Were you in Guildford High Street or Tunsgate Quarter on Saturday 14th October 2023? You may have seen crowds of people signing, enjoyed the staged performances by Fletch@ sign song and Punk Chef or tried your hand at finger-spelling your name? This was the first ever Guildford BSL Fest which was all about bringing BSL (British Sign Language) into the public domain and showcasing in a fun and engaging way.
Why a BSL Fest? "It's for the deaf," as overheard by one of our volunteers - no! BSL is inclusive, joyful, can be learnt by anyone, is the primary language of many deaf and hearing people in the UK and was recognised by Law as a language of the UK in April 2022. This was possibly many shoppers' first experience of BSL and we hope it was a fun and interesting one.
Organised by BSL Celebration and supported by partners Dot Sign Language, Experience Guildford, Guildford Borough Council and Tunsgate Quarter, the BSL Fest was big, bright and a huge success. The Mayor of Guildford, the MP and Lead Councillor signed the first part of their opening speeches on stage in Tunsgate. What a moment to see hearing community leaders signing BSL in public!
The stalls in the High Street were busy all day and communication support volunteers were on hand to facilitate communication between deaf stall holders and non-signing hearing members of the public. The artists' wares flew off their stalls, stacks of information leaflets dwindled and the finger-spelling stall was so in demand that the volunteers didn't get a break all day. Many stopped to watch Fletch@ perform passionately to 'Shivers', 'The Fight Song' and others. The signing choir made up of deaf children from three local schools including The Lighthouse at Guildford Grove was also a highlight.
Three days later, the MP mentioned Guildford BSL Fest in a parliamentary working party, the Mayor included BSL in his Christmas video message and the Yvonne Arnaud theatre are engaging with the deaf community to extend their inclusive performance. We hope this event will be a springboard to ongoing changes so that deaf people and BSL signers can participate fully and equally in local services and events.
A big thank you to all our supporters and volunteers - you wonderful people know who you are - without you, the BSL Fest would not have been possible.