Relaunching this Spring after being delayed by the pandemic, 60 Miles by Road or Rail is a fascinating series of arts, heritage and community events, culminating in a new theatre production created by local artists at Royal & Derngate. 60 Miles by Road or Rail invites Northampton locals to contribute to the project and engage with their hometown’s unique New Town story.
In 1968 Northampton was designated a New Town as part of the government’s masterplan for post-war revitalisation. The famous marketing campaign evolved from a 30-second radio jingle into a full-blown chart record, advertising Northampton as being ‘only sixty miles by road or rail’ from London. Heralded as a utopian future and presenting affordable opportunities, Northampton expanded rapidly with new social houses and estates. While it offered an invaluable fresh start for families, some Northamptonians claim the town expanded too quickly and wasn’t able to sustain such monumental changes.
Unlike other New Towns that were largely built from scratch, such as Milton Keynes, Northampton was tasked with expanding an already existing town. Not only did they have to build new homes and welcome new families, they were tasked with integrating the old and the new. Through arts, heritage and community activities, 60 Miles by Road or Rail provides a unique opportunity to investigate the complex legacy and ramifications of becoming a New Town on those who live here today.
People with strong links to Northampton are invited to share personal stories, memories and photos with local artists working on the project. Northampton’s New Town heritage will be explored and presented in a number of ways; through written stories, a photo exhibition, a documentary film and oral histories which will be recorded and stored at East Midlands Oral History Archive. 60 Miles by Road or Rail aims to capture the many varied voices and experiences of the diverse communities living in Northampton and is running community and one-to-one sessions to achieve this. They are partnering with the New Town Heritage Research Network to host three interactive workshops about the legacy of New Towns locally and nationally. The project will also begin to explore Corby’s unique New Town story with its communities, following its own New Town designation 18 years previously in 1950.
60 Miles founder and director Andy Routledge brought together a new collective of Northants artists especially for the project. Together they interviewed over 100 local residents, which formed the basis of the 2018 pilot project. Andy comments, It feels essential to be delivering an intergenerational project that places Northamptonian experiences at its heart. Our New Town heritage has played a complex yet fundamental role on the makeup of our town and its identity, and yet we rarely talk about it. It was a period of sudden expansion, mass migration and political upheaval. Fifty years later Northampton once again finds itself in a hugely pivotal moment. With the success of both the Future High Streets Fund and Town Fund from the Government to develop another masterplan, alongside the changing of our local government structures following the County Council’s bankruptcy in 2018, the echoes between the town’s past and present feels stronger than ever. Whilst the project unashamedly prioritises our local experiences, I believe it will capture many of the moods and rhythms of large towns up and down the country attempting to regenerate.
James Dacre, Artistic Director of Royal & Derngate, says, We’re thrilled to be collaborating with this remarkable team of local theatre-makers as they tell this story of their hometown, drawing upon the stories of hundreds of local people to create a rich theatrical portrait of Northampton’s recent history. After a year of isolation, 60 Miles By Road or Rail will bring communities from across Northampton together again to celebrate our town.
The company of performers consists of Subika Anwar-Khan, Helen Crevel, Jo Blake, Dan McGarry and Davin Eadie. 60 Miles by Road or Rail was written by Ryan Leder and is produced by Courtenay Johnson and directed by Andy Routledge.
60 Miles by Road or Rail is generously supported by Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Lottery Community Fund, The Compton Fund Northamptonshire Community Foundation and Travers Foundation. Their partners include Carbon Theatre, Royal & Derngate, Northampton Past, New Town Heritage Research Network, Eight Engines and Warts and All Theatre. The theatre production is made with support from Royal & Derngate, Northampton, after receiving development support through the theatre’s Generate programme.
The 60 Miles by Road or Rail community project and events are running from Wednesday 14th April – Wednesday 15th December 2021 and the theatre production will run from Wednesday 22nd – Saturday 25th September 2021 at Royal & Derngate.