Forty years of fireworks

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By hrbrsd | Wednesday, November 02, 2011, 11:58

An event that started as a modest bonfire party in a back garden in Downend and went on to become the city's biggest charity firework display, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

The annual Downend Firework Show, hosted by the Great Western Round Table (GWRT), which attracts crowds of up to 13,000 each year, can trace its beginnings back to Westerleigh Road in 1971.

Downend Round Table member and former chairman, the late Mervyn Dann, came up with the idea of staging a bonfire and fireworks display in his own garden to raise money for local good causes.

"It was just a small thing he thought they could do to raise money for charity, said Mervyn's son Adrian Dann, managing director of Danco plc, and former chairman of the Round Table's fireworks committee.

"It was incredibly hard work, but really brought local people together. Very much everyone's family was involved. My father was always terribly proud of how it grew from nothing into the major event it is today."

Mervyn, who sadly died in 2006, hosted the event every year until the mid-70s when it finally outgrew his back garden. It was then moved to its present location on the King George V Playing Fields, Downend.

Back then the display was a long way from the computer-controlled event, choreographed to music it is today, remembers former Downend Round Table chairman and member Paul Green, who joined the organisation in 1977.

"In those days all we had was a big selection box we set off ourselves. We'd run around the field lighting the touch papers and more often than not would end up with black faces or singed eye-brows  from getting too close to the fireworks.

"It was also a lot less sophisticated back then. There were rockets, Catherine Wheels and Roman Candles and that was about it.

"As far as crowd-control and health and safety were concerned, all we had were a few pegs in the ground attached to some guy ropes to separate the crowd from the display area."

These days the firework display and 20ft high bonfire is cordoned off with interlocking harris-fencing around the display area and is monitored by stewards with walkie-talkies and volunteers.

This year's event on November 4 promises to be bigger and bolder than ever before and includes a special children's show at 6.30pm followed by the main firework display at 7.30pm.

Since 1971 the GWRT has raised a staggering half a million pounds for local causes and has supported a number of local charities including CLIC Sargent, Children's Wish and Headway House (now Headway).

Bristol Rugby Community Foundation which provides high quality rugby coaching to more than over 9,000 designated young people, has also received a helping hand thanks to firework display.

"The financial support they have given us has been vital for the growth and development of our charity," said the Foundation's chief executive, Benjamin Breeze.

"Thanks to their help we were able to build a multi-agency funding pot large enough to buy a community vehicle, which is essential for the delivery of our programmes and is in use every single day of the academic year."

This year the Great Western Air Ambulance will be the main beneficiary from Downend Firework Show. The charity, which rescues people in peril seven days a week, only survives on donations.

"The Air Ambulance does an extraordinary job helping rescue people in peril and has helped save many lives," said Andrew Simmonds, one of seven local businessmen who are organising this year's event.

Tickets for this year's Downend Firework Show are now on general sale. Advance tickets are £3.50 and are available from local shops. On the gate, tickets are £5 for adults, £4 for a child, and under-three's go free.

Advance tickets are available from BNS Management Services, (Downend); News Shop/Post Office, (Downend); Spar (Westbourne Road, Downend); Christchurch School; Bromley Heath Infants; Bromley Heath Juniors; St. Augustines; Samuel Whites and Downend School.

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