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Art and sport combine to create a historic moment for the Paralympic flame

  • Date: 17 March 2014
  • Area: South East
Hannah Cockcroft ignites the Armillary Sphere at the Paralympic Heritage Flame Ceremony

Hannah Cockcroft ignites the Armillary Sphere at the Paralympic Heritage Flame Ceremony. Credit: Richard Washbrooke

On Saturday 1 March, England was again the focus of the world's attention as the inaugural Paralympic Heritage Flame was lit in a stunning ceremony at Stoke Mandeville - the birthplace of the Paralympic movement.

Directed by Bradley Hemmings - who was co-artistic director of the 2012 Paralympic Games and is director of Greenwich + Docklands Festival - and supported by £155,000 of public money from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the ceremony was a stunning collaboration between arts, culture and sport.

In a historic moment, it has forever linked Stoke Mandeville to the Paralympic Games - firmly establishing it as the starting point for all future Paralympic Torch Relays. The Paralympic Heritage Flame ceremony also provided an important platform for disability-led arts and culture in England; showcasing artistic excellence, expanding opportunities for disability-led artists and providing a superb opportunity for audiences to engage with disability-led work.

The centrepiece of the ceremony was a visually spectacular Armillary Sphere - a kinetic model of objects in the sky, including the stars and planets. The design brought together the Greek mythology of Hephaestus - architect of the first wheelchair - with the aspirations of the Paralympic movement and its central message of 'Spirit in Motion'.

The spark for the ceremony was generated by British Paralympic gold medallist, Hannah Cockroft, who sat at the centre of the Armillary Sphere and used her strength and power to rotate it, generating the flame from which the Paralympic Heritage Flame was lit - perfectly embodying the combination of sporting endeavour and artistic interpretation.

In addition to the main ceremony - which was broadcast internationally, live on Channel 4 - a community focused event was also held at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, profiling the dynamic relationship between disability-led arts and Paralympic Sport.

Through a series of films, readings, live painting, performances and interviews, the community event told the story of Stoke Mandeville and the Paralympic movement - the evening culminated in the arrival of the Paralympic Heritage Flame on the stage.

Central to this were a number of artistic contributions, including a live painting by Rachel Gadsden - one of the leading contributors to the Unlimited 2012, which was at the heart of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad - who brought 'Spirit in Motion' to life on canvas. There were also performances from Graeae with aerialists from the Paralympic opening ceremony, and Denise Leigh, who sung the Paralympic anthem 'Spirit in Motion'.

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.'

For more information about the Paralympic Heritage Flame, please click here.