Woolwich really is the place to be this summer, writes Holly O’Mahony…

Not only is a hefty chunk of Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF) taking place there over the next two weeks, but the district is also hosting the annual Royal Greenwich Get Together and Armed Forces Day celebrations on Saturday June 29.

The free event is an opportunity for residents from across the borough to celebrate the community and enjoy a variety of entertainment, which this year includes a carnival-style community parade, a farmers’ market, live music, arts and crafts, and sports activities among the line-up.

The annual veterans’ parade also forms part of the celebrations, and there will be an armed forces area in the Royal Arsenal where you can find military vehicles, performances by army and navy cadets, marine activities on the river, and the veterans’ award ceremony.

The celebrations, which last year saw over 20,000 visitors, is taking place across the whole of Woolwich, from General Gordon Square to Number One Street on the Royal Arsenal, with activities running from 12pm – 6pm.

Councillor Danny Thorpe, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “Our annual Get Together and Armed Forces Day is one of our biggest events of the year and this year there are more than 60 performances and activities throughout the day. From slacklining and slime workshops to a puppetry show in a double decker bus, the bursting line-up has something to entertain everyone.”

He continued: “The Get Together brings together our communities to celebrate our rich and diverse culture and showcase local talent. We have local schools and community groups performing throughout the day alongside world-class professional shows. You won’t want to miss it, so make sure you save the date.”

As is tradition, the day’s activities kick off with the veterans’ parade on the Royal Arsenal: a celebration of the rich military history of the borough.

Throughout the day, an eclectic mix of bands, DJs and musicians will perform everything from folk and soul, to latin and jazz with some pop and rock in between. Perhaps most excitingly on the music front is a performance from X Factor contestants Misunderstood. The musical duo from London, made up of Stefan, 25 and Jeff, 27, made it through to the live shows of X Factor in 2018, after being mentored by Robbie Williams. Misunderstood delighted the live and home audiences of the show with their catchy pop-meets-R&B songs and smooth moves, and are sure to get the crowds dancing at the Royal Greenwich Get Together.

Another headlining performance comes by way of Gangsta Granny, Heartbreak Productions’ theatrical adaptation of David Walliams’ children’s book of the same name.

The story follows Ben, an 11-year-old boy who discovers his Scrabble-play, cabbage-eating grandma is harbouring a thrilling secret.

“Gangsta Granny has been one of the most exciting David Walliams’ shows we’ve put together,” says Emily Bennett, marketing manager of Heartbreak Productions. “Not only is the story something that resonates deeply with all of us involved, it’s provided an amazing platform to share such an important and relevant message.”

The performance at the Great Get Together will be Gangsta Granny’s 40th since the show opened in Waterford, Ireland in May. “This is our first time performing at the Great Get Together and we’re extremely excited to be part of the event,” says Emily.

“Heartbreak are really passionate about our performances being a full experience compared to just a show… Packed with audience interaction, music and dance, our production encourages everyone to get involved and break the often rigid expectations of theatre that you should sit quietly and watch the performers,” she says.

Those keen to catch Gangsta Granny are welcome to arrive up to an hour before the performance starts, and are advised bring something comfortable to sit on and pack a picnic to enjoy while meeting the characters before the action begins.

Meanwhile, over in the the Kids Zone, little ones can get stuck into a programme of activities led by the Forest School, including a chance to make your own stick man, dream catcher or magic wand.
Green-minded grown-ups might want to check out the Cycle Zone, an area dedicated to everything on two wheels, or browse the 70+ community stalls to find out more about local organisations, charities, and how to get involved in the local community.

Other highlights at the event – all of which you can enjoy for free – include the carnival-style community parade, a craft workshop with world-renowned theatre company Punchdrunk and a pirate ship-turned-children’s play area. Whatever you do, don’t forget to peep inside Apocalyptic Circus’s My House, a 30-minute performance piece which takes place inside a giant pop-up Wendy house. Audience members are invited to peer through the windows and doors to gape at the circus spectacle taking place within, before entering the house after the show and testing out their own circus skills.

How did the idea of creating a circus spectacle inside a giant Wendy house come about? “We had the set – the house – for many years and always knew we wanted to make another show in it,” says Linn Brodén, half of Apocalyptic Circus. “The idea started when me and the other performer [Sunniva Byvard] decided we wanted to make a show where both us and the audience where having fun,” she says.

My House has proved a success, delighting audiences young and old in Norwich, Brighton and Salisbury. “We just started the tour and are taking the show to a lot of places across the country this summer,” says Linn. “Both children and adults seem to really engage with the performance and the play element afterwards. There’s a lot of laughter!”

For Linn, My House has three main purposes: “First and foremost, I hope families enjoy watching the show. I also hope they can connect with our theme of working together and finding a common language. Lastly, I hope people get inspired to use their bodies in different ways.”

If you miss the performance of My House in Woolwich town centre for the Great Get Together, you’ll have a second chance to see it, because the show is also on as part of GDIF, with performances taking place on July 4 and 5 on Passey Place in Eltham.

As well as the festivities taking place throughout Woolwich for the Great Get Together, the streets will also be lined with street food trucks, bars and a farmers’ market, which between them hope to keep hungry revellers well-stocked.

Among the food offering is Back-a-Yard Grill, a stall selling Caribbean-inspired American street food. Curious? Think jerk fried chicken and double cheese jerk burgers. Yum.

“Back-a-Yard Grill has been running for ten months and in this time, we’ve already won a Young Entrepreneur Award and been nominated for the Urban Food Awards 2019,” says stall runner Adrianna Baker, proudly. “We haven’t yet served food at the Great Get Together before, but we are really looking forward to it – it’s a great event!”

If you miss them at the Great Get Together, or you try their jerk and find yourself hooked, you can ordinarily find Back-a-Yard Grill at events around Thamesmead and the Royal Arsenal Farmers’ Market.

Among the stalls keeping sugar levels high, meanwhile, is Debbie Muscat and Peter Horn’s Beau Petit Macaron. The pair serve gourmet French Macarons filled with delectable, seasonal and often organic ingredients. At this time of year, expect to find the buttercream or ganache-filled delights flavoured with rhubarb and custard, blueberry cheesecake or choco mint.

The Royal Greenwich Get Together is still very much linked to Armed Forces Day, a national event celebrated across the country and a chance for guests to show support for the men and women in the Armed Forces community, from currently serving troops to Service families, veterans and cadets. Each year there is a main national event, which this year is being hosted by Wiltshire Council in Salisbury. Armed Forces Day takes place on the last Saturday of June each year, which this year falls on the 28th. Celebrations will begin on Monday 24th when the Armed Forces Day flag will be raised on buildings and famous landmarks around the country.

The Royal Greenwich Get Together is taking place on June 29 throughout Woolwich, from General Gordon Square, Woolwich, SE18 6ES to Number One Street, Woolwich, London, SE18 6GH, from 12pm – 6pm. Admission: Free. www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/gettogether. To find out more about Armed Forces Day visit
www.armedforcesday.org.uk.