“There’s nothing going on in Lancaster” – a student’s perspective
This was by far the most popular comment people had to say to me when I told them I was going to Lancaster University - “nothing happens there”, “there’s nothing to do”, or even worse, “Lancaster’s a dead town”. Even though I was confident that I’d be happy, upon arrival these phrases floated through my mind like tumbleweed, a constant fear that the place where I’d set my heart on studying would be as dry as a desert town.
So, after living and working in Lancaster for two years, I can safely rebuke these unfounded criticisms by writing about some of my favourite things to do in the culturally rich and historic city I call a second home.
Lancaster’s thriving arts scene can be noted both on campus and off. We’re treated to an insane amount of comedy and often wacky theatre thanks to Lancaster Arts (recently awarded half a million in Lottery funding). The Dukes, the city’s arthouse that screens enough indie flicks to make Wes Anderson bust a nut, is a regular stop-off point for comics and intellectuals on tour.
Particularly for live literature, Lancaster has a wicked scene. Monthly live words showcase Spotlight (third Friday of every month at The Storey) plays host to the region’s writers and musicians, and are attracting more student performers each time. As a poet myself, I had the opportunity of opening for Luke Wright’s epic verse play at the University’s Nuffield Theatre; on Saturday, I’m off to watch John Cooper Clarke at The Dukes.
The flourishing arty vibes of the city are supported by establishments like Atkinsons and Supermarché. The former is a charming coffee and tea shop, split into two branches. Priory Hall is next to where I live, and plays host to the Indie Coffee Guide and regular folk and funk shows; nearby is The Music Room, a local-art selling mezzanine that sits on a Renaissance-style garden pavilion.
i-D magazine describes Supermarché as a ‘shop-cum-studio-cum-hangout’, and I can’t really think of a better way of putting it. Selling art, t-shirts and providing a creative space for locals, it’s a really exciting venture that’s just started a cool night called the 25 Club, which sees only 25 tickets being put out for an intimate gig with comics and musicians.
Even though it’s dwarfed by neighbouring Manchester, the music scene is growing in Lancaster every year. Its strident community-led attitude to putting on festivals and events makes it stand out, and the city has an incredible amount of artistic talent. In a few weeks’ time, the biggest ever Lancaster Music Festival will take over the city, and it’s going to be a treat.
Overlooking the city is the picturesque Williamson Park. Every Saturday there’s a free timed 5k run through the grounds, and every summer there’s a sell-out production in association with the Dukes. I saw their open-air version of The Hobbit in 2016, and was blown away by the immersion and set design, as we walked around the park to each different set with the actors.
All this and I still feel like I’m uncovering new hidden treasures every day. Each city has its little niche and I think I’m getting the hang of Lancaster’s; a surprisingly arty culture with a deep-rooted historic significance. I know for a fact that I’ll have missed out so many things in this article that I haven’t even heard of – but I can’t wait to find out what they are.
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