Top film director to visit Diggers bash

One of Britain's most successful film directors will make the journey to Wigan to help celebrate the life and work of a radical local thinker.

Ken Loach, who is one of the few people to have won the prestigious Palme d’Or for the best picture at the Cannes Film Festival twice, will receive the golden spade at this year’s Wigan Diggers Festival.

The event celebrates Wigan-born writer and radical Gerrard Winstanley, who led the Diggers movement and is often called the world’s first socialist.

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Loach, who recently won in Cannes for the second time with his film about the benefits system I, Daniel Blake and whose milestone work about homelessness Cathy Come Home marks its 50th anniversary this year, will be presented with his Gerrard Winstanley spade by last year’s recipient, screenwriter Jimmy McGovern.

Organisers say the sixth festival is the most ambitious yet, with the usual open-air celebration of politics, comedy and music expanding from its usual base on The Wiend and Believe Square into the town centre.

Paul Hilton from the festival organising committee said: “Ken Loach has been a lifelong campaigner against injustice. Cathy Come Home, made 50 years ago, inspired a huge campaign against homelessness and resonates today

“According to a recent study cash-strapped working people are stretched to breaking point so much that one in three could not afford to pay their rent or mortgage for more than a month if they lost their job.

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“This year we’re expanding our activities and stalls into the triangle area at the top of town, it’s promising to be the best and biggest event yet.”

The music bill will be headlined by recently-reformed Wigan indie-rock act The Railway Children, who were one of the biggest acts on the British music scene in the 1980s.

Acts such as folk-punk group Headsticks and singer-songwriter Dean Lane will bring their brand of politically-conscious music, while other acts include Wigan classic rockers Bigfoot and festival favourites Run Out The Guns.

Ex-Chumbawumba star Boff Whalley brings his Commoners Choir to the Diggers Festival while community art is represented by local group More Than Words.

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More than 50 stalls will be manned by groups campaigning on a huge range of causes from the political to the environmental, the latter inspired by Winstanley’s famous phrase that “the earth was made a common treasury for all”, while authors and historians will give talks.

There will also be a re-enactment of the famous digging of common land, entertainment for children and a special festival ale in the beer tent for thirsty visitors.

The organisers have also created a brochure for this year’s event as they want to give more information about Winstanley and his importance to a huge range of political thinkers.

Paul said: “We wanted to give more historical background. It’s very popular but a lot of people aren’t quite sure why we do it! What Gerrard Winstanley stood for is as pertinent today as it’s ever been with the disparity between the haves and have-nots.

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“The comparisons between the dramatic changes working people expwerienced in the 17th century and what they’re going through today is uncanny. Economic globalisation and the land grabs through enclosures are both impoverishing the majority.

“Centuries ago people were forced from the land to emigrate or move into towns and eventually provide labour for the industrial revolution, and today we are also seeing vast amounts of people in insecure jobs or forced from their home to seek work.

“He’s probably the most influential Wiganer ever, if you see how his ideas have resonated. It cascades down through the years.”

The Wigan Diggers Festival takes place on Saturday September 10 from 11am until 9.30pm in Gerrard Winstanley Gardens on The Wiend.

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