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From pie and mash to Morris dancing: How Kent is celebrating St George's Day during lockdown

It doesn't get much more patriotic than applauding the NHS from your doorstep while dressed as a Morris dancer – especially at the moment.

That's exactly what JoJo Jacques and a whole host of others plan to do to mark St George's Day.

St George in High Street, Dartford.Picture: Andy Payton
St George in High Street, Dartford.Picture: Andy Payton

This year's celebration happens to fall on a Thursday, which coincides with the now weekly 8pm clap for our carers.

Ms Jacques has been dancing with Loose Women Morris for six years.

It's a family hobby with daughter Lucy getting in on the action and two years ago the whole group appeared on ITV's namesake show, Loose Women.

The 48-year-old said: "St George is our patron saint and we should be proud to be English and proud of our country, our heritage and our history. We should fly the flag of England and be proud of it."

While tonight's cheer provides the opportunity to do something to mark the anniversary of our patron saint's death, clearly the usual mass gatherings won't be able to go ahead.

JoJo Jacques and Loose Women Morris
JoJo Jacques and Loose Women Morris

For Loose Women Morris that means there will sadly be no opportunity to dance at any pubs, but social media may well have saved the day.

To mark the occasion a Lone Morris Festival has been arranged on Facebook.

It will be held on Saturday with participants from across the globe urged to don their traditional garb and wave hankies and jingle bells from the comfort of their own garden - or while out exercising in their neighbourhoods while respecting social distancing rules.

Elsewhere Medway's English Festival, which is traditionally one of the biggest in Kent, was set to take over Riverside Country Park last Saturday.

But this year the chain mail and dragon costume won't be coming out of the loft as it's understandably been cancelled and there are no plans to rearrange it.


Here's how to celebrate St George's Day from home including a link to our print and colour in flag to help show your support for the NHS

Travel 20 miles up the A2 though and you'll find one of the self-proclaimed "St Georgiest towns in England", Dartford.

The town isn't going to let something as minor as a global pandemic dampen their patriotic spirits.

"We pride ourselves on being one of the St Georgeiest towns in England," declares council leader Jeremy Kite, "so of course it’s a shame not to be holding our parade and events this year but when it comes to saving lives and protecting the NHS it’s absolutely the right thing to stop gatherings."

But as the nation embraces technology to salvage something resembling those yearned for social occasions so too does Dartford council.

They are inviting their 110,000 residents to take part in a virtual celebration of the famous dragon slayer's life.

Council leader Jeremy Kite and St George Picture by: John Westhrop
Council leader Jeremy Kite and St George Picture by: John Westhrop

Mr Kite said: "We’ll be inviting all the town’s social media users to take part in a big St George's Day quiz and looking to pop a version of it into all the food delivery boxes we send out. We’re hoping families will dress in red and white for the day, enjoy a typically English meal, display flags at home if they have them and encourage kids to draw or paint a special bit of art to celebrate the day.

"We’re also hoping everyone online will help us create a map of England by posting pictures of themselves visiting landmarks. It would be great to get pictures of Dartford people visiting every one of England's 48 counties."

And while Dartford is determined to mark the occasion, just like across most of the world there is a sense that the entire year has been put on hold.

"Of course, all this is just getting us in the mood for an even greater celebration in 2021. Dartford is a great community and I want to reassure people that when life for our town starts to return to normal, as it will, we will back with all the events that mean so much to people. As St George might say ‘Let’s hope this battle doesn’t ‘drag on’ too long'," quips Mr Kite.

Down the road in West Kingsdown Cllr Kite's rallying cry to eat an English meal has been answered.

That's because when it comes to national delicacies you don't get much better than pie and mash and the Bermondsey Pie & Mash Company are keen to fulfil appetites.

The company began delivering their specialities to hungry households in Bexleyheath but as lockdown has progressed have grown their customer base across the north of the county.

Today they will be supplying the Portobello Pub in West Kingsdown with more than 100 cost-price meals which will then be distributed by landlord and landlady Steve and Charmaine Powell to vulnerable members of the community.

Charmaine and Steve Powell
Charmaine and Steve Powell

A short trip back towards the Thames brings you to Gravesend where this time of year would usually see what is reputedly England's largest St George's Day parade take over the town centre.

A total of 1,500 children from 30 schools in Gravesend and Dartford were gearing up to march through the streets, but not anymore.

The event is organised by Cohesion Plus which in turns is headed up by Gurvinder Sandher, a prominent member of the town's large Sikh community.

The charity say the values of St George reflect their own.

"His message of tolerance to all faiths is still very relevant to this day. He believed that we should all be able to have our own faiths so long as we did not hurt others," reads the description for the now cancelled event on its website.

Cohesion Plus artistic director Gurvinder Sandher with St George
Cohesion Plus artistic director Gurvinder Sandher with St George

Mr Sandher said his organisation plans to work with Gravesham and Dartford councils and have produced a video message featuring community and artistic groups from North Kent and members of the emergency services.

He added: "These are extraordinary times we find ourselves in with the ongoing pandemic. The impact of Covid-19 has been felt far and wide and in so many complex and distressing ways.

"I am very pleased that by working with local partners and Arts Council England, we have been able to pull together a short film which we hope captures the essence, spirit and ethos of our St George’s Day celebrations in Gravesham and Dartford.

"Now more than ever we need to celebrate all that binds us together regardless of ethnicity, background or faith.”

What's clear is this year's celebrations will look very different to what we've seen before and are likely to ever see again.

But just like those of you craving your weekly pub quiz or pub session those determined to commemorate St George's life will find a way.

How are you marking St George's Day? Comment below.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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