We made it! Reviewing our 450th year

30 Apr 2017

The year-long programme of events started with the launch of The Bedford Chronicles, a beautifully illustrated history book for children. We gave away 6,500 copies; a book for every Year 4 and every Year 5 pupil across the borough plus a set of 30 books for each school to use as an ongoing classroom resource.

On Friday 22nd April, exactly 450 years to the day since Sir William Harpur made his endowment in 1566, we celebrated with a Thanksgiving service involving pupils and staff from across our 4 schools as well as representatives from The Bedford Academy which we are proud to sponsor. This event showcased the musical talent of our pupils, with the schools working together to create a joint orchestra and choir. We were all inspired by our special guest Sqn Ldr Charlotte Thompson Edgar (The Angel of Afghanistan) who gave a stirring speech. The event culminated with a reception for all 550 guests at The Corn Exchange.

A month later, on 22nd May, we held our Run and Fun Day at Priory Country Park. This event reflected our charitable object of providing recreation with a social welfare purpose. We were blessed with sunny weather and an estimated 3000 people came along to the event to sample an array of free sports and recreation activities and tasters, from water sports to climbing to cycling and mini golf. Over 40 organisations joined us including many of the charities and voluntary groups which we have supported over the years through our grantmaking. As well as entertainments from various dance groups and community choirs, we also held a 5k run and a children’s 1k race, both expertly co-ordinated by the Bedford Harriers. And we were delighted to have Olympic Gold medallist, and former Bedford Modern School pupil, Tim Foster MBE as our special guest.

In June we announced the winners of our year-long art competition. 1400 children from over 46 schools entered the competition. 140 of these were selected for a 2 month exhibition at The Higgins Bedford with many more on display at a variety of cafes and venues across the town centre. To support the competition, we engaged 10 local, professional artists to deliver workshops within participating state schools, working directly with children and in some cases, with staff. Each school was able to book up to 3 free workshops, totalling 101 half day sessions. The Bedfordshire and Luton Archives Service supported the project with history workshops for the schools (the theme of the competition being ‘Recording Bedford over the past 450 years’. We were also pleased to have support from NADFAS who offered an additional prize in the 16-18 years category.

In early July we celebrated the winners of our writing competition, run jointly with The John Bunyan museum. A prize giving was held at the Bunyan meeting house and we followed this up with an evening of readings at The Quarry Theatre, St Luke’s in September. The brief for the competition was to write a 500 word news article on a historical or current Bedfordian (real or fictional) and local journalists had the tough task of judging the competition.

The Quarry Theatre was also the venue for our specially commissioned play ‘Somewhere in England’ (The Bedford Play) which was written by Mark Burgess and performed by a cast of professional actors plus two of our very own pupils. Telling the story of Bedford’shistory, the production was complimented by music performed by a live orchestra, and video footage projected onto a gauze screen. Over 1500 people came to see the show over 8 performances and it quickly became a sell-out with extremely positive reviews. We also gave away 330 tickets, many of which were allocated to local volunteers and schools.

Our final event was Orchestra Unwrapped which was delivered by the Philharmonia Orchestra. Our support meant that this inspiring concert series for children aged 7-11 years could be brought to Bedford for the very first time. The orchestra performed to an audience of 700 children and teachers from 18 different schools. Composer and education specialist Paul Rissmann, guided the children on a fun and interactive journey through the Orchestra’s instruments, players and music.

The concert was complemented with a giant screen of visuals to enhance the learning experience for the schoolchildren, including the children’s own artwork, produced ahead of the concert. And importantly, the whole programme was complimented by an inset programme designed to support non-specialist music staff ensuring there is some legacy to the project. We very much hope this will be the first of many concerts for children in the town.

We also hosted our annual summer party for our Almshouse residents and we gave away £45,000 in £1000 bite size chunks to local organisations and voluntary groups who hadn’t received a Harpur Trust grant before.

We are very proud to have been able to deliver such a varied and successful programme of events for the community of Bedford, and we are grateful to all the organisations, businesses, schools and to members of the public who were involved in celebrating this special anniversary.

For 450 years we have been supporting and inspiring the people of Bedford, but now our focus is very much on continuing the legacy of Sir William Harpur – so here’s to another 450!


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