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Baldock – a passion for life

PUBLISHED: 18:15 21 February 2014 | UPDATED: 18:15 21 February 2014

Balstock organiser Graeme 'G' La Roche

Balstock organiser Graeme 'G' La Roche

Archant

Baldock residents have recently created a range of major events and community projects that have injected new life and interest in the town. Sandra Smith reports

The North Hertfordshire town of Baldock can trace its origins back to Roman times. A proliferation of barley in the area several centuries later brought wealth and recognition, while the advent of the railway and trade links via the Great North Road ensured continued prosperity in the town.

Yet although in touch with its historical roots, these days the mindset of this community is unmistakeably 21st century. The art, festival, sport and business network opportunities reflect and unite the town. And this year looks set to offer a range of events more appealing and accessible than ever. Here we talk to some the residents of Baldock who exude both passion and vision and help create a community spirit and array of activities that help make this small market town such a vibrant place to live.

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In the running.

Anyone with a love of off-road running, might be tempted by the Baldock Beast multi terrain half marathon on Sunday February 16.

As a keen runner, Ashley Hawkins (above) created the race two years ago, although an interest in the sport was not his only motivation.

He explains, ‘The event is an income generator for the Baldock Town Partnership, attracting people to the area and helping raising the profile of the town. This year we are expecting up to 650 runners.’

For those who might be intimidated by the title, Ashley says it is not all hard going, ‘The Baldock Beast is so-called as it is quite a beastly course with a few tough hills. But remember hills also go down.’

To take part in this year’s event, register at baldocktown.co.uk.

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Music for all.

For less exhausting but nevertheless high-energy entertainment, there is the eagerly anticipated annual music extravaganza, Balstock – ‘the largest free music festival in the county if not East Anglia,’ founder Graeme LaRoche enthuses. ‘We try and cater for as many different genres as possible, including punk, folk, metal, rock and pop. There’s stand-up comedy, too, and this year we will hopefully include poetry.’

Since it began in 2006 with 11 acts in The Engine pub, the festival has continued to flourish. Last year, 160 acts and performances filled every pub in the town as well as the High Street over three days in September. 
Along with his fellow organisers, Graeme, also known as G, is determined to make Balstock bigger and better than ever each year and works alongside Hertfordshire Music Service, local Scout groups and the town’s St Mary the Virgin church (right).

‘We are community based, with bands playing for free and local business putting money in. Any money we raise – usually up to £1,500 – goes to charity,’ adds Graham. This year’s charity has yet to be decided and nominations are welcome. Interested organisations should contact the team at balstock.wordpress.com.
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A community hub.

One of the most iconic buildings in the centre of Baldock, and one which has undergone a transformation in recent months, is the former town hall, now renamed the Baldock Arts and Heritage Centre.

Maureen Maddren explains its reinvention. ‘The town hall was left empty for a while, having been put on North Herts District Council’s list for disposal. But a group of us wanted to see what we could do about it. A survey revealed the building was sound, so we secured a series of grants which funded the refurbishment.’

One of the overriding criteria in redeveloping this Victorian building was to create a hub for local art and entertainment events for the townsfolk. An upstairs hall, Thomas Prior Theatre, named after the hall’s original benefactor, seats 120. Groups, as well as individuals, are being encouraged to hire the theatre and other rooms in the centre for short-term courses, workshops and festivals.

‘We also hope to open a coffee bar in the spring. It is important that the centre is available and remains open for the people of Baldock to use,’ Maureen says. 
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Dancing in the streets.

No respectable market town would be complete without its own Morris dancers, and the Baldock Midnight Morris group brings colour and fun to the streets.

‘The side was started by people living in the town and actively involved in town life,’ explains bagman Joyce Ormrod. This was back in 1996 when, in the absence of a group, a handful of friends formed a Morris side and learned three dances which they showcased at the next town street fair. When the founders were asked to perform at a party, the midnight hour provided a suitable name.

Joyce says, ‘We include men and women, with ages currently ranging from 13 through all the decades, and we are always looking for new members, including beginners.’

This year BMM will perform on the Day of Dance (May 17) during the Baldock Festival. Other engagements include steam fairs and carnivals. To get involved and for more information, go to baldockmidnightmorris.org.uk

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