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Pocklington - this small East Yorkshire market town has a reputation for big surprises

PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 June 2017

Platform Festival

Platform Festival

not Archant

It might be small, but the East Yorkshire market town has a reputation for big surprises, says Tony Greenway.

Pocklington Arts Centre Pocklington Arts Centre

The people of Pocklington, in East Yorkshire, don’t do things by halves. Take last August, when Pocklington and District Lions decided to organise a family day charity event. Did they set up a few stalls and bring in a bouncy castle and a burger van? Did they heck. They went the whole hog and persuaded Keith Chegwin to host a full-scale version of It’s a Knock Out (retitled – wait for it – ‘It’s a Pock Out’) at Pocklington Rugby Club. What’s more, it’s doing it all again this August, this time at the Pocklington Football Club, and Cheggers is returning.

Then there’s the beautiful Pocklington Arts Centre, which may be tiny (it seats just 200 people) but thinks big and pulls in impressively starry names as a result. This month, for example, you can see (if you can still get a ticket) acclaimed folk star Thea Gilmore. In September, TV and radio presenter Mark Radcliffe is in town to present his one-man show, while stand-up star Jason Manford is playing two nights (tickets are already sold out, naturally). In November, York-based Shed Seven will be appearing at the Arts Centre as a warm-up for their UK tour.

That’s not all. Pocklington is the location of the Platform Festival, which is held at the 700-seater Old Station, and is also organised by the Arts Centre. This year its line-up includes music from KT Tunstall, Levellers, Kate Rusby, Ward Thomas and Newton Faulkner, and comedy from Ross Noble.

Okay: so in Leeds, Hull or Harrogate you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at any of those names. But – and we can’t stress this enough – this isn’t Leeds, Hull or Harrogate. This is a small market town in the Yorkshire Wolds with a population of around 8,500. Midge Ure, Clive James, Kiki Dee, Barry Cryer, Ruby Turner, Clare Teal, George Melly, Humphrey Lyttleton, Barry Norman... they’ve all appeared in ‘Pock’, as the locals call it.

The view from the visitor centre The view from the visitor centre

How does it do it, for goodness sake?

‘We get asked that question a lot,’ admits Janet Farmer, manager of the Arts Centre. ‘People wondered how we did it when we landed the likes of Joan Armatrading and Rosanne Cash (eldest daughter of Johnny Cash) – and again, recently, when John Bishop played two nights here.’

So the answer is..?

‘It’s persistence,’ says Janet. ‘Over the years we’ve formed good relationships with agents, we do a lot of research, we’ve built up a formidable reputation and artists ask to come back time and time again. John Bishop told us that he likes smaller venues because the interaction with the audience is really special – something he doesn’t get in arenas – and Steve Harley (from Cockney Rebel) said that playing here was like performing in his living room.

Platform Arts Centre Platform Arts Centre

‘We’re lucky to have fabulous audiences who really listen and are very responsive; plus we’ve a reputation for good acoustics. And we go out of our way to look after the artists very well. So it’s all of those elements coming together.’

It’s not just famous and established names that Pocklington Arts Centre is keen to showcase. It also supports emerging talent and tries to book them before they become too hot to handle. For example, this year’s Platform Festival features a 21-year-old Yorkshire-raised country singer called Holly Macve who – if the pundits are right – is about to get very famous, very quickly. ‘She’s our big find this year,’ says Janet. ‘She’s a Yorkshire girl who we saw at the Bury Folk Festival and at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. She was selected as one of the Top 10 artists at the Austin event by the New York Times and, consequently, Garth Brooks picked her as his support act. We were chuffed when we managed to book her for Platform.’

Without the Arts Centre – which opened in 2000 and had a £540,000 refurbishment in 2016 – Pocklington might be just another pretty but struggling market town with cafes and independent shops. ‘The Arts Centre makes the place vibrant,’ says Janet. ‘People have a meal before a show, they spend in the town, they buy their petrol here, so the economic impact is considerable. Probably £100,000 a year is coming into Pocklington because of the Arts Centre.’

In Pocklington, the surprises keep on coming. For instance, it’s home to one of the UK’s top gliding clubs, based at an airfield which was used by the RAF in World War Two; and, at Burnby Hall Gardens, which is undergoing restoration thanks to a £640,000 Heritage Fund Award, you’ll find an array of hardy water lilies growing in a natural setting – one of the biggest collections of their kind in Europe.

Another strange thing about Burnby Hall, a short walk from the town centre, is that it’s home to a fascinating mini-museum displaying objects collected by Pocklington explorer and adventurer Major Percy Stewart, who made a number of world tours between 1906 and 1926 and wrote books about his travels, including one called Around the World with Rod and Rifle.

Judging by the museum, if the Major saw a creature in its natural habitat he invariably shot it: on the walls are the heads of various stuffed animals. ‘We also have unique items such as African musical instruments and carvings, plus some family memorabilia,’ says Burnby Hall’s Peter Rogers. ‘Also, in June, a water lily trail will be officially launched: little brass plaques of lilies set into the pavement which runs from the Gardens to the town centre and back. It’s a way of linking both locations.’

In common with many market towns, shops in Pocklington have struggled over the years and there have been number of recent closures. Sam Storey, owner of the Market Street Cafe, has been involved with a new business group to ‘get retailers to pull together and put Pocklington back on the map’ as an independent shopping centre. ‘We want lots of different shops, we want our market to be better, and we’re trying to get a farmers’ market going once a month,’ she says. Sam also thinks that Pocklington needs to better advertised, starting with more prominent signage on the A1079.

She’s right, too: despite all its attractions, Pocklington is frustratingly easy to miss. But once you’ve visited – like Kate Rusby, John Bishop and all of the others – you’ll want to keep going back.

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