In our neighbourhood: a regional theatre and its local community

Dick Downing

Recent amendments to the funding of local theatres reflect the importance of their role in community development.

In our neighbourhood examines a project by a major regional theatre that undertook to become more involved with its local residential community, and to explore new ways of working in partnership. It offers a revealing portrait of the reality of community involvement. The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds undertook a year-long project working with residents of the neighbouring Ebor Gardens estate.

The objective was to increase the range and quality of services provided for the community, the take-up by the community of these products and services, and staff awareness of and commitment to the Playhouse’s role within the local community. This study charts the development of the project, from initial meetings and events to a review of the successes and failures of this year’s work. It draws on interviews with the participants, and reflects on the impact on both parties.

The project threw up a number of key factors for developing a successful working relationship, and also revealed a strong latent interest in theatre attendance amongst local residents. The experiences of residents and theatre workers were both surprising and encouraging.

This lively report will provide food for thought for both arts organisations involved in community action and for regeneration organisations looking to diversity their approach.