World’s Best!

Discover one of the Ribble Valley’s best kept secrets, which is tucked away in the pretty village of Bolton-by-Bowland

Almost every month of the year, on a Wednesday morning, visitors descend on the beautiful village of Bolton-by-Bowland, to listen to some of the world’s best speakers on the arts.

From architecture and sculpture to art and music, members can attend lectures presented by the experts, thanks to the Arts Society Ribble & Craven, which is part of the UK’s leading arts education charity.

Joanne Bosonnet, a member and volunteer with the society, explains: “We have access to lecturers who are all leading authorities in their chosen field. It is just amazing to think we have the world’s best speakers in the arts right here! We share a belief that the arts have the potential to enrich peoples’ lives, that is at the heart of everything the Arts Society does. It’s all about getting people together through a shared curiosity for the arts and heritage. It’s a chance for people to get involved in something they love.”

The annual Arts Society programme offers monthly lectures, opportunities for volunteering, attending courses or embarking on educational, organised tours.

The Arts Society is a long-established British body. In the UK alone there are 380 Arts Societies with 90,000 members, but it is also now a worldwide organisation. As a network, it shares knowledge locally, nationally and globally across 10 countries: “Not many people are even aware we exist – and we are on a mission to change this!” adds Joanne, whose curiosity was first piqued a number of years ago when she was invited to a lecture as a guest: “I enjoyed it so much and wanted to get involved.

“The lectures are always entertaining and they are all incredibly informative and interesting. The programme we choose is carefully curated and covers all aspects of artistic endeavour and achievement. Our members enjoy the variety.”

As well as lectures the Arts Society organises days of special cultural interest – a recent one was on jewellery design with John Benjamin from the Antiques Roadshow – plus there are tours locally, nationally and sometimes internationally. Trips are diverse and have included the cathedrals of Liverpool and a Norwegian cruise!

There are also opportunities to engage in volunteering projects, to preserve our cultural heritage: “We have teams of volunteers focusing on work in the local community, there are many interesting ways for members to get involved by donating their time and interest in various projects. Training is provided and it is a very rewarding aspect of our society.”

Soon after becoming a member of Ribble and Craven Arts Society, Joanne embarked on one of the society’s volunteer embroidery projects to create intricate embroidered kneelers for Stonyhurst’s historic Sodality Chapel: “I thoroughly enjoyed the needlework project which was designed by Helen McCook who also worked on the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress. She painted the designs for the 12 long kneelers to fit the choir style pews. It was my first chance to get involved and it enabled me to get to know other members.”

Another recently completed project was a tapestry quartet, ‘Four Seasons in Ribble and Craven’, which will shortly go on public display.

Among the society’s heritage projects is the cleaning and restoration of books in the Stonyhurst College library and the digitising and archiving of records involving the photographer Edmundson Buck. Most of Buck’s photographs from the late 19th century and early 20th century offer a unique picture of life in the Ribble and Hodder Valleys. Teams of volunteers have verified their locations, produced explanatory commentaries on the images and compiled a wider database which can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

Another project has been the digitising of the diaries of James Hargreaves, a noted Blackburn businessman and philanthropist. His 25 diaries, until his death in 1918, offer a unique and invaluable insight into many aspects of life at this pivotal period.

“The society’s heritage projects are important as our history can easily just disappear. Digitising and archiving preserves our arts heritage for future generations,” explains Joanne.

The society’s arts volunteering work also supports local art across Ribble and Craven, funding arts projects in one or two schools as well as community workshops for adults.

A recent project part-funded by the society was at Whalley Primary School, which held an arts week, culminating in an exhibition and a visit to Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.

This year’s lecture programme has included the Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale presented last month by expert Janusz Karczewski-Slowikowski, who explored the creative design talent and skilled craftsmanship of Chippendale – the world-renowned 18th century cabinet maker.

On 8th May lecturer Sophie Matthews will present Music in Art exploring musical instruments featured in selected works of art and on 2nd June Scott Schiavone will present Worth and Winterhalter: The Mid-19th Century’s Master of Design and Craftsmanship.

For more information about membership, volunteering and forthcoming events go to: or email:



Tedd Walmsley

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