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Review by Nigel Smith

ST HELENS Theatre Royal is a much-loved jewel and a venue that really cares about its local community.

Its pantos, which usually appear several times each year, are hugely popular and very much family-oriented shows. Producer/managers Jane Joseph and Chantelle Nolan were determined that St Helens would get its panto for Christmas, whatever obstacles they had to deal with.

In order to achieve a socially distanced performance onstage, minimising the risk of last minute cancellation, they shelved their planned Cinderella, which requires one of the biggest casts of the panto repertoire. Replacing it is Beauty and the Beast, a show that can be fully staged with a smaller scale cast but without compromises. Even so, with 16 performers on one stage it must be one of the biggest live Christmas shows Merseyside is likely to see this year.

The script for this version is by the company’s regular writer Liam Mellor, and as usual he has taken the familiar story (which is not a traditional panto) and shaken it up. Think of it as doing a jigsaw puzzle that’s had half the pieces swapped with those from several completely different pictures. The narrative is definitely recognisable and has most of its features intact, but it’s been tweaked, pruned and added to so as to squeeze in the necessary gags.

Belle’s father is nowhere to be seen in this version, and as this story commences she is already determined to win the heart of the handsome prince. Olivia Sloyan’s portrayal of the part brings it a suitably regal quality from the outset, and there is little doubt that there will be a wedding before the final curtain.

Andrew Geater plays the object of Belle’s affections, and makes his entrance in Dandini-esque garb  before engaging the wrath of the evil Madame Botox (Abigail Middleton in a wig straight out of Bride of Frankenstein). Summarily Geater’s prince is transformed into the beast, and it is left to Jenna Sian O’Hara’s Fairy Rose to find a way to reverse the spell and get those wedding belles (sorry) ringing.

Along the way there is much high jinks to be had, courtesy of Potty Polly, a traditional Dame played with characteristic skill by Jamie Greer, and Scott Gallagher’s French Frank, a court servant appointed as covid safety officer.

This is an excellent cast, but bobbing along on the crest of its waves is Tim Lucas as Gaston, the outrageously conceited jester of the piece who is determined to turn Belle’s head throughout the story. If there is one person Gaston loves more than Belle it’s himself, and Lucas plays this brilliantly in a turbo-charged and completely over the top performance that would have the audience rolling in the aisles had we been permitted to move from our allotted, distanced seats. Lucas, like the rest of the cast, has appeared in previous Regal Entertainments shows, and Theatre Royal audiences will not have forgotten his PC Noodle from Aladdin or his Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. He is in his element here, and his Gaston could easily have completely stolen the show but for his generosity and the overall strength of the cast.

The script and the action are simply littered with references to covid, and this could have become wearing after the year we’ve had, if it weren’t for the fact that this appears to be a great way of turning the measures we need to keep safe into a fun game for the children. The writing unashamedly incorporates this as the show’s key moral message, and does it with extremely good humour. The funniest manifestations of this had to be the reworked song lyrics, especially in a version of “Baby there’s covid outside” and in what must be the funniest and best rendition of “The Twelve days of Christmas” ever to appear on this stage.

The show has no junior dance troupe this year, for obvious reasons, but its nine senior dancers, all masked throughout but not seeming breathless at all, brought great movement and colour to the stage. They especially shone in a very nicely choreographed haunted forest sequence.

Musical numbers were all excellently voiced by the main cast, and it appeared that much of the sung work was lip-synced, presumably to comply with safety requirements.

The show is shorter than usual, with each act running at about 45 minutes, but nonetheless it’s a value packed evening that certainly doesn’t leave anyone short-changed. It does mean that it alleviates the logistical challenge of getting the audience in and out of their safely distanced seating, allowing for a substantial interval to avoid toilet queues and to enable everyone to have their app-ordered drinks and snacks delivered to their seats.

This is a show that takes the challenges of covid and turns them into a feature, making for an evening that starts with everyone feeling safe and ends with a sea of very happy faces. Kudos to the Theatre Royal, to Regal Entertainments and especially to Jane Joseph and Chantelle Nolan, for putting live theatre back on stage in St Helens this Christmas.

