I went to the Theatres Trust Conference and all I got was a ton of good info

So as I mentioned in my last post, I got offered a sponsored place to attend the Theatres Trust conference on Theatres and Placemaking! Super exciting! Thanks to Audio Light Systems for the place, and especially to Roland who was lovely to chat to during the day!

I think the biggest thing I learnt at the conference was that the history and community of a place should really be at the core of what a theatre is, and what it does. Many of the speakers during the day emphasised the importance of building on existing relationships and memories, whether that be memories of a now closed theatre, or links that already exist within communities, or across them.

Louise Gittins, of the Storyhouse Chester project, talked about how the sentimentality attached to old buildings can provide the push to get a community involved in regeneration. She and Graham Lister, the project manager, said that for them, community ownership was really important – letting local residents feel that they had control and input into the building, and that they were as involved as possible. They did things like getting local school children to help relocate the library, and making sure the building would be welcoming and open during the day. Dave Byrne of New Diorama also talked about the research and interviews his team conducted while NDT was being built. They aimed to bring together the communities of the local housing estates, and make Regents Place a destination area rather than just office blocks, and they conducted research to find out what local people wanted, and what they’d already experienced in terms of theatre and culture.

On a more practical level, the conference also taught me about planning and obtaining capital funding. One of my biggest challenges has been trying to work out where the initial funds would come from for Hope in Hell, because capital funding is much harder to come by than project based funding. Dave Byrne and Graham Lister both talked about getting capital funding from the Arts Council, and after a bit of digging I’ve discovered the Small Capital Grants fund, which looks good! However, both of them emphasised that you need quite a few things to access this:

  • A 5 – 10 year plan with full costings and goals
  • A business plan
  • An audience development plan
  • Board development
  • Partnerships and plans for developing these in future

Which is quite an intimidating list! They’re all things that were on my radar before, but the conference helped me understand which bits I’d need in order to get funding, and which I can use that funding to develop.

I also got some information about planning permissions, from Brian Whitely from Planning Aid. He emphasised the importance of engaging with the local council as early as possible, and of understanding their aims and ambitions for the area. Each council has a “Local Plan” which can be consulted, and applications for planning permissions should dovetail with this as much as possible – just the same as applying for ACE grant schemes etc. The key phrases for him are the national aim to “facilitate social interaction”, and improve the “vitality of town centres”, both of which theatres can do!

Finally, I must mention Paul Callaghan from Sunderland Music Arts Trust (MAC). He gave a barnstorming speech to open the conference, righteously angry at the world for ignoring northerners, disadvantaged people and working class people. His work in Sunderland is inspiring, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out!

Coming out of the conference, I have really re-focussed the next steps for Hope in Hell, which I think lies in doing research and interviews with Sheffield communities, and identifying an existing community building to transform into the theatre. I’m now working on a ACE grant application to do just that! So as always, watch this space!



Leave a Reply