Airship Dreams project unveiled on 90th anniversary of R101’s final flight


Today (4 October) marks the 90th anniversary of the last voyage of the R101 airship, which left Cardington in 1930 and tragically crashed, killing nearly all of its 54 passengers.

To commemorate the anniversary and celebrate Bedford’s role at the heart of airship innovation, Bedford Creative Arts (BCA) unveiled the first element of its ambitious Airship Dreams project, which has been four years in the making.

This significant place-making project will be one of Bedford’s most ambitious cultural collaborations yet, making a national statement about Bedford’s engineering heritage through a creative look at its identity and at Cardington Sheds’ place as the historical centre of the UK’s airship industry.

The project will involve local schools and will also explore imagined futures of flight and fantasy.

On Friday 1 October, award-winning lead artist on the project, Mike Stubbs was joined by audio visual artists and composers to collaborate on the creative elements of a performance that will take place next Spring on Castle Mound.

As a result of the pandemic, the project has evolved, meaning that the artists have so far been working remotely, and public activity planned for the anniversary weekend has been adapted around social distancing.

Friday was the first time they had all been able to work in a room together, at the Higgins Bedford in the morning and then at the newly refurbished State Room at the Bedford Swan Hotel.

“The sheds have always been a place of mystery,” said Mike, who grew up in the shadows of the gigantic structures. “They’ve hosted music rehearsals, police training, WWII parachute training and fire safety.
“It’s got its own atmosphere; there are even clouds in there.”
Mike and the creative team of Dave Lynch (support artist), Sam Wiehl (audio-visual artist), Roger Illingworth (sound artist) and Rob Strachan (sound artist) are building up each of the elements of the final performance.
Bedford-based composer, Roger Illingworth said, “We are working with the Bedford Arts Choir and – due to restrictions on group singing – the choir members will video themselves performing.
“We’re aiming to have a live performance with the choir next April.”

“The R101 is best known for its tragic crash in France, less than a day from taking off for its planned trip to India, and killing nearly all of its 54 passengers,” said BCA Director, Elaine Midgely.

“The aim of this project, however, will be to celebrate innovation and large-scale dreams, of the kind that have shaped the modern world we now live in, and that Bedford was central to in the 1920s.

The project is the result of three years of investigation and research into Bedford’s history with the airship and Cardington Sheds, working closely with award-winning artist Mike Stubbs, who grew up in the town.

“With Airship Dreams, we hope to provide Bedford residents with a new understanding and pride in its airship heritage, as well as letting the world know that we contributed to such groundbreaking work in aviation and engineering that still continues today,” said Elaine.

“The story of the R101 is one of ambition and daring, and we’d like to use that to inspire the public and fire local imagination to consider where we’ve been and where we dream of going.”

All being well, the first public performance of Airship Dreams will take place on Castle Mound in April 2021.

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