Images by David Munn

STUDENTS from Liverpool-based performing arts school, Rare Studio, have been making a name for themselves on the international arts scene, despite a challenging year for the industry.

The school’s dance graduates have been performing alongside stars such as Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Little Mix and Stormzy.

Renae Hughes recently danced for Little Mix on their popular BBC talent show The Search and before lockdown was accompanying the world’s biggest girl group on their world tour. Originally from Cantril Estate in Liverpool, Renae began her part-time training with Rare at the age of 13 before progressing onto their full-time intensive programme as one of the school’s first scholarship winners. The experience allowed her to travel to places such as LA and New York to hone her craft and provided her with a platform to go on to perform with likes of Rita Ora, Stormzy and Anne Marie.

Another of Rare’s graduates, Alexandre Novelli, has been working as core dancer for Dua Lipa, appearing on her ‘Break My Heart’ music video, ‘New Rules’ BRITS performance, and virtual lockdown performances on US TV shows Jimmy Kimmel and James’ Corden’s Late Late Show. Alex previously performed alongside Dua Lipa and Sean Paul at the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid, which saw her home team, Liverpool FC, crowned as world champions.

Alexandre, from Dovecot, studied with Rare in 2016 and was offered her first professional dance job at the age of 17, a year before her graduation, which saw Alex perform with Afro Jack and Zara Larsson at the MTV EMAs. Her performance led to Alex being signed as Zara’s core dancer by Jaquel Knight, who also choreographs for Beyoncé.

Alexandre Novelli, said:  “Rare is the most supportive and guiding college in the North West hands down. Rare’s dancers are genuinely ones to look out for in the industry as they are so passionate and strong-willed about succeeding. They are going to take over and I feel so proud to be part of it.

“It’s amazing that even during lockdown I’ve been able to continue to dance with Dua and have the school and its tutors supporting me 100% of the way.”

Lindsay Inglesby, director at Rare Studio, said: “We know it’s especially hard for our students at the moment, but to see our graduates continuing to work with some of the world’s biggest names and productions makes us incredibly proud and hopeful for the future.

“Providing our students with the right opportunities, as well as access to amazing tutors with real industry experience, to give them the best possible start is extremely important to us.”

Rare has a track record of delivering success, the school offers specialist courses in dance, musical theatre and acting and has a scholarship and development fund which enables homegrown talent to train on a level playing field, regardless of their personal circumstances or financial backgrounds.

Other recent successes include Fortune Jordan and Gemma Nicholas for dancing in Netflix Christmas movie Jingle Jangle and Jamie Graham for dancing for The Voice Kids and in Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. In January 2020, Megan Bowers published her first book, My Dance Journal, which climbed its way to number one on Amazon on the first day of its release.

BWYH8A Aerial View of Liverpool City Centre

A NEW soft-landing programme, known as KQ Base, has been launched with the aim of de-risking inward investment for companies looking to expand their business presence to the UK market for the first time.

Designed with global businesses at its heart, KQ Base will help companies to establish a strong business presence in Liverpool City Region and set-up home within Knowledge Quarter Liverpool’s (KQ Liverpool) world-leading innovation district, via the a package of financial support and business resources.

While the world may be currently in a state of change, Liverpool and the City Region are well positioned to adapt quickly and push forward with positivity into the future, making it a substantiated destination in which to invest, work and live.

The region’s talent base is also a major asset, with in excess of 6 million people living within a one-hour commute and a talent pool of 70,000 students enrolled with KQ Liverpool’s university partners.

Colin Sinclair, CEO of KQ Liverpool, said: “Liverpool is a city of opportunity, empowered by its global connectivity, world-class knowledge assets and thriving innovation district.

“Taking advantage of the unrivalled business and financial support provided through KQ Base will enable businesses to scale at pace and immerse themselves in KQ Liverpool’s collaborative environment, alongside some of the world’s most influential players in science, health, technology, culture and education.”

The KQ Base soft-landing package will alleviate many relocation unknowns, by providing businesses with a six month period of financial incentives when taking workspace within KQ Liverpool, at Liverpool Science Park or Sensor City, as well as with a tailor-made support package including free business advice, professional guidance and local market insight.

