Festival celebrates city’s rich history

Peterborough Heritage Festival
Peterborough Heritage Festival
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Stuart Orme, head of operations at Peterborough Cathedral

350 Performers, 3,500 years & 35,000 visitors… it’s the beginning of the summer, which can mean only one thing: it’s time for the city’s annual Heritage Festival (July 2/3).

For one weekend the city centre is taken over by Roman soldiers, medieval musicians, Tudor monarchs and World War II vehicles as we celebrate Peterborough’s past, against the backdrop of the cathedral as our most iconic ancient building.

The city has one of the richest stories of any in the country, with over 3,500 years of continuous human occupation and connections to most great national events.

The festival aims to celebrate and educate people about our shared heritage and bring more visitors to the city, attracting nearly 35,000 people last year. There is an economic benefit, as restaurants, bars, hotels and many shops report a boost in business from the weekend too.

This year’s event promises a great day out for all the family, with hundreds of re-enactors, a period market, local history displays and children’s activities. Amongst the highlights are a battle between Vikings and Saxons, recreating the fall of Peterborough in 870AD. Contrast this with the more modern story of Peterborough told through newsreel footage projected in regular showings inside the country’s only surviving 1960s touring cinema. There’s the chance to see some of our Saxon past being excavated live as part of a real archaeological dig taking place in the Cathedral Precincts, and a guest lecture on this period on Saturday night by TV historian Janina Ramirez. We’ve also a range of family activities, including the unusual sight of parachuting teddy bears inside the cathedral and Steampunk Victorians taking over the museum!

As you can imagine, organising an event on this scale is something of a logistical challenge. Preparation and planning starts many months in advance, with a de-brief session from the previous year’s event only a week or so after it has happened. Conversations take place between Vivacity’s heritage programmes team and the cathedral as to what the themes and major attractions might be achievable for the following year, what they would cost, and what fundraising needs to take place. We consult with our key sponsor, Perkins, to get their views on what they would like to see as part of the event. Without their support we could not stage the festival, which is dependent on sponsorship, grants and donations to continue. If you enjoy the weekend and can put some cash in our donation buckets, it will not only help to cover this year’s costs, but allow us to put on an even better event next year.

Months of planning and negotiation follow with the city council, re-enactors, performers, community groups and suppliers to get the infrastructure, performances, displays and events put together ready for the main event. That’s not including the hundreds of volunteers, staff, re-enactors and community groups who give up their time to come and put on the best weekend possible for our visitors.

So, after all their hard work, make sure you come along and enjoy the show!