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And the result is a series of fascinating walking tours about the city and its history that not only reveal more about Liverpool’s pioneers and icons, they take art and theatre onto its streets.
“We want to get as many local people to come along on the walking tours,” says John, founder and creator of ArtsGroupie which runs them.
“There is a massive civic pride in Liverpool, we are a great tribe, and I want to encourage a respect for its heritage and an even greater pride in the city, and to show where that pride comes from.”
He adds: “The walks are an alternative way to find out more about our rich history and, as an outdoor activity, increase people’s physical and mental health.”
ArtsGroupie is a Liverpool-based community interest company that was set up by John in 2019 to promote and provide access to the arts across the region, as well as support freelancers like himself. He developed touring theatre and music productions, as well as workshops for adults and children in creative writing and the spoken word, with the aim of taking them to ‘people who don’t think theatre is for them’.
It’s ironic that one of John’s first productions was about Liverpool’s ‘Queen of the Washhouse’ Kitty Wilkinson, whose pioneering efforts to create hygiene awareness after the outbreak of cholera led to the opening of the first public washhouse and baths in the UK – and John’s last performance of it was in March 2020: “We sold out in the small concert hall at St George’s Hall. It was a play about when cholera hits Liverpool and no-one knows how it’s caught, how it’s spread… exactly like the current pandemic!
“A week later we were in lockdown – and I had to think about what we would do next.
“The aim was to keep ArtsGroupie going during this mad year, and to help the local visitor economy.”
John has now created a series of walks which will hopefully do both.
This weekend ArtsGroupie is launching two walking tours entitled Celebrating the Liverpool Icons: one about William Roscoe – Saturday, May 29 at 11am and 3pm – and the other at the same times on Sunday, May 30, about Kitty Wilkinson.
These walks will then take place monthly.
* The William Roscoe Esquire walk will take around two hours and start at the Metropolitan Cathedral and end at the Nelson Monument in Exchange Flags. It celebrates the life of the self-taught writer who set up the first art exhibition in the city, established the Botanic Gardens and whose art works were gifted to the Walker Art Gallery.
“I loved that this man had done so much for the city,” says John.
* The Kitty Wilkinson Walk will start by the steps of St George’s Hall and, again taking two hours, will visit the former site of the workhouse and Kitty’s grave at St James’ Cemetery.
John, 44, from Belle Vale, says: “I stumbled upon Kitty when I was working on a project in Clubmoor and that was when I thought she would make an amazing play and that more people should know about her. She was such a strong woman who made such a contribution to Liverpool and beyond.”
On Monday, May 31, May Bank Holiday, John will also launch the more frequent Liver Bird Safari Walking Tour which, from then, will take place on Fridays and Sundays at 10.30am and 2pm.
He says: “Liverpool is famous for the birds on the magnificent Liver Building, the first ever skyscraper in the UK, but there are actually more than 100 Liver Birds in the City, so this tours around the city as we go Liver Bird spotting and ends up at the waterfront to take in the more famous ones as we end the walk.”
It starts at The Bluecoat in School Lane and ends at St Nicholas’ Parish Church.
John says: “I am so passionate because I love this city, and it’s my mission is to inspire people and let them know about it and the importance of people like Kitty Wilkinson and William Roscoe.”
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