The expert support will be delivered by nine leading financial, legal, marketing and skills providers including DLA Piper, Growth Platform, RSM UK Tax and Accounting Limited, Western Union, Agent Academy, Agent Marketing, Downtown in Business, Active Profile and the Local Growth Hub.

These specialist KQ Base advisory partners will provide incoming businesses with a wide range of tailored support, including a dedicated account manager, recruitment support, free consultations and workshops, access to online resources and software, and promotional opportunities at local events.

To express your interest or find out more about how the KQ Base programme can work for your business, please visit: https://www.kqliverpool.co.uk/kq-base/

LMA has opened a campus at Liverpool's Metquarter

SINGER and co-owner of LMA, Robbie Williams told students to “believe you’re a lion”  in a special Q&A session as it launches two brand new state-of-the-art campuses in Liverpool and London.

Robbie hosted an online invite-only masterclass with more than 800 students, offering his words of wisdom and advice for succeeding in their chosen industry.

The event came as LMA opens its doors at two new campuses – Metquarter Liverpool and Here East, London – giving students access to state-of-the-art facilities and tutors who are world leaders in their industry.

Students studying musical theatre; dance; acting; film & TV production; games design; and musical performance, all logged on to the virtual session to tap into Robbie’s expertise, knowledge and career that spans three decades.

Speaking directly to students, he said: “Every one of you needs to know we are lions and we are braver than any fear. Fear thinks that it’s bigger than you but, you need to show you’re not scared of it every time and that you’re bigger and stronger than any fear can ever be. Think bigger than you ever have and then think bigger again. Without fear, you have no boundaries.

“Remember, this is your passion. It’s not something that you chose, it chose you, so you have to battle through the adversity and be prepared to work for it.”

Hayley Smitton, Year 3 BA Acting student said: “Robbie’s words really hit home – he was so honest and inspiring. I’ll always remember to be bigger than the fear.”

With what has been a challenging time for all students across the country, the opportunity to speak to Robbie had an amazing reaction on LMA’s social channels with thousands of images shared and posted by students.

The new Liverpool campus at the Metquarter has seen 50,000 sqft of retail space transformed into dance studios, production suites, edit suites, rehearsal rooms, classrooms and performance spaces in an 8-month building project that was the first of its kind in the UK.

Robbie said: “The Metquarter site looks amazing and I can’t wait to be able to get up there to have a proper look and meet the students in person. LMA is a perfect space and environment for creatives to study and prepare themselves for careers in their chosen industry.”

Alex Hyams, Asset and Leasing Manager for Queensberry said: “We are continuously working across the country on opportunities to improve the vitality of the spaces we look after and this is a great example of repurposing traditional retail space to create a sustainable and dynamic blend of uses suitable for the long term.”

  • The 11th edition of Liverpool Biennial, The Stomach and the Port, will take place from 20 March – 6 June 2021
  • Curated by Manuela Moscoso, the programme showcases more than 50 leading and emerging artists including Frieze Artist Award winner Alberta Whittle, Liverpool-born artist Linder, Rashid Johnson and Jenna Sutela
  • New venues announced include the iconic Lewis’s department store building featuring highlights from Alice Channer, works from Camille Henrot’s ‘Wet Job’ series and a multi-sensory installation from Lamin Fofana
  • New and existing works will be showcased at key venues in the city including Tate Liverpool, The Cotton Exchange, Bluecoat and FACT
  • A series of public commissions will be displayed at outdoor locations across the city such as Exchange Flags, Canning Docks, Crown Street Park and within Liverpool ONE

LIVERPOOL Biennial has launched the programme for the 11th Edition happening in spring 2021, running from 20 March – 6 June, with previews held on 18 and 19 March.

This programme of commissioned exhibitions, screenings, sculpture and sound will unfold over 12 weeks, showcasing and celebrating the city’s most iconic buildings and architecture. New venues announced include the historic Lewis’s Building which will host 16 works. The Grade II listed former department store is well-loved by Liverpool’s residents and for LB2021 two floors will be dedicated to a wide array of multi-disciplinary art works, including many new commissions.

