Posts Tagged ‘community’

Forgive the long break, but I’ve finally got my new home straight and the computer unpacked and plugged in. I’ve been spending my short Easter break sitting at my new desk in my new study – so many bookcases it’s practically a library – and indulging in some family history research. It’s proving to be more frustrating than anything else but that’s the nature of genealogy. Anyway, I digress.


Leicester Cathedral illuminated by the Richard III logo, with the statue of Richard III looking on. My photo.


Unless you’ve been in some kind of media black out zone over the last few weeks you’ll know that Leicester has been hitting the headlines. And although I’m obviously biased I have to say “didn’t we do well?” I could not be more proud of my city.


One of my favourite headlines from the flood of newspaper articles and suchlike appeared in, of all things, The New York Times:

Richard III, Previous Visit a Bust, Is Warmly Received 530 Years Later”

Much as I would have liked to have been in the city to see the procession and soak up the atmosphere I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the cortège pass my parents’ house. I wasn’t lucky enough to get a ticket to the only service taking place at a time when I didn’t have to be at work, so standing outside their house and watching as the hearse passed was a pretty special moment. I stood there watching as the police motorcyclists approached me and felt strangely anxious. I pointed my camera in the right direction and decided that video would be better than photos, pressed the button and hoped for the best. This was the result, all 23 seconds of it:



I went back inside the house and burst into tears. I don’t really know why. I just felt somewhat overwhelmed by the whole thing. I’d been listening intently to BBC Radio Leicester who were doing a sterling job of covering the day as the cortège travelled from Bosworth Field, to Dadlington, to Market Bosworth, and so on into the city. Thousands and thousands of people lined the route. Our village, Newbold Verdon, was teeming with people. From my point of view, my parents’ house was ideally placed as it’s not in the centre of the village which meant I didn’t have to fight for position. Afterwards, I went home and downloaded the film and a couple of photos onto the internet. Twenty minutes later I had an email from a news agency wanting to use my video. I filled out the form they sent and gave permission fully expecting nothing further to happen but, sure enough, my video made it to Yahoo! News. It was all very surreal.


My parents were actually at the Service of Compline that took place to welcome the mortal remains of Richard III into the cathedral. They were there as invited members of the congregation. I watched the service on television. Annoyingly, it wasn’t shown in its entirety because Channel 4 decided we’d rather watch Jon Snow discussing the finer points of whether or not Richard III was an evil child murderer and other such mindless and pointless tabloid TV – we wouldn’t. Luckily, during the sermon my parents appeared clearly on screen for quite some time and I got rather overexcited – frantic texts were exchanged with my brother.


Excited parent-spotting aside, I found what I saw of the service deeply moving and once again was moved to tears. My parents both said afterwards that they too found themselves unexpectedly emotional.


Fast-forward a few days during which I had a very hurried visit to the cathedral to see the coffin (not up close) and it was time for the reinterment. I was working, frustratingly. My dad was lucky enough to be at the service as a volunteer. I did suggest he might like to snaffle Mr Cumberbatch for me; however, he’s good, but he’s not that good!


I kept checking Twitter for photos and updates of the proceedings and when I got home I grabbed a cup of tea and sat down to watch the service. The cathedral had never looked so beautiful. The service was wonderful and moving, Cumberbatch’s reading of the poem by Carol Ann Duffy was perfect. Again, the whole thing was oddly surreal. Having spent much of my childhood Sunday mornings in the cathedral, to then see it in such a light with such people in attendance was bizarre, but in the best possible way.


What a privilege for Leicester and Leicestershire to get to honour Richard III in such a way. The people of the city and county showing the world how much he means to them – with dignity and honour.


But how do you bring to a close such an unprecedented week of events? I read up on all the events taking place and saw that on the Friday evening, after the Service of Reveal where the tomb would be revealed (I’ve still not seen it), there would be something called Leicester Glows. A fire garden was promised and fireworks from the cathedral roof. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but was determined to go. A friend had come to stay for the weekend as she was attending the Friday service so I rushed into the city after work to meet her and my parents and grab some dinner.


Darkness had fallen over the city as we made our way back to the Cathedral Gardens. There were again hundreds, if not thousands, of people gathering and across the medieval quarter of the city 8000 flames were lit.


Candles in Peacock Lane, Leicester. My photo.

