Countdown to massive Orwell anniversary weekend

Quentin Kopp, The Orwell Society events organiser
Quentin Kopp, The Orwell Society events organiser

A long-awaited weekend celebrating the 80th anniversary of George Orwell’s book The Road to Wigan Pier being published is almost here.

Events to commemorate the milestone begin on Friday (March 10) and continue at venues across the town until Sunday March 12.

The book is clearly not a negative description of Wigan and its people, but it has been accepted by many as such

Quentin Kopp

One of the highlights will be the famous author’s son Richard Blair following in his father’s footsteps and coming to Wigan to speak about the book.

The Orwell Society has teamed up with Scholes community hub Sunshine House to put on the weekend, with a packed programme also taking in venues including The Museum of Wigan Life and The Old Courts.

Despite some enduring controversy over the picture of the borough Orwell painted, organisers and supporters are in no doubt that Wigan should recognise this historic date.

Wigan Council deputy leader Coun David Molyneux said: “We should support this because it’s a big chapter in Wigan’s history and we need to remember and commemorate the writing of the book.

“This anniversary has certainly brought a lot of interest into Wigan and the programme looks really good.

“I spoke to people who were actually interviewed and spent time with Orwell and they were slightly disappointed with the picture he painted. Living conditions weren’t great but they made the best of them and they didn’t feel it reflected that.

“I have no doubt Wigan in the 1930s was pretty grim but I don’t think it was that different to other northern towns.

“We’ve never been embarrassed about our heritage as a mining town and Orwell is part of that story, but we are a modern town now with new growth industries, forging ahead with a new future for Wigan Pier.”

Members of The Orwell Society are expected to descend on the borough from across the UK and further afield.

The weekend is also raising money for Sunshine House after the society was impressed with its community work during planning visits.

The Orwell Society events organiser Quentin Kopp said: “A lot of things have come together for this after 18 months and we are really looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be a cracking weekend for local residents as well as our members.

“We hope the events this week help to change any negative perceptions in Wigan of Orwell, The book is clearly not a negative description of Wigan and its people, but it has been accepted by many as such.”

“We’ve had a fantastic reception here and we’re also hoping to raise a lot of money for Sunshine House’s work changing people’s self-perceptions about what is possible.”

Stephen Armstrong, the author of The Road To Wigan Pier Revisited, said: “Wigan and The Road to Wigan Pier have a complicated relationship and in a way this is like marriage guidance or counselling for the town and the book to come to terms with each other.

“There’s good reason for the tempestuous and tormented relationship but the experiences Orwell had in Wigan changed him fundamentally. If he hadn’t visited we wouldn’t have had 1984 or Animal Farm and Wigan should be proud of what it helped create.”