Lifesize advent calendar to be unveiled at Ilkley Manor House in community project

Joy for the festive season builds as one of West Yorkshire's oldest surviving buildings turns its windows into an advent calendar for the coming of Christmas.

Ilkley's Manor House has been at the heart of the town for centuries, built over a Roman Fort and serving as a rare example of a Grade l listed building atop a designated Ancient Monument.

Now the charitable trust that runs this historic house is to 'open' one window to the public every evening, featuring artwork based on the community's idea of what Christmas means to them.

While the images remain "a little bit secret" until they are unveiled, snippets have been shared that hint at a poignant reveal.

Artist Joanne Tinker (left) and Artist Louise Hepworth-Wood, designer of the Ilkley Manor House Advent Calendar, with the December 1 picture of locals sledging in Ilkley (Photo: Gary Longbottom)

From letters to loved ones to a roaring fire, the artist's drawings show a community's idea of what the festive season represents.

Sarah Thomas, chair of Ilkley Manor House, said: "This is a journey, a community representation, of people coming together for the festive season.

"It's also about recognising how hard it has been for people not to see one another last Christmas."

Originally known as The Castle, the Manor House dates mostly from the 17th century but with parts of the building from as back as far as the 14th century.

Joanne Tinker with Sarah Thomas from Ilkley Manor House (middle) and artist Louise Hepworth-Wood (Photo: Gary Longbottom)

It was saved from demolition in 1955 when it was donated to the community by Percy Dalton, and was converted into an art gallery and museum in 1961.

Opened as Ilkley Manor House by patron Alan Titchmarsh in 2018, it is now run by the Manor House Trust in the ambition of creating a heritage and creative quarter for the town.

"The town fought very hard to keep the Manor House open," said Mrs Thomas. "We are trying to breath new life into it.

"This project is both lovely to look at and fun, with a deeper message as well which we hope people will connect with."

Last year, when so few activities were allowed, the trust had launched a 'peeping in' light installation, with paper snowflakes strung with lights and a model of the Manor House.

It inspired the idea for this year's event, turning the windows on the front façade of the Manor House turned into an advent calendar, with one to be revealed each day until Christmas Eve.

"We went out to the community, back in the summer, for designs and images that show how they think about Christmas," said Mrs Thomas.

"There are happy happy memories, of sitting around the table and there not being enough chairs.It can also be remembering those who might not be at the table as well as those who are.

"It's trying to give that sense of joy and festive things which bring people together. For some people of course, it's also a lonely time, as it brings it into stark relief that they are alone.

"This is trying to capture all of those elements. We hope it can resonate with people, whatever age or religion."

Artwork for the windows, designed and hand drawn by Louise Hepworth-Wood, is based on image submissions from the community of what Christmas means to them.

They were also invited to submit three words to conjure up a representation of the festive season, which has been turned into a poem by Lorraine Dowson.

One window is to be revealed each evening as the sky darkens at 4pm, from today until December 24, while paper calendars are also to be sold to raise funds for the charitable trust.

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