The fire garden in Cathedral Gardens, Leicester. My photo.


The crowds could so easily have felt oppressive, but everyone was in high spirits, marvelling at the beautiful sight of so many candles burning, chatting and joking with strangers, smiling and waiting with bated breath for the main event. If the cathedral had never looked so beautiful on the Thursday then the city had never looked so beautiful on that Friday evening. Not ever.


The main event turned out to be thrilling and wonderful, even if slightly heart-stopping. Watching fireworks quite literally bouncing off the cathedral steeple is nothing if not nail-biting. But it was quite a spectacle and beautifully put together, resulting in a spontaneous round of applause. Here’s a video of the full display:



After the fireworks were over the crowds, and us, spent time milling around admiring the flames. They were quite mesmerising and the smell of candle wax will forever transport me back to that evening. It was magical.


Leicester Glows was the perfect end to the most remarkable week. I’ll never know how it got signed off by Health and Safety but I’m inordinately grateful and pleased that it did. 8000 naked flames sounds dangerous but my goodness they looked stunning.


Leicester Glows, Cathedral Gardens (the yellow light beam is the projection of the RIII logo onto the cathedral steeple). My photo.


So, Leicester did what it promised. It reinterred Richard III with dignity and honour. But more than that, it showed what our city can do and what its people can do. It showed that we have a great sense of community and that we are warm and welcoming and all-embracing.


A beautiful film for Leicester Glows by the Big Difference Company (who organised the event):



On this Easter Sunday they will have been rejoicing in our cathedral that “Christ is Risen”. Like the King we have reburied, Leicester is often much maligned but I truly believe that now all the pomp and ceremony of the reinterment has passed, we can honestly say that Leicester is risen.


Happy Easter to you all.



If you want to see more photos (click “Images”, don’t use the drop down menu) and read more about the week’s events then please take the time to visit the King Richard in Leicester website where there are blogs by The Revd Pete Hobson (Acting Canon Missioner) who led the Richard III Project for the cathedral, and lots and lots of photos. You can even order copies of the Orders of Service – please don’t be tempted by eBay.




Read Full Post »

King Richard III by Unknown artist.
oil on panel, late 16th century (late 15th century)
Given by James Thomson Gibson-Craig, 1862
Primary Collection
NPG 148
© National Portrait Gallery, London.


It was a cold, dull and damp day in Leicester last Friday but I was determined it wouldn’t spoil the afternoon. A friend had come to stay for the weekend and I was going to show her around Leicester. I’ve never been hugely fond of the city, feeling a far greater affinity with the south of the country, but, on Friday, I saw it through someone else’s eyes for the first time and realised that it’s a far more interesting and friendly place than I ever gave it credit for.


We went to the cathedral first. Now I’ve written about the cathedral before: about what it means to me and why I think it is fit for Richard III, but things have changed. The way I feel about it hasn’t changed and nothing has changed that would be perceptible to the casual visitor, but it has changed. It’s stepped up.


My friend’s first reaction was to exclaim how homely she found the cathedral. It’s a warm and welcoming space and now, having stepped up to meet the coming challenge of caring for the remains of the last Plantagenet King, it is more so than ever before. There are more people to meet and greet you as you enter the church, to offer assistance and to show you around. They now offer free tours of the building to meet the increasing demand of tourists wanting to know more about it. And, most surprising of all, there’s a “pop-up” café in the south aisle. This isn’t a permanent fixture but has existed in some guise for a while now. Since the announcement that Richard III had indeed been found and would be laid to rest within the cathedral, they’ve opened the café every day. But, this is no ordinary café.


When we arrived there were quite a few people already seated at small tables adorned with pretty tablecloths. There were none free. A kindly gentleman asked us if we’d like a drink and set about making us a pot of tea. Once he’d filled a tray with the tea and some very dainty tea cups and saucers, we turned around to find someone had produced a table and chairs, complete with pretty tablecloth, seemingly out of thin air. People bustled about offering refills, making more tea and coffee, and serving some excellent looking home-made cake. Nothing about this is that unusual until you realise that we weren’t asked for any money. On the table where the drinks were being made was simply a small bread basket for donations should anyone have felt so inclined.


White roses left by the Richard III memorial stone. My photo.

