Celebration to mark The Road to Wigan Pier anniversary

Members of the Orwell Society at Sunshine House to discuss the 80th anniversary of Orwell's visit to Wigan.  Pictured are author Stephen Armstrong, Mary Delaney from ALRA, Pat Tate from Sunshine House with  Quentin Kopp and Les Hurst
Members of the Orwell Society at Sunshine House to discuss the 80th anniversary of Orwell's visit to Wigan. Pictured are author Stephen Armstrong, Mary Delaney from ALRA, Pat Tate from Sunshine House with Quentin Kopp and Les Hurst

A spectacular celebration is being held in Wigan to mark a milestone anniversary of the publication of one of George Orwell’s best-known books.

The Orwell Society is visiting the borough in March for a weekend of events to commemorate 80 years since The Road to Wigan Pier appeared in print.

We started working on this about 18 months ago and plans are now coming together

Quentin Kopp

Plans for the ambitious celebrations were announced last year to coincide with eight decades passing since Orwell’s research visit to Wigan and the schedule is now almost complete.

Events will be spread over three days, based around Sunshine House in Scholes where Orwell lodged and worked while living in the borough, with historians taking culture enthusiasts back to the 1930s and groups performing original drama and writing.

The Orwell Society also hopes the event will help to demolish the widely-held belief in the area that the famous author was too negative in his portrayal of Wigan or even intended to harm the area with his writing.

Quentin Kopp, the society’s events organiser, said: “We started working on this about 18 months ago and plans are now coming together.

“We’re so excited and I really feel encouraged. Seeing things come together has been great and people are coming from as far afield as New Jersey in the States.

“We want to encourage people to come to Wigan as there are a lot of things of interest here and engage with local people.

“Hopefully we will see how Wigan and the people he was extremely complimentary about were described, rather than the general consensus round here which is that he slagged the town off.

“We also want to raise money to help Sunshine House to extend the fantastic work they are doing.”

The anniversary celebrations will kick off on Friday March 10 with a talk by Professor John Newsinger at a Sunshine House event supported by the Wigan Diggers Festival.

The following day the commemorations will be officially opened at the Scholes venue with the community hub and Wigan Council performing the official launch duties before a series of drama and poetry performances inspired by Orwell’s work.

Primary and secondary school pupils from across Wigan will read poems and perform a short dystopian play and the Sunshine Writers Group will showcase their work, with all the pieces being prepared with the help of acclaimed local writer Louise Fazackerley.

In the afternoon experts will speak about Orwell’s life and writings at the Museum of Wigan Life, where he carried out research for his book, and short plays inspired by The Road to Wigan Pier will be performed in the evening at Alra North’s Mill at the Pier venue.

The celebration concludes on Sunday March 12 at The Old Courts, where film footage of Wigan in 1936 will be shown.

Members of The Orwell Society will descend on the borough from all over the country and the author’s son Richard Blair and his wife Eleanor will attend.

The event is also being fully supported by Wigan Council.

Coun David Molyneux, Wigan Council’s deputy leader, said: “We are very excited that the Orwell Society is hosting a range of events in Wigan to mark the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier.

“The events will take place thanks to the support of our partners at Sunshine House, the Museum of Wigan Life, ALRA and the Old Courts.

“We hope members of the public from both Wigan and further afield come along and get involved in what promises to be an excellent weekend of celebrations.”

The 80th anniversary celebration of the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier runs from Friday March 10 to Sunday March 12. All the events are free but donations for Sunshine House and other supporting organisations will be taken.

To find out more visit www.orwellsociety.com