Titled ‘The Stomach and the Port,’ Liverpool Biennial 2021 explores notions of the body and ways of connecting with the world, drawing on non-Western ways of thinking and challenging an understanding of the individual as a defined, self-sufficient entity. Instead, the body is seen as fluid and without limits, being continuously shaped by and actively shaping its environment. The city of Liverpool’s dynamic history as an international port city and a point of global contact and circulation, provides the perfect ecosystem for this edition and the artists involved have a strong connection and admiration for the city.

Key highlights include Neo Muyanga’s newly commissioned project A Maze in Grace as a video installation at the Lewis’s Building. Muyanga’s composition is inspired by the song “Amazing Grace” – a hymn which is loaded with history. Composed by English slaver-turned-abolitionist John Newton, the song was reinterpreted as an emblem of the Civil Rights Movement. Muyanga’s reinterpretation of “Amazing Grace” connects the origins of the song to its murkier history, and to Liverpool’s – John Newton lived in the city and sailed on slave ships from Liverpool’s port.

Alberta Whittle

Further highlights include Black Obsidian Sound System’s new commission – an audio-visual installation to be shown at FACT. An immersive environment, combining film, light, a sound score and sculpture, the work is an extension of a new short film project A Collective Hum by B.O.S.S, commissioned by Lux. Weaving together archival images, the installation reflects the ways in which marginalised groups have developed methods of coming together against a background of repression and discrimination in the UK – positioning sound culture as spaces of collective strength and encounter where kinship is found and reciprocated.

Since 2018, the Biennial has worked with Jorge Menna Barreto and the final outcome of his durational project The Earth, The Table and The Page will culminate in a mural and special publication displayed at Bluecoat. The publication anchors on Menna Barreto’s belief that the way we eat and live shapes our environment, and that our digestive systems have a transformative ability – that we are simultaneously consumers and producers, whose bodies interpret their surroundings through digestion. The research space at Bluecoat provides the backdrop for a mural showing drawings of common weeds found in Liverpool – produced in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University Art and Design students.

Ebony G. Patterson presents three hand embellished textile works at Tate Liverpool, including …fraught…for those who bear/bare witness (2018), and …in loving memory…for those who bear/bare witness (2018), as well as a new floor work. Patterson is concerned with historical representations of marginalized bodies, and capturing, mourning and glorifying the passing of their lives. The opulent and tactile qualities of her works invoke the outward glamour of Jamaican dance-hall culture and draw the viewer’s gaze, so that they can bear witness to the fragmented and unsettling images embedded within them.

In addition to these projects, six new public realm artworks will be revealed from Larry Achiampong, Teresa Solar, Erick Beltran, Linder, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané and Rashid Johnson.

Sam Lackey, Interim Director of Liverpool Biennial, said: “We are experiencing intense and transformative events across the globe, with many of us adapting to, and coping with, life-changing shifts. At Liverpool Biennial we feel that ways of sharing and interpreting our lives and experience are of huge importance right now.

“So it is with hope and energy that we now share with you the programme for The Stomach and the Port, the 11th Edition of Liverpool Biennial for 2021.This edition has been curated with passion and nurtured over several years with a group of carefully selected artists who are connected to Liverpool as a place.

“The city is known for being an epicentre of social and cultural exchange, through connecting communities and artists and continually reshaping its global identity by steadfastly investing in arts and culture.

“We are committed to working together with our partners in the city to redesign and remodel events, to enable us to put on a show in the city and to broadcast across the world. By continuing to support artists and draw more world class talent and artworks to Liverpool, we hope to inspire the creators of the future.”

Manuela Moscoso, Curator of the 11th edition of Liverpool Biennial, says: “The 11th Edition of the Liverpool Biennial rethinks the body beyond its concrete physical boundaries. Our bodies are not autonomous, rational or universal. They are multidimensional forms that depend on, and interact with, people, animals, plants, artefacts, images, technologies and the fabric of our contemporary world.

