Diamond days

The Queen and Duke visit Peggy Lyons at her council house in Kentmere Avenue, Seacroft in 1965
The Queen and Duke visit Peggy Lyons at her council house in Kentmere Avenue, Seacroft in 1965
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West Yorkshire is planning a huge celebration to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with community street parties and traditional events. Alison Bellamy reports.

SOME may say that community spirit no longer exists, that people no longer know their neighbours and that the old days only exist in the land of soap operas.

But this year, thousands of people in Leeds are proving that cynical view to be wrong.

During the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year there is a real chance to create a communityevent and get to know the people who live nearby – and the city is taking full advantage.

Bunting and Union Jacks will by flying as egg and spoon races, cream teas and street parties take place, along with the peal of scores of church bells on June 3 – and even a 21-gun salute.

There are hundreds of events on the horizon.

Already more than 120 groups in Leeds have applied to the Leeds Community Foundation for a small grant to help fund a traditional celebration.

The build-up to the main Diamond Jubilee long weekend from June 1-5, which includes an extra bank holiday on Tuesday June 5, has begun.

The Queen is due to come to Leeds this summer as part of the celebrations and the city is the only Yorkshire destination featured on her national tour.

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh will visit on July 18 or July 19, according to the packed itinerary published on the official Jubilee website, and “give Her Majesty the opportunity to express her thanks to people throughout the country for their continued support and loyalty.”

The last time she came to Leeds was in 2002 to mark her Golden Jubilee, and she also came to Seacroft in 1965.

Coun the Rev Alan Taylor, Lord Mayor of Leeds, said: “We are so excited that the Queen has chosen to visit our fantastic city, and can’t wait to show her everything Leeds has to offer. I’m sure she’ll be amazed at how the city has changed since she last visited 10 years ago. It will be a great honour to see the Queen during her Diamond Jubilee year.”

All Jubilee events are being overseen by the West Yorkshire Lieutenancy, headed by Lord Lieutenant for West Yorkshire Dr Ingrid Roscoe, representing the Queen, said there has been a huge response from people planning traditional events.

Dr Roscoe, who has a busy diary from now until September, is to attend St Paul’s Cathedral in London for the special Jubilee Thanksgiving Service on June 5.

She said: “The community spirit is strong in our part of the world, more so in Leeds and across West Yorkshire than other areas. We seem to be having a lot of interest and most of our schools are getting involved, in fact, people of all ages are very keen to celebrate, which is great. Also we seem to be making plans to hold events which do not have to cost a lot of money, I understand there has been 160 applications for small grants to hold street parties and celebrations in the Leeds area alone.

“There are lots of exciting events including Dame Fanny Waterman’s Children’s Jubilee Concert at Leeds Town Hall which features 400 Leeds schoolchildren and at the Leeds Carnival on bank holiday August, the historic event will also be celebrated. Carnival boss Arthur France said carnival costumes would be decorated in red, white and blue and it was a huge year for the 45th carnival, with a triple celebration of the Jubilee and the Olympics 2012.

Morley is labelled as one of the country’s most patriotic towns, for its extensive St George’s day celebrations. And its Jubilee plans are already well under way. Mayor of Morley, Coun Judith Elliott, said: “I think the people of Leeds will be thrilled by the Royal visit. We know the Queen can’t be everywhere so we’re pleased she will be in Leeds.”

Gordon Tollefson, the Leeds solicitor who is running the Leeds arm of the operation as Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, said that organisers had been overwhelmed by requests for information and more than 150 applications for small grants to fund events: “Plans are well under way to ensure that Leeds celebrates with a bang. We want to ensure that people from across the city get involved. We urge communities to join together, plus funding will be available for some groups to ensure the celebrations can happen.

“There has been a great response and there are so many events planned, in the villages which have parish councils such as Thorner and Bardsey to Farsley and inner city estates. It really is a once in a lifetime event and one we should all get involved where ever possible.”

One person who is looking forward to the summer is community campaigner Lily Woods, of Seacroft, who is helping to organise one of the biggest Jubilee parties of the year, with more than 4,000 people expected to attend.

Lily, the chair of Seacroft Tenants and Residents Association and vice-chair of the gala committee, is planning a right royal celebration to be held on July 7, on Seacroft Village Green.

Lily said: “We usually hold the Seacroft gala each summer but this year’s event, now in it’s fifth year, will be the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gala. Thanks to a number of people living here in Seacroft, we have managed to turn it back into a real community. At one time, it was not a desirable place to live, but now things are looking up and it is a pleasure to live here again.

“We are looking forward to traditional games such as a tug of war and are also hoping to crown a local Jubilee Queen.”

She said stall holders at the event will be dressed in red, white and blue and there will be re-enactment events. She recalled how in 1965 there was much excitement when the Queen came to visit locally: “She came to open Seacroft town centre in 1965, a day which many people remember. The people of Seacroft have an extra-special association with the Queen as she came to visit us. She opened the Seacroft civic centre, which is where today’s Tesco and other shops are now. So she is quite special to us and people do still talk of it.

“There is much excitement about our gala and I am pleased other parts of Leeds are also embracing the excuse to get together. I would say to anyone who wants to create a community where they live, that this is the perfect chance.”

She recalled how having an active community group or residents’ association meant that problems which arise could be tackled easier as a group: “If a problem arises like a pub wants to extend its opening hours and it is not wanted, then a group has more power when it objects. Luckily we have a good landlord and a great local pub, at The Cricketers, which is a big part of the community and very welcoming.”

Many events won’t be on such a big scale as the Seacroft gala, but many smaller parties, which involves closing off streets are planned.Applications for Jubilee funding through the Leeds Community Foundation, has now closed.

Leeds City Council is waiving road closure charges on residential streets for street parties. But council officers are urging anyone planning a party to apply for a road closure and for practical and safety reasons people should hold their parties in a hall, park or garden.

Coun Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy and development, said: “We want people to have a wonderful and memorable day. But it is important that if people are thinking of holding a street party they contact us as soon as possible so we can help them to ensure they have everything they need in place well beforehand.”

More details available at www.leeds.gov.uk and search under Jubilee. Listings of events across the county can be found at www.westyorkshirelieutenancy.org.uk