Saturday, 15 May 2021

A venue and dates are now in place for The Godmother

 It gives me the greatest pleasure to tell you that my first play, The Godmother, is to be performed at The Trinity, on George Street, Burton-on-Trent, on December 9 and 10, 2021.

The Trinity – which used to be George Street United Methodist Church - has a special place in the story of Lily Thomas, the Burton woman at the centre of The Godmother. It feels to me as if Lily is coming home.

I am also honoured that the talented students of StageScreen, founded and run by Heather Gallagher, will be premiering the play.

It was at The Trinity that I began writing The Godmother in 2019. Every Friday, until the pandemic broke out, you would usually find me at one of the ‘hot-desks’ that Steve Wardle, owner of The Trinity, has created on the balcony of this beautiful building. 

Interior of The Trinity, George Street, Burton
L to R: Heather Gallagher, Elaine Pritchard and Steve Wardle inside The Trinity.

Local freelancers, like me, can book a desk for an occasional day or more regularly. It’s a great way to get the creative juices flowing by working from new surroundings.

103 years before opening night                          

In the course of my research I found out that the George Street church had been a big supporter of Lily’s fundraising during World War One. They often let her use the Sunday schoolrooms – now converted to apartments – for concerts. These were one of many events across the town that raised money for Lily and her helpers to buy food, medicine and clothes that were sent off in parcels every two weeks to every man from Burton held in a German prisoner of war camp.

Also, exactly 103 years before the planned opening night of The Godmother, on Monday December 9, 1918, The Burton Mail carried reports of a thanksgiving service that had been held at the George Street Church on the previous day. That service was attended by Lily and many of her ‘godsons’, which was how she referred to the prisoners she supported. By that date, many of them had been released and sent home to Burton. They joined with Lily to give thanks in the very space where the play will be performed.

Opportunity to join the cast

The Trinity has been lovingly and sympathetically converted by Steve and his team and many original features have been preserved including the stunning stained glass windows, much of the beautifully carved woodwork and the ornate ceiling. I found it a calm and inspiring place to work on my play and it did make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck when I realised its close connections with Lily.

Stained glass windows at The Trinity
Original stained glass windows inside The Trinity

The StageScreen students will be starting rehearsals for the play in September and there is still an opportunity for any under-18s to join the Saturday morning classes if they want to take part in this and the other exciting end-of-term projects and productions that Heather and her tutors have planned for the school over the next 18 months.

Restoring Lily to the spotlight

This year also marks the 80th anniversary of Lily’s death. As I wrote previously, I think it’s very sad that few people in Burton know about the tireless work that Lily and her helpers did between 1914-1918. Lily fought red tape and negativity for years, but she never gave up. She wasn’t officially honoured after the war ended and for many years her grave in Stapenhill Cemetery was neglected. Her only daughter died childless, and she’d left her home in Guernsey when she married in 1906, so there are no descendants here in Burton (as far as I know) to keep her story in the public eye.

Thanks to the efforts of local historian Malcolm Goode, and supported by funding from East Staffordshire Borough Council, Lily’s grave has been restored. But, it might be nice to do more to remember the lives she saved by getting food and medicine to men who were starving and suicidal. Hopefully, these first two performances of The Godmother will be the start of returning her to the spotlight.

Grave of Lily Thomas before restoration
Lily's grave was in a sadly neglected state

Grave of Lily Thomas after restoration
Lily's grave following restoration

My thanks to Heather Gallagher, Steve Wardle and Hannah Beesley, The Trinity’s events manager, for sharing my passion for telling Lily’s story.

You can follow more about The Godmother play and Lily Thomas herself on Facebook and Twitter.

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