The eyes of the world will be on Stoke Mandeville on 1 March as the first-ever Paralympic Heritage Flame will be lit in a spectacular ceremony celebrating the Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi.
More than 600 invited guests, including winter and summer Paralympians and representatives from community groups, are set to attend a special ceremony at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, to witness the historic celebration.
Stoke Mandeville will become the first place in history to be involved in the Paralympic Torch Relay outside of the Games’ hosting country.
It was in 1948 that Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German spinal injuries doctor, created the Stoke Mandeville Games, an event that was the forerunner for the Paralympic Games that were first held in Rome, Italy in 1960.
The Paralympic Heritage Flame project has been supported with public money from the National Lottery through Arts Council England’s Grants for the arts programme. The £155,000 investment will help Aylesbury Vale District Council fund the flame lighting ceremony and a celebratory event at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.
The Artistic Director of the project, Bradley Hemmings, was Co-Artistic Director of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games and is also Director of Greenwich+Docklands Festivals, one of the UK’s leading outdoor arts organisations, (also responsible for producing this event). In creating the Ceremony, Bradley has once again taken inspiration from British Paralympians placing them at the very heart of his creative vision for this important occasion.
Gold medal winning British wheelchair racing athlete Hannah Cockcroft will be generating the first ever Heritage Flame. She will do this from a position inside an extraordinarily beautiful artwork – an Armillary Sphere created by internationally acclaimed theatre designer Jon Bausor, referencing the Greek God Hephaestus, who was himself disabled and credited with inventing the first wheelchair. The sphere will be used at future flame-lighting ceremonies.
Stoke Mandeville Artist in Residence Rachel Gadsden, working with film-maker Abigail Norris has been commissioned to create a contemporary interpretation of the Hephaestus myth in the form of an animated film narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, who also performed as part of the Opening Ceremony to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Director Mike Christie, who was responsible for the acclaimed Channel Four documentary ‘Inside Incredible Athletes’, has created a short film especially for the event. ‘I am Flame’, also narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, and inspired by Stoke Mandeville’s role in the Paralympic movement.
Music for the Ceremony has been composed by Dan Jones an award winning composer, sound designer and theatre director.
Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of the British Paralympic Association said: “The inaugural Heritage Flame Lighting Festival will be a great event and Bradley’s fantastic team have created something that will truly inspire and excite the audience and the British public. It will be an excellent way to celebrate the birthplace of the movement as well as Britain’s involvement in the Paralympic Winter Games, and get the British public excited about supporting ParalympicsGB in Sochi and beyond.”
Councillor Howard Mordue, Cabinet Member for Leisure at AVDC, said: “We are thrilled and honoured that Stoke Mandeville Stadium will be hosting this historic flame lighting ceremony. It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Stoke Mandeville’s proud heritage as the birthplace of Paralympic sport.”
Moira Sinclair, Executive Director, London and South East, Arts Council England, said: “The Paralympic Heritage Flame is a fantastic project that places England, and more specifically Aylesbury, firmly on the international stage; highlighting the strength, depth and diversity of our arts and cultural sector and revealing important synergies with Paralympic sports. The 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, along with the supporting Cultural Olympiad, were of huge significance for the whole nation and it is wonderful to see the Paralympic Heritage Flame continuing this sense of collective pride and achievement, now and for many years to come.”
Live footage of the flame lighting ceremony will be shown at 6.30pm on Channel 4 News and some footage of this event will be used to show the start of the Paralympic Flame’s journey to the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games as part of the official opening ceremony on 7 March on Channel 4.
There will also be a special celebratory event at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre on Sunday 2 March at 7.30pm. Tickets for this have been allocated through a ballot, which closed on 16 February.
The British Paralympic Association is the National Paralympic Committee for the UK, responsible for the promotion of the Paralympic movement in Great Britain and selecting, entering and funding the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Paralympic team. Find out more at www.paralympics.org.uk