“We tend to think of the skin as the ultimate frontier of our bodies. It functions as a shell that separates our inner life – the self and the mind – from the outside world – society and nature. The skin is flexible and porous and so are we.”

The public programme of performances and events for the 11th edition will be announced in January 2021, to ensure that the Biennial can provide clear details of the safest attendance procedures for our artists, partners, supporters and audiences.

The list of participating artists can be found below:
Larry Achiampong (Public Space), Black Obsidian Sound System (FACT), Erick Beltrán (Public Space), Diego Bianchi (Lewis’s Building), Alice Channer (Lewis’s Building), Judy Chicago (Tate Liverpool), Ithell Colquhuon (Tate Liverpool), Christopher Cozier (Lewis’ Building), Yael Davids (Central Library), Ines Doujak & John Barker (Tate Liverpool), Dr. Lakra (Visual Identity), Jadé Fadojutimi (Bluecoat), Jes Fan (Lewis’s Building), Lamin Fofana (Lewis’s Building), Ebony G. Patterson (Tate Liverpool), Sonia Gomes (Cotton Exchange), Ane Graff (Lewis’s Building), Ayesha Hameed (Lewis’s Building), Camille Henrot (Lewis’s Building), Nicholas Hlobo (Tate Liverpool), Laura Huertas Millán (Bluecoat), Sohrab Hura (Lewis’s Building), Invernomuto & Jim C. Nedd (Cotton Exchange), Rashid Johnson (Canning Graving Docks Quayside), KeKeÇa (Public Space), Jutta Koether (Tate Liverpool), SERAFINE 1369 (Lewis’s Building), Ligia Lewis (Public Space), Linder (Tate Liverpool and Liverpool ONE), Luo Jr – shin (Lewis’s Building), Jorge Menna Barreto (Bluecoat), Haroon Mirza (Public Space), Neo Muyanga (Lewis’s Building and Public Space), Pedro Neves Marques (Lewis’s Building), Roland Persson (Bluecoat), Anu Põder (Tate Liverpool), Reto Pulfer (Lewis’s Building ), André Romão (Bluecoat), Kathleen Ryan (Lewis’s Building and Bluecoat), Zineb Sedira (Open Eye Gallery), Xaviera Simmons (Cotton Exchange), Teresa Solar (Exchange Flags), Daniel Steegmann Mangrané (Crown Street Park), Jenna Sutela (Lewis’s Building), Martine Syms (Tate Liverpool), UBERMORGEN Leonardo Impett and Joasia Krysa (Online), Luisa Ungar (Public Space), Alberta Whittle (Open Eye Gallery), Zheng Bo (FACT), David Zink Yi (Martin Luther King Building).

 

Jay Hampton

THE Independents Biennial will return in 2021, celebrating the art and artists of Liverpool City Region. Having secured funding from Arts Council England, the programme will run alongside Liverpool Biennial, from 20 March to 6 June 2021. 

Independents Biennial exists to celebrate the region’s creative life and cast a fresh perspective on how people in Merseyside see, make and use art. 2021 will be its 22nd year. It works without a theme, instead focusing on artist production, offering a glimpse into how artists work and how an artwork can develop through the course of the programme. 

In 2021, the programme will be a combination of live and digital arts and, for the first time, will have all funded public activity taking place in one building. Art in Liverpool, the programme’s coordinators will also be working closely with partner organisations and independent artist led projects & spaces to develop their work alongside the programme.

The programme has been postponed from July 2020, and will continue working with the same cohort of artists previously selected.

In partnership with Metal Liverpool, Independents Biennial is working with Pierce Starre, Sufea Noor, Jay Hampton and Sorrel Kerrison. The four artists have access to free studio space at Metal for several months leading up to the live programme, and we will be commissioning their work for the final programme.

In partnership with Open Eye Gallery, Sam Venables, Feiyi Wen and Monste Mosquera were selected for a digital window display. Thanks to the additional funding from Arts Council England, they will now be working in residence during the programme, alongside a team of artist hosts (details of how to apply for this position will be published soon).

