Local Stars Celebrated with Hearts For The Arts 2021 Awards

Valentine’s Day, 14th February, was the very appropriate date chosen for the announcement of the winners of the UK’s annual Hearts For The Arts awards.


Hearts for the Arts are the annual awards ran by the National Campaign for the Arts recognising the UK’s unsung Local Authority arts heroes.

The awards are judged by high-profile figures in the arts and sciences. This year’s judges were: Le Gateau Chocolat, Helen Czerski, Mariella Frostrup, Paul Hartnoll, Adrian Lester CBE, Francesca Martinez, Petra Roberts and National Campaign for the Arts Chair Samuel West.

An online multi-arts festival, a radio programme celebrating descendants of the Windrush generation, and efforts to counter digital poverty in Wandsworth have all been recognised by this year’s awards.

Awards will be presented by Samuel West and selected guest judges at the Hearts for the Arts digital Awards Ceremony hosted by the Local Government Association on Wednesday 3rd March.

Nominations were received from across the UK for each of the three award categories. Despite the incredible hardships faced by Local Authorities in 2020, this year’s awards have seen the NCA receive a record-breaking number of nominations, as local communities turned to the arts for solace, strength and connectivity during the pandemic.

So many strong nominations were received in the Best Arts Category, that three winners have been chosen:

And the winners are:

Best Arts Project: N17 (Haringey Council). A radio programme created in partnership by students of Harris Academy Tottenham, Kick it Out, Threads Radio, Haringey Council, RoughHouse Theatre and playwright, Dougie Blaxland.

Best Arts Project: Create & Learn PlayKits (London Borough of Wandsworth Arts Service). Wandsworth creative organisations worked together with Wandsworth Council to make and distribute over 3000 kits of creative materials and activities to children aged 6-10 years old in most need.

Best Arts Project: Arts E-Live (Mole Valley District Council). A community arts festival of over 50 events in the fields of music, theatre, poetry, creative writing, children’s events, street art, craft, filmmaking and dance.

Best Arts Champion – Local Authority or Cultural Trust Worker: Andy Dawson (Inspire Youth Arts). In his role as Service Manager, Andy has strategically planned and secured funds to deliver fantastic creative journeys for young people across Nottinghamshire.

Best Arts Champion – Councillor: Councillor Janet Emsley (Rochdale Borough Council) for her consistent and energetic support of the arts in Rochdale.

The National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) presents the Hearts for The Arts Awards each year. The awards are delivered by the NCA in partnership with Culture Counts; the Local Government AssociationThriveUK TheatreVoluntary Arts WalesWales Council for Voluntary Action.

To read more about Hearts For The Arts, click here

My heartiest congratulations to all the winners in this exceptionally challenging year.

SOLT’s new FAMILY FUN page shares online resources for all ages

There’s a wealth of family fun and activities to be found at the Official London Theatre’s FAMILY FUN page of their website. Children of all ages will find something to entertain them and inspiration to spark their creativity during the remaining weeks of lockdown.

From shows, to quizzes, games, activities and things to make and do, you can find all the inspiration you need at the Official London Theatre website.

Find the OLT’s Family Theatre Fun page by clicking here

Watch Now for the Family: Roald Dahl’s THE TWITS from Unicorn Theatre

There’s nothing better for family time than having a story read to us. But it’s even better when the story is read as a theatre show, with lots of fun and surprising touches along the way.

Family audiences can now enjoy the Unicorn Theatre’s three-part telling of Roald Dahl’s THE TWITS for free online until March 3rd.

Imagine the worst people you can think of, can you do that? Good. Then you’re just about ready to meet Mr and Mrs Twit, the nastiest couple you could ever hope (not) to meet.

Welcome to the Unicorn’s theatrical reading of one of Roald Dahl’s best-loved books about a most despicable couple, The Twits, the clever Muggle-Wump and the magnificent Roly-Poly Bird. This unabridged reading, filmed in the Unicorn Theatre, is gleeful, gunge-filled digital storytelling aimed at children aged 6 – 12. It is directed by Ned Bennett.

As part of Unicorn Online, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the theatre are offering a range of free online theatrical experiences that they hope will be enjoyed by children across London, the UK and beyond.

Of course, the Unicorn is currently closed and like all arts organisations, its future is uncertain. If you are able to support them with a donation of any size, then your help will be enormously appreciated, I know.

Watch all three parts of THE TWITS via the Unicorn Theatre’s website here until March 3rd

Theatres Trust seminar highlights ingenuity of UK theatre groups

One of the things about theatre practitioners and groups is that they are often so focused on their work and its delivery that they don’t really have the time or energy to spare to make their accomplishments more widely known.

What has been heartwarming has been the swell of appreciation across the country for theatre groups as they figured out a whole new way of working during our pandemic-restricted times.