When we made our way to the Richard III memorial stone there was a small crowd of visitors around it listening with rapt attention to a cathedral volunteer as she talked about the King. There were white roses placed by the memorial and I know the cathedral has seen a steady stream of visitors bearing more white roses in the last week or so. Some people come to view the church, some to view the memorial, some simply to pay their respects. All are welcomed.


We went to the Guildhall next and joined a small queue to view the exhibition – Richard III: Leicester’s Search for a King. We didn’t have to queue for long and the wait was alleviated by the easy banter of the lady who was controlling the queue. She was friendly and obviously very proud to be part of such an important event. We were given leaflets to read and then, once inside the exhibition, left to wander through at our own pace.


As someone who has avidly watched the press conference and read all the news I could get my hands on regarding the discovery of Richard III, I didn’t read all the information there but, considering the short timescale for putting the exhibition together, it is very impressive. It’s even interactive. For me the most interesting thing was being able to stand in front of the horizontal screen showing an image of the skeleton. You could touch various points on the screen and more information was then displayed with further photographs. It was very well done and was like having the real skeleton laid out in front of you. Everybody viewing the exhibition seemed to be engaged and interested. Most of all, they were enthusiastic.


The exhibition is housed in a modern extension of the Guildhall, but we also explored the old part of the building. It’s shocking to think that I’ve lived in Leicestershire since I was 5 years old and never been inside the Guildhall. It is a fascinating building, the Great Hall having been built around 1390. It has everything you might expect from a building of its age: lots of wooden beams, creaking stairs and floorboards and nothing is straight. It’s a wonderful space and is still fully used as a venue for music and theatre as well as weddings and such like. If you’re brave enough, you can peer into the Victorian police cells. I did this without realising there was a light you could switch on first and completely freaked out when I saw a shadowy figure seated inside. I don’t usually scare easily but these took me somewhat by surprise!


Jewry Wall & St Nicholas church, Leicester. Source.

Venturing back out into the cold we made our way to the Jewry Wall – a large section of wall that was once part of the Roman town’s public baths. I haven’t been up close to it since I was at school and was surprised by the sheer scale of it. It doesn’t look like much from a distance but up close you get a real sense of just how huge it must have been. Right next door to the wall is a small church: St Nicholas. This church has a very long and complicated history and is somewhere I have never visited. The external brickwork is interesting because it’s obvious that some Roman bricks have been used in its construction. We were especially lucky to find it was open so we stepped inside. The interior is quite dark but rather beautiful. A gentleman who appeared to be cleaning the chancel looked up and said something like, “You won’t find him here!” At any other time this might have seemed a little odd but we knew exactly what he meant.


Wandering around the city with my friend she reminded me to look up. Leicester is a modern city with modern shops and some very modern architecture; however, if you look up and venture away from the main shopping areas there is much to see. A lot of Georgian and Victorian architecture, some of it quite impressive, can be found all over the city but behind some of the façades and round unexpected corners there is still evidence of a much older city.


Leicester’s Curve Theatre by night. Source.

We spent the evening in one of the most modern attractions, Leicester’s Curve Theatre. It is unlike any other theatre and has no traditional backstage area. The theatre is in the centre of the building and at the end of each performance they raise the walls separating the backstage area from the foyer, thus revealing some of the mysteries of the stage. It is a wonderfully versatile and creative place that not only hosts touring productions but produces new works too. Its modernity does nothing to impede its sense of community and it’s just as important to the city as the remains of the Roman baths.


The impending reinterment of Richard III will bring a whole new dimension to Leicester. It will bring more people to the city and raise Leicester’s profile not just in Britain but worldwide. As for the cathedral: I mentioned that I thought it had stepped up, and for me the most important way in which it has done this, is by not changing what it is that makes it such a special place. They continue to do all those things that make people feel welcome; they just now do them on a slightly larger scale.


That Richard III will change Leicester is inevitable. But, I’m confident that he will never change Leicester people. We will continue to be a diverse and multi-cultural community. We will also continue to make visitors feel welcome. Whether that’s by sharing our knowledge and generosity in the cathedral, by encouraging people to share in our heritage, or simply by exchanging some banter in the shops, market or museums, I am sure that our friendliness will prevail.


UPDATE: Photos taken by my friend on our Leicester tour can be viewed on Flickr here.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: