‘They will destroy street performing in Kings Square’

2 Aug 2012 @ 6.27 am
| Opinion
Street entertainment in Kings Square, York: under threat

Plans by new attraction Chocolate: York’s Sweet Story to put tables and chairs in Kings Square have angered buskers. Here escapologist Rob Roy Collins explains why he’s campaigning against the move

I am proud to say I am a street performer and have performed around the world including USA, Japan, Europe and Australia and I consider Kings Square in York to be one of my favourite pitches to perform on.

York is a fantastic city with enthusiastic visitors passing through every day.

We have a great relationship with the council, the local businesses and the community and the street performers of Kings Square feel it a privilege to be part of a 35-year history of street performances in this place.

I became a street performer ten years ago and when I came to York I was fortunate to learn from some of the older street performers of Kings Square.

It wasn’t until I became a street performer that I realised it was one of the hardest but also most honest forms of entertainment.

The mix of skill, showmanship, psychology and comic timing needed to attract a crowd, engage them and create a unique atmosphere has always fascinated me. People like Eddie Izzard, Steve Martin, Mike Myers, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and George Harrison to name a few all started as street entertainers.

The Clash even busked on Kings Square in 1985.

The Clash busking in Kings Square

I also love the fact that it relies on honesty – people only pay if they enjoyed the performance, they choose how much the show was worth to them and for those who can’t afford to give, the show is free (but we do appreciate a thank you).

York is lucky to have one the country’s best up-and-coming talents in street performing in Andy Sumpton. He honed his skills as a street performer learning from older performers including myself and he recently became the youngest sword swallower in Britain.

There will soon be young, new performers taking inspiration from Andy and so this wonderful legacy continues.

We have recently come up against a corporate entity looking to destroy this strong tradition we have of street performing in Kings Square. Chocolate York’s Sweet Story opened its doors three months ago. They have applied to put tables and chairs on the square to extend its café that will effectively make street performances impossible.

The great irony here is that parent company Continuum’s tag line is “Engaging stories, memorable places.” While York Sweet Story looks to celebrate or at the very least capitalise on York’s history of chocolate, they are looking to rip out the cultural heart of this amazing city and kill off a 35-year tradition.

We entertain around 250,000 people per year on Kings Square and there is a real economy around it. All the local businesses are as furious as the street performers as they recognise the difference the performers make and are keen not to lose us.

Veteran entertainer Roy Hudd signs the petition, watched by Press photographer Frank Dwyer

In the face of thousands of people expressing their anger at this move, Continuum simply put out the same corporate message that they want to work alongside the street performers and encourage performances. In reality, there was no consultation with us or any of the local businesses and plans have been submitted to York council.

Not only would tables and chairs leave no room for audiences, it would also make it extremely dangerous to have children in the front row less than two metres from a guy on a 10 foot unicycle juggling fire blindfolded.

We are delighted be the support from the public and are determined that being driven out of our own city by a corporate entity trying to increase their profits is not an option.

We would be hugely grateful if anyone wanting to support the York street performers and join the Save Kings Square Facebook page and sign our online petition here.

Fair and square: flashback to entertaining in the 1980s. Photograph: Imagine York

Objections to the planning application

I object strongly to the proposed use of Kings Square as an outdoors dining area. It’s lack of tables and chairs is one of the main parts of it’s beauty and charm. It would be incredibly sad to see driven away the long held tradition of street performers entertaining the tourists and locals alike.

Daisy O’Flynn, Dalguise Grove, York

I have no objection to ‘street’ cafes, they add greatly to the feel of a city and reclaim space for residents and visitors. However, Kings Square is already well balanced and in full use. The buskers are only a part of it. Nothing will be reclaimed or improved. For anyone.

Tim Hornsby, Shambles, York

My husband and I have run the Ice Cream and Freshly Squeezed Lemonade stalls on Kings Square for almost 30 years, and are privileged to be a part of the close-knit and mutually supportive community that exists there… Chocolate’s application to place a pavement cafe on the square would effectively put an end to the 35 year old tradition of street performing as there simply is not room for both activities.

Christine Jackson, Albemarle Road, York

As a regular visitor to York, and an active member of ‘Living Streets’ (formerly the Pedestrians Association), I come to York for the streets, street entertainment and creative arts rather than any other attractions. York has a vibrant street art community. This is a square that contributes much to the attractions of York and this will be lost if entertainers are ousted in favour of one commercial concern with its obstructive tables and chairs – no creativity there, just the dead hand of commerce.

Claire Nash, Hall Croft, Skipton