 2008 with his debut novel The Boy in the Dress. Then, after writing two other popular stories, in 2011 he published Gangsta Granny, which was shortlisted for both The Red House Children’s Book Award and for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. At Christmas 2013 a TV version of Gangsta Granny was shown on BBC One with an all-star cast including David Walliams himself. Gangsta Granny went straight to number 1 in the children’s book charts and his books have been translated into no fewer than 30 languages. David Walliams’ said at the first night of Gangsta Granny from the stage at Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre:

'What a fantastic show! Superb! And so much better than the book!'

'All you can do in this life is follow your dreams. Otherwise you’re just wasting your time' - Gangsta Granny.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Assembly Hall set to celebrate 30 years of Shirley Valentine

It is 30 years since Willy Russell introduced audiences to Shirley Valentine, a bored middle-aged Liverpool housewife trapped in a stale and loveless marriage who rediscovers her zest for life when invited on a holiday to Greece with her best girlfriend. A role made famous by Pauline Collins on stage and screen, the play has been performed all over the world with many great actresses. And now this is wonderful story will be at The Assembly Hall Theatre from 3 - 8 July.

With a career spanning over four decades Willy Russell is undeniably one of the most successful playwrights of his generation. His plays, including Educating Rita, Blood Brothers, Our Day Out and Shirley Valentine, have been performed across the globe and have won countless awards, they continue to be in constant production throughout the world. Shirley Valentine was adapted into an Oscar nominated film starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti.

Of the revival Willy Russell says:
'It’s now thirty years since Shirley Valentine first walked onto the page, into my life and the lives of so many others. Shirley cooked her first meal of egg and chips on the stage of the Everyman Theatre Liverpool before then hoofing it down to London where along with the cooking and talking to the wall she started picking up the string of awards she’d win in the West End, on Broadway and in the film that earned both BAFTAs and Academy Award Nominations. Since those early days Shirley has had an incredibly rich and varied life, appearing in many tongues across the globe in countless productions and being performed by many great actresses. 'The one thing Shirley Valentine has not done of late is extensively tour the UK. 'There have been approaches and plans mooted but, somehow, it’s just never quite felt right and so I’ve resisted such efforts – until now! And what has made the difference? When producer Adam Spiegel introduced me to Jodie Prenger I knew in an instant that here was a formidable actress, one who possessed the grit and the warmth, the drive and the vulnerability, the energy and the heart to make Shirley Valentine really live again. How could any playwright resist that or deny the whole of the UK the chance to see Jodie bring Shirley to life?'

This current tour stars Jodie Prenger, who is perhaps best known for winning the role of Nancy in the West End production of Oliver! Most recently Jodie toured the UK in the classic musical Tell Me On A Sunday. She also played the title role in the national tour of the musical Calamity Jane and has starred in One Man, Two Guvnors both in the West End and on tour and as Lady of the Lake in Spamalot. Jodie is also a regular presenter on BBC Radio 2. Shirley is a Liverpool housewife. Her kids have left home and she makes chips and egg for her husband while talking to the wall. Where has her life disappeared to? Out of the blue, her best friend offers her a trip to Greece for 2 weeks and she secretly packs her bags. She heads for the sun and starts to see the world and herself very differently.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Tedx comes to Royal Tunbridge Wells

Dame Kelly  Holmes MBE DBE

Tedx-Royal-Tunbridge-Wells will take place this month on Saturday 10 June at the Assembly Hall Theatre.

This one day event provides a unique opportunity to meet a range of high profile speakers ranging from Olympians to business leaders who will give talks on the theme of ‘discovery’. Launched in 2009, TEDx is a program of locally organized events that bring communities together to share ideas on a local level. TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design, was born in 1984 and is now a global platform that covers almost all topics from science, to business to cultural issues.

'Our vision is to showcase Royal Tunbridge Wells to the world and bring the world to Royal Tunbridge Wells'- Dan Foreman, Founder of Tedx-Royal-Tunbridge-Wells.

The speakers include double gold Olympic winner, Dame Kelly Holmes DBE who will talk about ‘reinventing herself’, Maddy Warren, kidney patient advocate, Philippine Community Fund’s Jane Walker MBE who is working to combat extreme poverty of those living in disenfranchised communities, to Henry Rose Lee who suffers prosopagnosia, more commonly known as ‘face blindness’ and Lance Corporal Cassidy, a former Royal Marine medic who lost his leg in Afghanistan, talks about overcoming his challenges.

Jane Walker MBE

William Benson, Chief Executive of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council says:

'It has been a pleasure to watch the Royal Tunbridge Wells TEDx grow over the past three years and we are thrilled that TEDx RTW 2017 will be taking place in the Assembly Hall Theatre.

