The deep sound of the djembe drumming resonated like the heartbeat of the community which came together on the Common on Saturday 25th February for our Quirky Tree celebratory event.
Well over 100 people aged from nine to 94 attended and inauspiciously took place between two storms - Doris and Ewan - and yet the good feeling which surrounded this inaugural spring celebration in Rusthall was sufficient to offset the slightly chilly weather.
From the start of the day the mood was positive with a humorous introduction from Tunbridge Wells Mayor David Neve
He was pleased to announce the use of the marquee which had been purchased thanks to the Heart of the Community Awards prize money which we received in November.
Then followed the upbeat rendition of several songs by the Battle, Crowborough and Tunbridge Wells Rock Choir. This choir is part of the UK-wide Rock Choir family which offers adults and teenagers an alternative experience to the traditional community choir without auditions and no requirements to read music or have any previous singing experience.
Rock Choir is for anyone who just loves to sing! Two members of the Rusthall Community Arts committee performed in the choir including our chairperson, Alex Britcher, who was still recovering from an illness which had taken her to hospital in the few days leading up to the event, but in true community spirit she rallied herself to “orchestrate” the event. The choir was implored to give an encore by the enthusiastic crowd listening. Further information about the Rock Choir and how to try a free taster session can be found here: www.rockchoir.com
Creative activities were immediately underway thanks to the guiding hand of artist Di Drummond. Children were able to enjoy leaf rubbing with wax crayons which were added to the tree decoration. The Mayor had kindly given some special badges to encourage participation.
Meanwhile, several dog walkers made prints of their dogs’ paws which were also added to the tree.
Warming tea and coffee were welcome prior to the arrival of the djembe drummers. The drummers were a group coordinated by Cheryl Hooker–Blake which has been meeting to learn drumming in Sunnyside Hall since October 2016
The roll of paper donated by Cliffe Enterprise Ltd provided a large canvas for children such as nine year old Evie Brown to enjoy unbounded creativity watched by other community members such as 94 year old Metzi. The event attracted young and the young at heart.
The talk about the Celts in West Kent given by Nigel Stapple, who recalled playing on this part of the Common as a seven year old, raised the intriguing possibility that the site of the Quirky Tree celebration might also be the site of an ancient or medieval settlement. Was it more than coincidence that had drawn Charlie Bell to select that particular oak tree?
Local residents, including Sonia Lawrence and Charlie Bell, then read poems by Arthur Tribe (1870-1961), who lived at 15 Rusthall Road, through which he expressed his love of the Common.
By early afternoon the tree had been decorated with the many handmade “leaves” which had been brought to the tree, including those made by the Rusthall Abstract Artists and also the knitted squares which had been contributed by the residents of Rusthall Lodge.
The afternoon was rounded off much as it had begun with a fitting guitar and vocal performance by Glenn Dallender.
The concept of decorating the tree through crowd art whereby many people contributed, was deliberately without strict guidelines so that each individual felt open to interpret the task of contributing a leaf to the tree in their own style. The overall production was not shaped by the vision of a sole artist so, to some it may look a little messy, but to others it looks quirky(!) and represents the diversity of individuals which constitute our community and participation of many - which was the overall intention.
It was necessary to “undress” the tree in the afternoon during the event clear up to satisfy the requirements of the Commons Conservators. Hence, the tree was only decorated for the day although the leaves have been kept and are in safe hands. We would like to thank everyone, and of course the pet dogs, who contributed leaves to the Quirky Tree.
Thanks also go to everyone who pitched in to help tidy away the marquee which included many of the singers who kindly assisted us at the end of the day.
Everyone’s spirits had been kept up thanks to the provision of hot drinks and cake throughout the day. Many people worked tirelessly under the guidance of Sue White to serve the refreshments including Hazel Duncombe, Cllr Joy Podbury and Cllr Jenny Blackburn.
The feedback following the event has been universally positive. The day has been described as fun, vibrant, happy, uplifting, and a great community spirit.
Alex Britcher, Chairperson of Rusthall Community Arts, commented:
“I think I can speak on behalf of the whole team to say how thrilled we were with the day. It really was a community effort with people coming together to produce such a beautiful and unique event in the village. We had a huge age range attend which was great to see. The whole day had a wonderful inclusive feel and there was something for everyone to get involved in or be entertained by.
"Thank you to everyone who participated, contributed and came along. Without you all this really could not have happened.”