THE BSL Fest turned Woking town centre into a lively showcase of British Sign Language last week, held with the aim of hailing a new era of deaf and hearing people working together.

Given legal recognition as a language in April this year, the aim of last Saturday’s festival was to raise awareness of the language and recognise deaf people as valuable members of the community.

“It’s been an amazing year for deaf people,” according to Claire Ingham, a deaf teacher from Horsell who works in Surrey schools to help with the education and support of deaf pupils, and she was clearly delighted with the outcome of the celebrations.

“The Mayor and Councillor Will Forster spoke with the stall holders on the British Deaf Association stall about the BSL Charter and both said they are planning to propose motions that Surrey County Council and Woking Borough Council sign up to the BSL Charter,” said Claire.

“This is far more than I dared hope for. It would be a huge step towards welcoming the deaf community into the local community, just as we welcomed the local community to celebrate BSL with us.”

The main attraction of the festival were the stage acts in Jubilee Square, where Cllr Saj Hussain, the Mayor of Woking, and Jonathan Lord MP opened the event and signed “welcome”.  They both spoke strongly about the importance of the BSL Act and the need for deaf members of the community to participate fully in society.

The acts kicked off with a bang – literally – with a Science show full of explosions, colour and foam from Derek Rodger, a science teacher and a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, assisted by Ryan Ingham.

David Buxton then gave a lively presentation on how the BSL Act 2022 was campaigned for and came into being.

Among the other acts there was signed singing from Fletch@ while Audiovisibility brought a fusion of music and visual arts. There was also a sign choir from New Haw Community School, where a BSL Club for staff and children has been set up as a way of making the community more inclusive of the deaf pupils.

The Lighthouse Centre at Guildford Grove Primary staged Jack and the Beanstalk. The Lighthouse Centre specialises in educational provision for deaf children and their families from across Surrey.

Rhiannon Fisher, Head of Creative Learning at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, said: “We are thrilled to be working again with the brilliant pupils and staff at Guildford Grove Primary School, coming together to join in this fantastic celebration of BSL.”

Crowds were drawn to Mercia Way, where there was face-painting and Digispace finger-spell your name among the many lively stalls selling deaf artists' work, including KWT Designs and VB Deaf Artist sold several pieces and have list of commissions to make. 

Claire gave a massive thanks to all the volunteers on the day: “It includes interpreters who gave up their time for free – this saved us more than £1,000 in interpreting fees – the stewards, organising committee as well as stall-holders and performers for their professionalism and enthusiasm.”