Six community groups have been announced as Opera North’s new Community Partners, giving their members access to a wealth of opera, music, live performance and workshops, both at the company’s venues and their own, throughout the coming year.
The 2019 Community Partners are Ripon House which provides temporary accommodation and support for female ex-offenders; BAME Health & Wellbeing Hub which works with older people from the BAME community in Chapeltown, Leeds; Caring for Life, a farm-based charity providing accommodation, activities and emotional support for homeless and vulnerable people; and 5 Ways which offers guidance and advice to those recovering from addiction.
Opera North’s work with refugees and asylum seekers was recently recognised with the award of Theatre of Sanctuary status, and its continuing commitment to these groups is reflected in its new partnership with BIASAN (Bradford Immigration and Asylum Seekers Support and Advice Network) and Conversation Club which provides English conversation drop-in for refugees and asylum seekers at Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds.
This is the sixth year that the scheme has been running with the aim of engaging people who might otherwise encounter barriers to being fully involved with the arts. As Community Partners, the groups work closely with the company and are invited to come to the opera, attend exclusive pre-show talks and discover what happens behind-the-scenes. In addition, they can choose to host bespoke workshops and interactive performances at a venue of their choice. In the past, these have included pubs, community centres and church halls.
“5 Ways feels really special being a partner of Opera North. It provides our client group with amazing opportunities to take part in something that would not normally be available to them and broadens their horizons.”
– Helen Mason, 5 Ways
Anthony Haddon in An Introduction to Billy Budd at The Chemic Tavern © Tom Arber
The Community Partners were previously in the Encore Scheme which currently numbers over 100 groups handling a wide and complex range of social issues. The scheme seeks to help people access live opera and music and has resulted in over 11,500 attendances so far at performances in Leeds Grand Theatre and the Howard Assembly Room, and a further 4,000 attendances at special taster performances and workshops.
“The people who come to Caring for Life can be hurting in all sorts of ways, from past experiences and/or present situations. The benefits that come from being able to escape from all that for a few hours are massive. Opera is such a fantastic vehicle for the expression of so many different emotions, and we have found that even when members with low levels of comprehension have come to watch a performance, they have engaged fully through that emotional connection.”
– Harriet Saul, Caring for Life
Taking a community group behind the scenes at Leeds Grand Theatre © Tom Arber
Individuals who have gained sufficiently in confidence to consider coming to the theatre by themselves are encouraged to join The Bravo Club. Members receive invitations to insight events, such as workshops and rehearsal visits, as well as to performances.
“I lost my husband, it will be five years next month. The Bravo Club has made a big difference in my life – if I didn’t come here, I would be at a loss.”
– Bravo Club member
Alongside its work with individuals and community groups, Opera North offers a selection of accessible performances to enhance the experience of blind, partially-sighted, D/deaf and hard-of-hearing audience members. These include signed, audio described and captioned performances both in Leeds and at touring venues, together with touch tours each season. The company is also preparing to hold its first dementia friendly performance of La bohème at 2.30pm in Leeds Grand Theatre on Thursday 24 October.