Our community programme Local Exchange has been running in areas across Greater Manchester since 2017. We caught up with Co-ordinator Neil Eskins on how the programme is developing...
What is Local Exchange?
Local Exchange is our wide-reaching community programme that sees us take up residency in many areas of Greater Manchester.
A big feature of the work is our mobile theatre, The Den. In the Den we create a 2-week festival of activity that is specifically designed and developed for the community with a team of ‘Ambassadors’ – a group of 12 fantastic people who ‘live, work or play’ within their local area.
As part of Local Exchange we become resident within these communities. We are committed to a long term relationship in which we develop arts activity designed for the community, we invite them into the theatre and engage in conversation about what the Royal Exchange Theatre means to then and what it could be in the future.
How does the programme work?
The programme develops across four years.
Year 1 – Consult – Understanding the community, developing partnerships and recruiting Ambassadors who will develop their skills as cultural leaders and help to co-design projects which meet the needs of their communities.
Year 2 – Delivering work with schools, youth centres, community groups, community celebrations, projects and performances, and the delivery of a 2-week festival in our mobile theatre, The Den.
Year 3 – Collaborate The first of our legacy years, including supporting ambassador projects and partners to ensure sustainable activity in the area. Empowering the Ambassadors to lead the change.
Year 4 – Our second legacy year to create a lasting impact, providing a less hands on project approach from the RET whilst empowering Ambassadors to lead the change.
After The Den festival in year two, we develop legacy projects with our Ambassadors and community groups that we’ve connected with, here’s an update on some of our work across our Local Exchange areas.
What community areas do we work with?
Next year, The Den will be resident in Rochdale. We’ve been making connections across the community, working closely with Rochdale Council, Let’s Talk, Maverick Labs, Soul Sisters and Awakening Minds. We had an amazing response to our call-out for Ambassadors, so adapted our offer to have Ambassadors who will meet us monthly and a wider group of Community Champions who will meet us all quarterly to interrogate the plans and add their ideas. We will also offer artists, groups and organisations space to join our sessions so connections can be developed, and we can all grow our awareness of what is happening within the area. The Ambassadors are currently creating their ‘Story of Change’ which will guide all our work with them and give us a central aim to continuously come back to.
Our key projects have spanned across Rochdale, Heywood, Middleton and Deeplish. Our first venture saw Darnhill Estate light up with colour for ‘Darnhill By The Sea’, an event headed by Cartwheel Arts which created a rich relationship between the Exchange, Cartwheel Arts and the residents of Darnhill in Heywood. The Feel Good Family Picnics were an initiative form Rochdale Borough Council during summer 2023 and saw the Exchange interact with over 450 people about their wishes for Rochdale Borough. Our latest project has been with ‘Let’s Talk’, a community group focusing on health, friendship and love for South Asian women in Rochdale Borough. Their hard work and determination has created an exhibition in partnership with Tamasha for the adaptation of ‘Great Expectations’ shown at the theatre. The exhibition focuses on the notion of the ‘Big Dream’ and has brightened the idea of theatre for over 50 new elders. These projects have helped us both connect with local organisations and to highlight local artists, with plans to programme in two shows by Rochdale-associated artists in The Den commencing summer 2024.
The Den found its home during summer 2023 at The East Manchester Academy for the East Manchester Community Festival, named and programmed by our Ambassadors, with the tagline ‘the best festival in all the land and all the world’ inspired by the chippy down the road. The Ambassadors have now reflected on and evaluated the festival, and they are welcoming new members into their group, working together to build upon what they’ve established.
There are prominent projects they are keen to continue, the ‘Chatty Craft’ group we host in Beswick Library once a month with community artist Sam Edwards and our ‘Beswick Young Company’ who performed multiple times in 2023 including devising a show for the East Manchester Community Festival. We have also been given extra funding by One Manchester, a housing association that has funded some of our youth work in the area. We are also happy to continue working with the Resonance Centre, by welcoming their ‘Tales of Resilience’ project to perform within our theatre next year.
After the success of The Den at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Cheetham Hill in 2021 with ‘the Den in M8‘, the Cheetham Hill and Crumpsall Ambassadors wanted to continue to connect creatively with the community. During lockdown they worked with writer Gareth Smith and Sound Designer SHAR to uncover stories with their project Up The Hill. After The Den festival they created the project ‘OurM8s’ with the idea of pulling out more of the amazing stories which are within the streets of the M8 postcode. They employed theatre maker Faith Yianni to facilitate over 80 interviews across the area, doing workshops in Manchester Jewish Museum, The Welcome Centre, Abraham Moss, School The Yard and even setting up a living room on Cheetham Hill Road (with the guidance of Camerados), and connecting with people further afield. These stories have been used to create a piece of theatre by the newly establish M8 Performance Group for Cheetham Fest 2023 which was performed at the Jewish Museum, Ukrainian Cultural Centre and the Royal Exchange. 10 of the stories were also chose to be displayed across M8 with quotes and professional portraits designed into large banners and posters displayed at partner venues and up Cheetham Hill Road. The project will also continue online via their Instagram @ourm8s.
In 2021, The Den came to Spinners Mill in Leigh for ‘the Den in Leigh‘. Afterwards the Leigh, Atherton and Tyldesley Ambassadors wanted to create further accessible theatre projects. They employed theatre maker Joe Gilmour to meet with community groups such as Everything Human Rights, Complete Kindness and Leigh Family Welfare, and did open taster sessions to connect further. Together with a community cast, they developed a play Best Ever Place Ever a thirty-minute new play that combines a whistle-stop tour of all the best local spots, with a moving coming-of-age story. After the success of Best Ever Place Ever, the Ambassadors wanted to give the opportunity to develop theatre making skills with the community, so set up Spinning Tales, a series of workshops that sought to share some of the wide range of skills that go into creating theatre, facilitated by local writers, designers, performers and technicians, to create free workshops and trips to see Royal Exchange Theatre shows.
After The Den festival at Stalybridge Civic Hall, the Royal Exchange Tameside Ambassadors continued to meet, they created projects through lockdown and afterwards. We worked with Tameside Women’s Centre to create an arts project over lockdown focusing on positivity and hope, we also connected with Jigsaw Homes to deliver arts packs across Dukinfield and establish the Dukinfield Craft Café which has now developed into the community group ‘People’s Community Dukinfield’. The Tameside Ambassadors sought to share the stories of Tameside, they developed a project that connected with groups across the 8 towns for the borough including LGBTQ+ Outloud and Guide Bridge Tappers, then commissioned Rachel McMurray to write and direct the play No Such Thing As Ordinary inspired by the stories collected, performed by a mixture of Elders and Young Company graduates, Ambassadors and a professional actor. The Tameside Ambassadors have create a community group ‘Tameside Creative Exchange’ and have partnered with GW Theatre’s to develop further projects.