At our Annual Meeting on Saturday 25th May, we presented two Service to Todmorden Awards.

This year the Individual Service to Todmorden Award went to Helen Clarkson for decades of dedication to enriching the cultural and educational experiences of Todmorden’s youth through music, performance, and community involvement.

The award for Organisations Service to Todmorden went to the Todmorden Folk Festival and the volunteers who run it for fostering inclusivity and community spirit through a vibrant annual event that showcases diverse talent and supports the local economy.

The award citations read by the Mayor are printed below in full:


Todmorden Folk Festival

The winner of the 2024 Service to Todmorden Award for Organisations is the Todmorden Folk Festival.

Founded in 2014 by two music-loving women with a shared dream of “bringing merriment, music, and song to Todmorden” the folk festival has grown into a significant annual event with inclusivity and community spirit at its heart.

In a world where music festivals are often distant and costly, the founders sought to embed theirs within Todmorden, prioritising affordability, expanding the free elements of the event year on year, and ensuring accessibility.

Every May, the festival fills our town with live music, Morris dancing, street performances, family-friendly activities, and crafts. The addition of the Youth Showcase has proven to be a standout feature, with past winners gracing stages at Glastonbury and the Cambridge Folk Festival.

The festival’s diverse artist lineup attracts crowds from both near and far, with local traders noting it as their most lucrative weekend of the year, as visitors enthusiastically spend their money in our shops, bars, restaurants, and B&Bs. The festival organisers carefully plan their programme so that visitor footfall reaches every corner of Todmorden.

This is an event that relies heavily on volunteers to run ticket desks, kitchens, pop-up bars, and outdoor events. The festival committee whose members give their spare time throughout the year to develop this fantastic event are also all volunteers.  So, as we honour the Todmorden Folk Festival this afternoon, we are of course honouring those volunteers who have worked tirelessly over the years to make this a cherished annual event.  This award is for all of them.

Today, we have Lynne Midwinter and Lois Darcy of the Folk Festival with us, and I am delighted to present this award to them in recognition of the Festival’s outstanding service to our town.

Helen Clarkson

The recipient of the 2024 Individual Service to Todmorden Award, Helen Clarkson, has dedicated her career to nurturing and inspiring young people in our community.

As the former head teacher at Shade Primary School, Helen provided exceptional opportunities for her students, particularly in music and live performance. Despite cuts to central music services and funding, she introduced free music lessons, led an after-school choir, and pioneered Shade Shines, a talent showcase at the Hippodrome Theatre, offering hundreds of Todmorden children the chance to shine on stage.

Many of these children later joined the Youth Section of the Todmorden Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society at the Hippodrome Theatre, an institution Helen joined 42 years ago as a young volunteer.  At 16, she became Chorus Mistress for the Youth Section.  Then after a spell at the University of Nottingham,  she returned to Todmorden, continuing her involvement with the theatre. For 34 years, she led the Youth Section, notably as musical director for over 50 shows, all featuring a live orchestra.

Helen’s dedication to the Youth Theatre has seen her empower countless young people to pursue training and careers in the performing arts.  Many performers and backstage professionals from Todmorden, credit their Youth Theatre experience with Helen as the vital first step on their chosen career path.

Even in retirement, Helen continues to contribute to our community, championing the Hippodrome and organising a very successful annual charity Christmas Tree Festival.  She has also joined the Todmorden Information Centre, promoting the charms of Todmorden to visitors and residents alike. 

Helen’s unwavering dedication to Todmorden’s cultural and educational landscape is outstanding. Please join me in congratulating her as we recognise her exceptional service to Todmorden.

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