Already commissioned artists in St Helens, thanks to an ongoing partnership with the council’s Arts in Libraries service, will be represented in new ways through the programme space following project development with each of the artists.

More artists are yet to be announced, but the core programme builds on Independents Biennial’s plans for 2020, which were postponed due to COVID-19. Art in Liverpool the programme’s organisers, will also be working with local studios and galleries to aid the development of their own events alongside the programme.

As part of the 2021 edition, and building on work taking place through 2020, Independents Biennial will work with the newly established Artist Studio Network, connecting the independent studios based within the city region, helping to keep artists and institutions connected as their work develops. 

More artists to be announced.

Image - Jonathan Taylor @ Cloud 9 photography

THE opening of the Kings Dock multi-storey car park in Liverpool, built to replace the one destroyed in a fire on New Year’s Eve in 2017, is one step closer following the completion of a five-figure project to install internal and external signage.

Over a four-month project, which began in June, St Helen’s-based Widd Signs has designed, manufactured and installed a suite of internal wayfinding signage on each of the car park’s eight floors. It has also created the striking external signage which now runs across the outside of the building.

The Merseyside company was commissioned by construction company Willmott Dixon, which is building the £30m car park in front of the Exhibition Centre on behalf of Liverpool City Council. Widd Signs worked closely with architects Leach Rhodes Walker, who designed the new car park.

The eight-floor, 1450 space facility, which is due to open this Winter, has been fitted with CCTV, electric vehicle charging points, 50 cycle spaces, and a sprinkler system.

Commenting on the project, head of operations at Widd Signs, Phil Bamford said: “As a local company, we’re delighted to have been able to play a part in the latest phase of the regeneration of Kings Dock.

“The new facility provides the waterfront with a car park fit for the future, and we’re proud to have our signage feature in a building that will be seen and used by so many.”

Construction manager at Willmott Dixon, Andy Beale said:  “Widd Signs worked with us through all stages of the process, from developing the design to installation. We are very happy with the end product.” 

Earlier this year, Widd Signs created and installed new interior wayfinding signage at the nearby Mount Pleasant car park on behalf of Liverpool City Council.

Established in 1888, Widd Signs’ clients include Marks & Spencer, Primark and Schuh, and culture and leisure hubs such as the National Science and Media Museum and Burnley F.C.

DOT-ART, along with the Open Eye Gallery, are inviting the public to create a history of Liverpool through its trees, using personal stories and photography in their latest project.

Lucy Byrne from dot-art said: “Trees are the perfect vehicle through which to tell a story of Liverpool – they share its resilience, strength and its diverse and fascinating story”.

Councillor Laura Robertson-Collins, Cabinet Member for Environment & Sustainability at Liverpool City Council said: “We hope the project will encourage all of us to engage with and be more aware of the trees and green spaces that enrich our lives, particularly the Urban Greenup interventions currently being introduced to enhance the city centre”.

The team behind the project at dot-art started by asking a broad cross section of people, from historians to tree professionals to family members, to share a story about a tree that was important to them. Eight of these were selected and Open Eye photographer Andy Yates was commissioned to produce images of these important Liverpool trees. These photographs show trees from a few years old to over 1000 years old – so already we are starting to build a picture of the trees that have affected us and our city region as it was founded, has grown, thrived, declined and thrived again. Take a look here.

Sarah Fisher from Open Eye Gallery said “We want to celebrate your stories of trees & they will become stories of this place we live and work in. Please take a moment to share a picture of a tree that means something to you, along with a few words about what makes it important.”

Send your pictures to andy@openeye.org.uk and your story becomes a collection.

The Story of Liverpool Through its Trees is being delivered by Open Eye Gallery and dot-art, with support from Liverpool City Council and Mersey Forest.

A COMMUNITY group from Bootle has received a funding boost to help stop unused food from going to waste by foraging and gleaning local farms and fields.

Taking Root, a project of Stanley Road-based Regenerus, has received almost £8000 from the Merseyside Recycling & Waste Authority Community Fund for The Big Community Glean Up – a project which is looking to stop food waste and to ensure good food gets into the hands of those who need it the most.

