CARLISLE took a huge step back towards normality today - as the city staged its first ever Hawker Festival.

In glorious sunshine, people mingled freely, enjoying the chance to socialise and enjoy free entertainment, seemingly forgetting any lingering fears about the new Indian variant of the Covid-19.

The weekend event saw a huge swathe of English Street transformed into a social space, with seating provided for hundreds of people who came into the city to enjoy the music and wide range of food available from a variety of city centre stalls.

Carlisle City Council's community development officer - and lifelong musician - Stephen Dunn enthused about the event.

As local band Mylittlebrother belted out their set to an attentive audience, Stephen said: "Today is a pure joy. 

"It's hard to describe how I feel seeing this happen. We've all been so pent up over the last year; this feels like life is starting up again.

"It's like a rejuvenation.

"It's quite emotional. I certainly feel that the time is right. These performers haven't been able to play in front of an audience for a long time and it's truly fantastic that they're doing that today.

"It's just so positive for our city."

Many of those who came to the city centre were feeling equally liberated.

Though Covid-19 has not gone away, many were reassured by the rollout of the vaccination programme.

Many felt sufficiently protected, they said, to start enjoying social gatherings again.

Among them was Michael Roger, 33, at the event with his daughter Ava, six.

"I feel completely safe," he said. As the crowd mingled it looked like Carlisle before covid.

Steve Hampton, 64, said: "I think the time for this is perfect. Sixty percent of the population have been vaccinated now and the number of new cases in Carlisle is not huge.

"The time is right to open up society and start to relax a little."

Others commented on the need to re-establish social contact so that people's mental health improves. The event was organised by Carlisle City Council.

Councillor Stephen Higg, responsible for culture, heritage and leisure, said: “I'm delighted we are able to re-start our events programme. It's encouraging that local businesses are taking part and supporting this first-of-a-kind event in the city."

The Council had a covid safety management plan, with hand-sanitising stations provided for today's event and stewards on hand to ensure queueing systems at stalls are kept to a minimum and to help customers maintain social distancing, said organisers.

The all-weekend event features numerous performers, including The Postcard Band, Marblmoon, Cosmic Cat, Mylittlebrother, Dan Mason, Christian Moss, Gemma Bell, Ste Harkins, Jazz(ish), We Are Quasars, Spud, Joe Lush and Slaves of Venus.

* For a running order, click here for the disover carlisle website.