Local theatres and groups have an important part to play in our local communities

Local theatres and groups have an important part to play in our local communities

Cllr Michelle Tanfield. Photo: Richard Johnson
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by Councillor Michelle Tanfield, Local Government Association’s first Theatre Champion. 

Date Published: 08 February 2018

A big hello to everyone who is a member of UK Theatre or works or is interested in theatre

I would like to introduce myself, so I thought what better way could there be than to write a blog about my new role, who I am, and how I hope to bring about a better understanding and communication between Local Government and local theatres, which in turn will benefit all of our local communities.

I’m Cllr Michelle Tanfield from Fenland District Council. I’m Cabinet member for Tourism, Sports Development and Leisure Services in Fenland, and I became a member of the Local Government Association (LGA) in September 2017, sitting on the Culture, Tourism and Sport Board.

It was an absolute honour to be asked by the board to become the LGA Theatre Champion in Dec 2017. The role was created after conversations between the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board and UK Theatre. Both organisations had been working together on the Hearts for the Arts Awards (winners announced next week – 14 February!) but realised there was much more we could do together to recognise and support the contribution of theatres to local areas. 

My background is in theatre and media, so it feels like I’m coming back to my roots in some ways. My first show was a big musical in London, something I will never forget. Although if you bump into me, be sure to ask about the first time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was not what I was expecting at all!

My first task will be traveling to theatres across the country to see how they are working to engage with local communities and find new and innovative ways to expand their audiences. I can then go armed with this knowledge back to the LGA to create case studies demonstrating ways in which local authorities can work with and support their own local theatres.

I will also be looking at ways we can recognise theatres as a source of employment. The vast array of skills needed to put on shows, from stage management, to props, to costume design to working in the bar is unparalleled, and can offer either a career path for professionals or development opportunities for amateur enthusiasts. We must encourage and support people to look to theatres as a viable place to work.

As you know, local theatres and groups have an important part to play in our local communities. They can help the young find their voice and confidence; they can tackle in a sensitive and non-aggressive way local issues or social problems. They can help with mental health and stigmas in a safe environment. The list is endless. These are just a few ways they are able to bring people together. They provide, laughter, tears, suspense, drama, song and dance (all of which can be found in your local Christmas pantomime!).

You and I know it’s vitally important that we try to protect our local theatres; that they continue to diversify and innovate; and continue to be hubs within our communities. We all know that funding for local government is being stretched and we must work to make sure that our theatres can be self-sustaining and yet still be able to provide a diverse and sometimes challenging offer to the audience. Theatre should be an experience open to everyone regardless of your financial situation or your background.

I’m hoping my working with UK Theatre will strengthen ties between local government and local theatres, and that together we can create great experiences for our communities.

As this is a new role, I will always be looking at ways to improve it and change it as the role evolves and emerges. If you have ideas or you work for a theatre that is doing amazing work within its community, please get in touch with UK Theatre.

You can follow Michelle on @michtanfield.

To find out more about the Local Government Association’s support for culture, tourism and sport follow @LGAculturesport or visit www.local.gov.uk/topics/culture-tourism-leisure-and-sport 

UK Theatre members can read Local Authority Case Studies written by other members, by visiting our resources page. 

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"UK Theatre" is the operating name of UK Theatre Association, a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales, whose registered office is at 32 Rose Street, London, WC2E 9ET, Company No 323204.