The Theatres Trust has done much work during this time to support and champion theatres and companies up and down the UK, through funding, publicity and also webinars which have given companies a chance to come together, listen and learn from each other’s efforts and successes in making a difference in their local communities. What is great is that you and I and anyone who shares our interest in how theatre groups work, can watch and listen to these inspiring conversations too. They are well worth your time, I can say.

On 3rd February, Tom Stickland of the Theatres Trust chaired an illuminating online seminar about how theatres and theatre companies across the UK have been approaching the pandemic as it affected their communities.

Entitled “Theatres with communities in 2021”, the session illustrated eloquently and in detail how arts organisations had been jolted into thinking differently about their remit and how they interact with their communities, in some cases almost reinventing themselves entirely in order to serve their locality

The wide selection of contributors came from across the country.

Sarah Brigham CEO and AD of Derby Theatre described their outreach programs PLUS ONE which works with people in care or leaving care, and DERBY RISES, which brings in otherwise excluded or marginalised communities to participate in the communal act of making bread and then baking it. “We started from what the group wanted, not what we thought they wanted. We tried to put the community in the driving seat” said Brigham.

From Slough, Home Slough’s Director Saad Eddine Said and collaborator Christina Brooks-Abraham talked about the challenges and successes of creatively engaging their communities during a pandemic and in an area where creative engagement was very limited. After listening to their users, they invested in coaching to help individuals become initiators of change. They also created Global Cooking Theatre, recognising the universal language of food which has the potential to break down barriers and preconceptions, which was received warmly by the community.

In Leeds, Slung Low’s Alan Lane and Graziela McIntyre described their challenges to help their local square mile of community, creating partnerships with companies and Leeds FC who all brought different things to help the local community. The cultural community college they ran has transformed into a social care refrerral unit and foodbank, offering arts activities on a pay what you can basis. As Alan said, the pandemic has “made us realise that we weren’t as close to our community as we thought we were.”

From Theatr Clywd in Mold, Wales, Director of Creative Engagement Gwennan Mair talked about community outreach including 12-hour hubs to give respite to families, online help for dementia sufferers and fostering a feeling of connection and involvement with teenagers and younger people, ensuring that they feel they have a voice.

Jonny Davenport, co-founder and AD of The Old Court in Wigan talked about working with the local council to build new relationships, creating a call handling system for those seeking help, working with a local food charity to compile and deliver food parcels to those most in need. Delivering packed lunches to schoolkids in half-term, they worked with youngsters to engage them in online activities and even managed to create a touring mobile panto on the back of a beer lorry! As Jonny says, “The fact that we were relied upon in a crisis is really humbling.”

The enormous learning opportunities thrown up by this sudden shift in activity was fascinatingly uncovered in this hour-long online discussion.

I do urge you to take a look at it when you have time. It is truly inspiring, in a way that is rarely – if ever – reported in mainstream media.

Thanks to Theatres Trust for putting these seminars together and for all the participants for their amazing work. Proof, if any were needed that the arts matter now even more than they were before.

The seminar programme is supported by the Garfield Weston Foundation.

You can watch the seminar via the Theatres Trust website here

For other seminars in the series, please visit the Theatres Trust website here

Faith in UK Arts boosted as Weston Culture Fund Grants announced

On February 1st The Garfield Weston Foundation announced that over £30 million has been awarded to Arts organisations across the UK via the Weston Culture Fund.

Specifically created by the Weston family in response to the devastating impact of Covid-19, this new fund is supporting a diverse range of organisations from museums to regional theatres and national touring ballet companies.  Grants range from £100,000 up to £1.5 million, related to the size of the organisation.

The Foundation’s Trustees decided to increase the fund by more than 20% to over £30 million after seeing the level of creativity and determination from Arts organisations which have been hit by the pandemic and are fighting hard to ‘keep the lights on’.

There are many beneficiaries, with the largest being the National Theatre which receives the maximum figure of £1.5 million, and other organisations such as the brilliant Little Angel Theatre (Just over £250,000), The Young Vic (£200,000) and the Sage Gateshead (£875,000).

The Garfield Weston Foundation’s Director, Philippa Charles, said:

“Our cultural sector is at the heart of our local communities providing not only entertainment but education and inspiration for many. Our Trustees were impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit shown across the Arts in response to Covid-19 and it was a privilege to hear what organisations had been doing to not only survive but also to reinvent the way they reach audiences. What really stood out was the level of collaboration and support they had for each other and the determination to keep going, despite the increasingly difficult situation.

We all want and need our cultural sector to thrive and, if anything, our time away from the Arts has shown just how important they are to us – bringing much needed pleasure and enrichment to our lives. Arts organisations are desperate to re-open and get back to what they do best and we hope that this new funding will help many of them do exactly that.”

Click here for a full list of Weston Culture Fund grants.