Big Top prelude to Welborne Arts Festival

More than 100 primary students tried their hand at dizzying circus skills as a Norfolk village prepared for one of the county's biggest rural arts festivals.

The tiny village of Welborne, near Dereham, is expected to swell to ten times its normal population when visitors arrive for the 9th Welborne Arts Festival this weekend.

Among a packed programme of arts and entertainment will be two daily shows by Circus Ferrel featuring trapeze, unicycling and juggling acts in the Big Top, which is already erected on a meadow next to the village church.

To build up the excitement, the performers gave children from Garvestone and Yaxham Primary Schools a taste of tight-rope walking, diabolo and plate-spinning – all under the guidance of ringmaster Lynette Taylor.

Ferrel owner Martin Taylor, who trained as a teacher before founding the Diss-based circus troupe, said he often ran similar workshops at local schools.

He said: 'So many heads have told us that these are days the children will remember for the rest of their lives and it gives them a very positive and long-term feeling about schooling.

'It is something which integrates the whole school in a fairytale environment. For kids to come and experience these skills in the Big Top and then come and see the show – it's like making dreams come true.'

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With the 2012 Olympics on the horizon, this year's festival has been given a physical theme of 'circus, sport and dance'.

It will be opened at 11.30am on Saturday by high-jumper and Olympic hopeful Matthew Roberts, who will launch a weekend including live music, art and sculpture exhibitions, readings and book signings, Zumba and clog-dancing.

As well as the Big Top shows, circus performers will 'mix and mingle' to show off their skills to the crowds during the weekend.

Many of the schoolchildren have also learnt dance routines which they will perform in the Big Top tomorrow.

Co-organiser Mike Webb said: 'This is actually a very silly place to hold an arts festival this size, which is exactly what makes it such a good thing to do.

'There are about 120 residents here and we're expecting about 1,500 visitors this year, especially with the circus.

'Our mission is to bring arts to the people and make it as accessible as possible. These workshops are great, because they encourage the children to come to the festival and bring their mums, dads and siblings along as well.'

?The festival runs from 11.30am-6pm tomorrow and 11.30am-4.30pm on Sunday. Adult �5 entry to all events, under-16s free. For more information visit www.welborne.org.uk or call 01362 850327.

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