Steve Wharton – storyteller and musician: inspired by the English Lake District World Heritage Site29 March 2019
I lived abroad for five years, visiting my fair share of UNESCO sites amongst my travels in Europe and Asia. The cultural heritage performances I saw, ranging from solo performers to operatic events involving whole towns, offered a gateway to understanding those sites and made me wonder why we don’t celebrate our own culture in England this way.
On returning to England I decided to focus on heritage performance; stories, songs, poems and dialect from my native Cumbria. I’m honoured to be recognised as a storyteller who can convey the values that make the Lake District deserving of its World Heritage Site status.
In return, I’m making a commitment to deepen my understanding of these values and to include them in my writing, performances and recordings. They will be a frame which my shows can either sit inside or dance around the edges of.
As time goes on, these values will blend with and inspire new material and interpretations of the Lake District’s folk heritage. I’ll weave the values into performances and present them more obviously in workshops for all ages.
It can be a scary prospect to accept ‘limitations’ for your artistry, but it can be unexpectedly rewarding. By choosing to focus on Cumbrian folklore and music, I have been able to dig deeper than I think I would have done if I had established myself as a generic storyteller or folk singer. My research and performance have included stone circles, Vikings, the Dissolution and contemporary events. By concentrating on the world heritage values, I will focus on the industries that sculpted the Lake District, the changes of perception towards the landscape and what it has meant for tourism and conservation globally.
Folklore is our unofficial history, a distillation of common sense and beliefs, wrapped up in flights of fancy and sent down the ages. It informs our interpretation of the landscapes we inhabit and helps to crystallise our identity.
Appreciation of our own heritage and culture is a great place from which we can assess the similarities and differences we have with other people around the world. I’m very proud that this corner of England is a member of the UNESCO family and delighted to have the opportunity to share the reasons why.