An exciting children’s competition has been launched to help raise awareness for the father of the modern circus Philip Astley – who was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Staffordshire Poet Laureate Mel Wardle Woodend has teamed up with the Philip Astley Project CIC and Newcastle-under-Lyme and Staffordshire Libraries for an exciting competition.
The Philip Astley Project team approached Mel Wardle Woodend in a bid to help boost children’s lost education – due to the coronavirus pandemic – as well as raise awareness for military hero, original ringmaster and creator of modern circus – Newcastle-under-Lyme born Philip Astley.
Newcastle-under-Lyme’s very own Showman – Andrew Van Buren of the Philip Astley Project – is often quoted as saying: “When you consider what William Shakespeare has done for Stratford-upon-Avon, then what can Philip Astley do for Newcastle-under-Lyme? Astley is our Shakespeare.”
Andrew, who began his family’s third attempt at raising awareness in Astley in 2009, said: “My belief is that not only can Astley become a trade generating a ‘unique selling point’ tourist attraction for his birthplace and Staffordshire, he can also open up so many opportunities for learning, and as an inspirational figure for the younger generations, Astley proved that with determination, passion and work anything is possible – in Astley’s case he created an art form that has in turn influenced theatre, cinema, art, and literature, so with my belief of Astley being Newcastle-under-Lyme’s Shakespeare what better way to celebrate the fact than through poetry.”
This drive is initially in the form of a Poetry competition that has been offered for free to all schools throughout Staffordshire, the competition is open to all children from age 7 to 11 who are invited to write a poem about Philip Astley and his legacy. The hope is that it will encourage children to explore and research Philip Astley’s life and even imagine themselves in the various roles of circus creator, entrepreneur, builder, businessman and especially as a performer, from trapeze artiste to acrobat, juggler to clown.
Poetry workshops for adults are also to take place as part of the annual Astley Fest event which last year took place online due to the pandemic.
Mel Wardle Woodend said: “I am delighted to be involved in Astley Fest this year and feel that
including poetry activities such as the workshop for adults, poetry activities focusing on memories of the circus for older people, and a poetry writing competition for children, will all help to inspire awareness within the Staffordshire community of Astley and the cultural value and impact of his work as part of our local history.
“Poetry is a wonderful vehicle for communication and the circus is such a sensory topic full of colour and movement, I cannot wait for our imaginations to be fired up as we create poetry for the festival.”
Aspiring poets are invited to Email their poems with their name and contact to Mel Wardle Woodend at email@example.com
Victoria Wilson, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture at Staffordshire County Council said: “We are delighted that our library service is able to be part of this year’s AstleyFest celebrations which happen on Saturday 7th August 2021 in Newcastle-under-Lyme. It’s a wonderful opportunity for children to explore the legacy of Philip Astley through poetry and a great way for children to practice their writing skills.
“The Staffordshire Poet Laureate initiative has been a huge success since we launched it and I’m sure our current laureate Mel will do a fine job in coming up with a suitable poem. The poetry competition running alongside Mel’s commissioned poem will also provide a great
opportunity for other aspiring poets. The deadline for entries is Friday 16th July, so get your thinking hats on and pens at the ready, who knows maybe one of the participants could become the new Shakespeare or Astley themselves.”
To learn more about Philip Astley visit www.philipastley.org.uk
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