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Giant puppets invite people to celebrate England's high streets this Summer

  • Hi! Street Fest, a landmark nation-wide commission with Emergency Exit Arts (EEA), is the exciting culmination of Historic England’s major cultural programme across England’s high streets
  • Farrah the Fox, a five-metre tall puppet on a giant scooter, will make her way to seven high streets this summer to celebrate what communities love about their local places
  • Farrah will be met by a host puppet on each high street, created by local people to represent the identity of each place
  • 5,000 local volunteers have come together across high streets to put on free street parties
  • The commission marks the final year of the £95 million High Streets Heritage Action Zones Programme which has been revitalising more than 60 high streets across the country

This summer, a curious fox called Farrah will embark on a journey across the country to explore and celebrate high streets, as well as the people who love and look after them. Created in partnership with Emergency Exit Arts, Farrah is a 5-metre tall mechanical puppet of a young fox who will travel the country on her scooter, bringing a touch of carnival and free street parties to seven high streets. Taller than a double decker bus, Farrah has been designed by Tony Mason and will be animated by two puppeteers from the inside. The commission is also supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

Hi! Street Fest is Historic England’s largest and final commission as part of the High Streets Heritage Action Zones’ Cultural Programme, the widest-reaching, community-led arts and heritage programme for the public that has ever been organised. To date, 300,000 people have attended nearly 20,000 cultural events on their high street. It is led by Historic England in partnership with Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to revitalise high streets across England.

With resilience in her genes, Farrah the fox has adapted to live in a changing environment and will spark the question in each town she visits: how can high streets do the same? At each high street party Farrah will meet a different large scale puppet, which have been created by each community in collaboration with puppet makers Thingumajig Theatre.

Preparations for Farrah ahead of launch 

These host puppets represent and celebrate the individuality of their own high street and will welcome Farrah to learn about the heritage of each location. Taking the form of street parties and parades, these vibrant celebrations led by Artistic Director Manuela Benini will take place in seven locations across England: Lowestoft, Gloucester, Wigan, Gosport, Middlesbrough and Stalybridge, culminating in Woolwich. From Bhangra to brass bands, roller skaters to street dancers, sea shanties to samba bands, community choirs and carnival troupes will join together for these moments of celebration.

Hi! Street Fest is an ambitious project, aiming to bring together people and place to support bright futures for high streets. Across the country, Hi! Street Fest will engage more than 5,000 people in the development of these events, with thousands of hours of community participation through outreach and workshops.

High Streets Heritage Action Zones’ Cultural Programme

The High Streets Heritage Action Zones’ Cultural Programme is drawing people to their high streets, changing their perceptions of their local areas and helping them to feel more part of their community. To date it has reached 300,000 people, provided 3,305 artist in residence days, 776 artworks and installations, 86,857 volunteer hours and counting.

As a result of attending previous cultural events, 66% of audiences feel more part of their community and 83% of people feel more positive that the high street is a place where they can experience culture and arts.

This project aims to reimagine the high street, attract visitors and bring people together to celebrate each high street’s different culture. Our research found that 64% of audiences said previous cultural activity as part of this programme was the main reason they visited their high street, and that 80% of audiences visited local shops, cafes and businesses before or after they attended the cultural programme activity.

Previous events have resulted in 79% of people having a greater sense of pride of the high street and local area. Hi! Street Fest aims to continue this work, encouraging the long-term development of locally-driven creativity in each area and increasing opportunities for people to visit and to engage with their high streets.  

Daniel Bernstein, CEO of Emergency Exit Arts, said: “Emergency Exit Arts has been co-creating with communities for 43 years. We are loving working on this important national project in close partnership with Historic England. Hi! Street Fest has given hundreds of local people new opportunities in each place to get engaged in putting these events on in their high street and help make a real long-term difference to their place. 

We are so excited to bring spectacle in the puppet form of Farrah, but also excited about the development opportunities for local people to put on more events in their place. In each place, we have trained community producers, developed carnival bands and helped each place determine their own special host mascot puppet who we hope will make appearances for years to come. This is what EEA does best: enabling people, enhancing places and astonishing audiences.”

