Sometimes you get asked to go jump off a cliff by a friend, and you don’t think about it – you know it’s the right thing to do, with lots of risk but huge reward. That happened this summer – West End Director Nick Evans, with whom we’d collaborated previously on Swansea’s shortlisted City of Culture bid, had a bold and perhaps crazy idea that could make a difference. He had us at bold.
Following the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox, Nick was driven to do something for the young people of Batley and Spen – her Yorkshire constituency. Himself a product of Swansea’s West Glamorgan Youth Theatre (responsible for a number of household names – Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael Sheen and Russell T Davies amongst them, not to mention a chunk of the performers in London’s West End and further afield) Nick wanted to create something similar for the young people of Batley and Spen – an ex-industrial area, struggling with the challenges of a post-industrial world much like many of the communities near us in South Wales. Jo Cox’s favourite musical was Les Mis and Nick set out to stage a production with young people as cast and crew.
It was a bold idea – the aim was to stage a West End quality show within 3 months where there was no theatre to stage it in, no organisation in place, and starting from a budget of zero.
We formed a charity, a small team of local people volunteered their time as Trustees, and our small contribution was to give our time to support them, providing a Board member to assist in the development of the project, drawing on our knowledge of socially enterprising initiatives across the UK.
With Nick’s incredible passion and drive, and the remarkable support of West End producer Donna Munday (without whom the project couldn’t have happened) around a quarter of a million pound was raised in a matter of months – we built the theatre in a disused warehouse, and the young people of Batley and Spen showed the world what they could do. And what they could do was really quite something.
Culture, creativity, and art can be transformative – forever changing people’s lives for the better, building confidence, self esteem, self efficacy, as well as nurturing great talent in its own right. But it can also change places – giving them (or perhaps helping them remember) a sense of identity and purpose, and lighting the way. This did both and was rightly lauded as a remarkable triumph.
Of all the projects we’ve ever worked on (and for this we didn’t receive a penny), this is perhaps one of the most memorable and we think can be the beginnings of something really special. All credit to Nick, Donna and an incredible team of volunteers, and especially the young people themselves – it was an honour and a pleasure working with them and making the project happen. Nick is somewhat fond to say the least of Aaron Sorkin’s fictional White House as depicted in NBCs West Wing – to quote Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett: ‘What’s next?’