A Children’s Theatre Space in Leeds: Is it possible?

Hosted by Simone Lewis
In attendance:
Rachel Griffiths
Lucy Smith
Eija Gibson
Eleanor Manners
Robbie Foulston

I am a freelance performer, theatre maker, and director with a background in clown, puppetry, and non-verbal story telling. Since becoming a parent my ability to tour as a performer seems a distant memory and is no longer a viable option. As a result, I have been looking at where my passions lie and how I can use my skills to create something that has longevity and is sustainable. I keep coming back to the dream of building a space for the arts in Leeds, designed and created for families and children.
In our session, we spoke about whether or not this dream could be realised.

The Dream:
A space for families and young people to interact with the arts in all its forms:
- A café space with an interactive play area for all ages created by local visual artists, which changes every few months.
- A theatre space for performances of high quality children’s theatre that more European in style and not the mainstream style of theatre we see programmed in and around Leeds such as Julia Donaldson and Peppa Pig.
- Workshop space
- A space for drama therapy and the like, supporting mental well being
- Rehearsal space available to local artists, encouraging the making and development of local work for children, families, and young people
The first question raised about opening such a space was location; where would a space like this thrive, but more importantly which area in and around Leeds would see as much footfall as possible while remaining accessible across all demographics. The city centre seems the best place for exposure but is not necessarily the best place for people to get to for some people (parking is expensive and the roads difficult to navigate, while some bus routes require numerous changes in order to get to the city centre which is both time consuming and costly). If not in the centre, then which suburb would be appropriate?

Speaking to local councillors about including a return bus/train fare in the price of the ticket to an event to make it more appealing to those who simply cannot afford the costs of travel on top of a theatre ticket might be a solution to the issue of public travel.
Pop-up Venue:
Another solution to the problem of location could be to start this venture as a pop up space, trialling different areas in and around Leeds by taking over disused spaces for a period of time, then moving on to the next. This model would mean that more communities could access the space without having to travel out of their suburb. We can use the data collected from these pop-up spaces to ascertain which area would work best for a more permanent space. However, the model of a pop-up space could also be the final answer.
One of the ways forward is to collaborate with others in the form of partnerships. There may already be others chasing the same dream or working with a similar pop-up model and it makes more sense to start a conversation with those individuals and organisations when formalising our proposal for funding support. Potential partners mentioned as well as others I have added in retrospect are as follows:
- Leeds Playhouse The Bramwell Rockvoid
- Emma Bearman: Playboxes
- Elvie Piper, Wrongsemble
- The Egg, Bath
- Hullaballoo, Darlington
- Theatre Porto, Ellesmere Port
- Barboro.ie European Children’s Festival
It is essential that we find financial backing for this project; the following people/organisations were suggested as a starting point:
- Look at Child Friendly Leeds – the council are focusing on developing a child friendly Leeds and perhaps there is a funding pot there to explore.
- Tracy Brabin has a particular interest in youth theatre and access to the arts and theatre for young people
- Local councillors may have pots of funding or can signpost us to the right people/org.

The session came to a natural close, but it was clear that we needed to call another session or open space to discuss this further. I have spoken to Improbable and will look at setting up a satellite D&D in Leeds in the coming months. If you would like to find out more, please email me on [email protected] or follow me on Instagram @simonelewisplays

In the meantime, look out for our second D&D report A Children’s Theatre in Leeds: The next steps.