'The town has been home to some fascinating and pioneering residents so the theme of ‘discovery’ could not be more appropriate. I’m thoroughly looking forward to the event and hearing the great line-up of speakers share their experiences and ideas'.

Ticket prices vary from £15 - £50 available to buy from the Assembly Hall Theatre on or via the box office on 01892 530613. Start time 2-8pm.

£50 Golden tickets allow all holders to choose from the very best seats and be able to attend rehearsals, meet the speakers and drink vouchers. Rehearsal dates will be in early June, 9am start – dates to be confirmed nearer the time.

£25 Solidary tickets allow you to enter the theatre 15 minutes ahead of regular ticket holders and choose your seat.

General admission tickets are £15.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Jane Austen’s Regency Week in East Hampshire

Jane Austen Regency Week - a nine- day annual Festival of events celebrating Jane and the Regency period – will take place between 17th and 25th June in and around the market town of Alton in Hampshire and the nearby village of Chawton. Jane Austen’s former home is in Chawton, now the Jane Austen’s House Museum. Jane spent the last 8 years of her life here and produced 6 great novels. Nearby Alton is the place where she shopped, banked, collected and delivered post, visited her friends and caught the stagecoach to London.

This year’s Festival is a very special one –commemorating the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death. It’s also 10 years since the start of Regency Week. This year has a fantastic line-up of activities and events, including music from the period, talks, singing, walks, dancing, house and garden tours, embroidery workshops, cream teas, film, cricket, supper and a vintage fair.

Chawton Open Gardens herald the arrival of Regency week and takes place on 10 and 11 June with the special theme this year marking the Jane Austen 200th anniversary. Walk in the footsteps of Jane in her beloved Hampshire home and explore the gardens of Chawton House Library and Jane Austen's House Museum as well as other charming gardens. Enjoy horse and carriage rides, plant stalls, tea and cakes and an arts and crafts exhibition. (1pm – 5pm, £5 adults, accompanied children free)

Saturday 17th June launches Regency Week with a free Regency Day in Alton – a day full of historical delights such as people in costume, horse & carriage rides, a market, petting animals and more. The celebrations continue with a dancing workshop and then into the evening with a sumptuous Regency Ball.

Chawton’s Vintage Fair on 18 June will have up to 30 stalls offering a plethora of interesting and unusual items (10 am – 3.30pm,Chawton Village Hall, Winchester Road, Chawton, Alton, Hampshire, GU34 1SB. Price £1 Contact: Jerry Fabian Tel 07799 478584). Why not take time out to enjoy a cream tea and tour of Chawton House Library’s wonderful garden on the same day. Chawton House Library is the 'great house' which belonged to Jane Austen's brother, Edward Austen-Knight.

The day ends with a Regency choral evensong at St Lawrence’s Church in Alton, the church where one of Jane’s brothers preached and several nieces and nephews were christened.

There are many more events to choose from and here are some examples to inspire you! Take a tour of Chawton House Library with its curator on 19 June. The same tour is available on 21st and 23rd.

Get creative and hands-on with history Regency lady-style on 20 June and learn how to embroider a handkerchief using rare eighteenth-century patterns. You’ll be guided by Royal School of Needlework graduate Charlotte Bailey, who worked on the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress and fashion commissions from Louis Vuitton and Mary Katrantzou!

If you like Darcy, The Scarlet Pimpernel, vampires and superheroes, ‘Darcy then, now and forever’ is just the talk for you - by Dr Gabrielle Malcolm about the enduring popularity of the hero, based on research for her new book. To round off the day take a once-in-a-year opportunity to enjoy Jane Austen’s House Museum and garden (plus some activities not normally on offer!) in the evening.

A new addition to Regency Week on 22nd is a rare opportunity for those not staying at Wyards Farm (now a B&B) to discover this eighteenth century gem of a house – and to enjoy a cream tea. Wyards was well known to Jane Austen, being the home of Anna Austen, her niece. The current owners are Ann and William Monk and William is a distant relation to the family, which only came to light when they moved to Wyards!

On 22nd in a fascinating talk by Jane Hurst, discover more about the life of one of the last local people to see Jane before she died - Alton apothecary William Curtis. His honesty regarding Jane’s illness being beyond a cure led her to Winchester to seek the help of Mr Lyford. Sadly he was also unable to help and she died in the city. The Festival’s finale on 25th brings a day full of celebratory activity. Enjoy a Victorian Cricket Match and entertainment for all the family on The Butts, Bringing this year’s very special Regency Week to a close comes Regency Week’s popular traditional Regency Supper with entertainment at the Alton House Hotel, celebrating cuisine of the period. Other events include more talks, a special tour of Alton, walks and more. See a full run-down of all the events planned for this year’s Regency Week.