The word ‘glean’ is an old Celtic word which means to gather or scrape together and refers to the practice of going over the fields after harvest to collect any grain the farmer may have missed. Regenerus are working with the national organisation Feedback Global and farmers in Liverpool City Region, Cheshire and Lancashire to ensure that the produce farms don’t sell isn’t wasted. Instead, with the permission of the landowner or farmer, volunteers are able to pick fresh fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be disposed of or left to rot.

As part of the Big Community Glean Up volunteers are shown how to successfully forage for the food at farms, as well as community gardens and public spaces, then learn about the different ways to preserve and cook the produce at food workshops.

Ruth Livesey, Business Development Manager at Regenerus, said: “So far in November we have gleaned cabbage, cauliflowers, winter veg, onions and pumpkins.  Due to Covid-19 safety restrictions we have had to change our plans a little and go to fields in small groups rather than the minibus of volunteers we originally intended. However, the end result has been the same – the fresh produce we glean is distributed to local residents with the help of South Sefton Foodbank and community organisations back in Bootle where it is eaten and enjoyed.”

Councillor Tony Concepcion, Chairperson of MRWA, said: “The whole idea behind the Community Fund is that there are local groups out there delivering recycling, reuse and waste prevention projects on the ground that we ourselves wouldn’t be able to. Using their knowledge of the subject and local areas they can make a real impact on people’s lives for the better. The Big Community Glean Up by Renegerus is a great example of this.”

Ruth Livesey, Business Development Manager at Regenerus, continued: “We are looking forward to 2021 when we will hopefully be able to take larger groups along to our gleaning expeditions, and bring back lots more fresh food which we will be sharing out at our community cook and eat events.”

A MERSEYSIDE charity is taking its annual seasonal celebrations online this year with a virtual grotto and an online Christmas concert.

The team at Autism Together have not let the pandemic put a stop to the Christmas cheer by setting up a personalised video message service direct from Santa’s grotto.

They’re also busy gathering recordings from a variety of seasonal entertainers in order to host an online version of their annual Christmas Concert, which will be broadcast via Zoom, completely free of charge.

The Bromborough-based charity, which supports over 400 people with autism, has already tasted success with virtual events this year after holding its annual Summer Fair completely via Facebook back in July, raising over £3,000 in the process.

Lisa Masters, Fundraising Manager for Autism Together, said: “Like the rest of us, Father Christmas is socially distancing this year, but he has agreed to work with Autism Together to deliver personalised messages to our friends and supporters, direct from his grotto.

“There are a range of message options available, including an age-appropriate present and Christmas goody bag. Parents can even book a message from Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve reminding their little ones to go to bed early before the reindeer arrive.

“As always, we’ve made this service as autism-friendly as possible, with options of using Makaton signing in the video, or even choosing to have a message from one of the North Pole elves instead of Santa.”

Bookings for the Virtual Santa’s Grotto, which is sponsored by Wirral business Spark Medical, are now open online, here: www.trybooking.co.uk/VJV

Autism Together are following up the grotto with a Virtual Christmas Concert on Thursday, December 10th.

The evening event will be free to watch and will encompass a live feed from the charity’s head office, interspersed with seasonal music and entertainment recorded in advance by local performers and some of the people Autism Together supports.

Lisa continued: “Along with the mixture of live and recorded entertainment, we will also be drawing our big Sunshine Holiday Raffle live on the night.

“And as our Christmas Concert attendees usually get to enjoy a warm drink and a sweet treat on the night, this year we’ll be sending out hot chocolate and biscuits to all guests who make a donation to our charity when they register to join us for the concert.

“It’s been a tough year for everyone and we look forward to celebrating the Christmas season with you all and looking towards a brighter future together. Funds raised this Christmas will be used to help build an all-weather sensory garden and cycle track at our site in Raby.

“If anyone would like to make a donation to our December appeal, we will be actively fundraising for the sensory garden project via The Big Give’s Christmas Challenge 2020, so it would be wonderful if you could support us then (December 1st-8th).”

Register for free to join Autism Together’s Virtual Concert by visiting the charity’s website: www.autismtogether.co.uk/christmas2020.

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