Gloucester, Saturday 1 July

In Gloucester, Farrah will be gifted items from different community groups: from roller skaters to hip hop dancers. She will meet a host character based on Sabrina from the River Severn and see an installation based on the river with items strung up high above from building to building and in shop windows. A street band will accompany Farrah on her tour of the town. This event has been devised by Historic England and EEA, in partnership with Gloucester City Council and local partners who have collaborated with local residents in Gloucester.

Lowestoft, Saturday 17 June

In Lowestoft, Farrah’s arrival will kick off First Light Festival, a free annual solstice celebration that takes place on the town’s beach. Parading through the London Road Heritage Action Zone, Farrah will be greeted by Sol, Lowestoft’s host puppet representing the abundant spirit of the sea. With urban animals and ocean creatures comprised of local schools and community groups, the two puppets will celebrate the meeting of land and sea in the town, as a means of inspiring resilience and adaptability in the community. Alongside music and performance, the parade will feature the swapping of gifts between the new friends, including gifts of a new street music band developed by Marina Theatre and a giant postcard from the Lowestoft community. This event has been devised by Historic England and EEA, in partnership with First Light Festival CIC, with support from East Suffolk Council.

Wigan, Saturday 8 July

In Wigan, Farrah will be welcomed by a dance piece with spoken word, a visual installation, a percussion group and a brass band. She will meet a host puppet named Frankie, who is based on “a person just like you and me”, created by children from Everyday (formerly Wigan STEAM). The parade will feature a section at the front to encourage children to decorate their own wheels and ride them. This event has been devised by Historic England and EEA, in partnership with a consortium of Wigan borough-based organisations, and collaboration with local residents in Wigan has been led by The Old Courts. The event is also part of the Streets Apart Festival.

Gosport, Saturday 22 July

In Gosport, Farrah will tour the town accompanied by a parade focused on the nautical history of Gosport, celebrating Gosport’s rich diving heritage and its many connections to the sea. Farrah will be welcomed by a semaphore performance and greeted by Deeps, a puppet based on a deep-sea diver, wearing a traditional red beanie hat knitted by community groups. Farrah will be presented with gifts including a giant diving helmet, and sea shanties performed by professionals and local young singers. Carnival and dance troupes alongside a samba band will make up the procession. This event has been devised by Historic England and EEA, in partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust, Gosport Cultural Consortium and local partners. 

Middlesbrough, Saturday 29 July

In Middlesbrough, Farrah will receive musical gifts including a newly composed song, African drumming and choir of retirees. A performance from local groups and Middlesbrough college with accompany the procession. Middlesbrough’s puppet is called Tia and is based on South Asian communities in Middlesbrough. An extra installation being coordinated by Navigator North looks at comic books and folktales with stories of Farrah and the host to appear in shop windows. People are also being encouraged to bring in saris to create a patchwork mirroring a similar piece that sits in the museum in Middlesbrough. On the day, key buildings including the Town Hall and Central Library will light up in pink and orange to acknowledge Hi! Street Fest coming to the town. This event has been devised by Historic England and EEA, in partnership with Middlesbrough Council, Borderlands and Navigator North in collaboration with local residents.

Stalybridge, Saturday 9 September

In Stalybridge, Farrah will meet Charlie, a puppet based on a ‘little piecer’, a young child from 1830 who would piece up the broken threads in a factory. There will be an installation of giant silk flags representing Stalybridge stories with QR codes with more information, and gifts for Farrah will come from different community groups to represent the cultural diversity of the area.

While Hi! Street Fest is a national project, the event in Stalybridge will have its own name – to be announced at a later date – to reflect the local area and celebrate its own unique culture and heritage. This event has been devised by Historic England and EEA, in partnership with The Bridge and in collaboration with local residents in Stalybridge. It’s also part of a wider celebration called Cotton Carnival based on Stalybridge’s cotton and mills heritage.

Woolwich, Friday 22 September

In Woolwich, Farrah will return home with six new friends to visit her own local high street where she grew up. Farrah and the puppets from Lowestoft, Gloucester, Wigan, Gosport, Middlesbrough and Stalybridge will join the local people of Woolwich who have been preparing special performances of their own to welcome the hosts to London for a fitting finale of Hi! Street Fest.

Woolwich will come alive with dance, music, song and costume specific to the area to celebrate Farrah’s homecoming, welcome the visitors and show off Woolwich’s diverse and creative High Street Heritage Action Zone.

This event has been devised by Historic England and EEA, in partnership with the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

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