People dealing with a wide and complex range of social issues will be accessing more opera, music and live performance in Leeds this year after becoming Opera North Community Partners for 2020.
They are Changing Lives (People in Action) which helps people with learning disabilities to lead independent lives; Feel Good Factor which seeks to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable and disadvantaged residents in Chapeltown, Leeds; Helping Hands which supports older people in Armley and Wortley; and Inkwell Arts which uses creativity to enrich lives and improve mental health.
As the only opera company in the UK to be awarded Theatre of Sanctuary status, Opera North has also selected Mafwa Theatre which runs drama groups for refugees and those applying for asylum; and St. Augustine’s Centre which provides help, advice and support for refugees and asylum-seekers in Halifax.
This is the seventh year that the scheme has worked with people in the region who might otherwise encounter barriers to engaging fully with the arts. As Community Partners, the groups work closely with Opera North and are invited to attend opera performances at Leeds Grand Theatre, as well as being given behind-the-scenes tours and other exclusive insights into productions. In addition, they can choose to host bespoke workshops and interactive performances at their own venues, increasing arts accessibility for any members who prefer not to travel to unfamiliar places.
“Being an Opera North 2020 partner will enable many of our service users to access productions that they never would have dreamt of seeing. We believe in the broadening of horizons that is facilitated by participation in the arts.”
— Damian Dawtry, Feel Good Factor
Last year, the Community Partners were also invited to take part in a special People’s Lullabies project which explored the themes of home, childhood and memory, with the resulting films being shown at the Everyman Cinema in Leeds.
A creative session at Inkwell Arts in Leeds © Inkwell Arts
The organisations invited to be Community Partners have been selected from the Opera North Encore Scheme which currently numbers 120 groups working with vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Yorkshire. The scheme seeks to remove any obstacles that might prevent members from accessing live opera and music and has resulted in over 17,000 attendances to date at opera performances, special taster shows and workshops.
“Our centre users live in one of the most deprived areas of the country. Many are asylum-seekers and refugees, who have experienced years of destitution and trauma to reach this country and are now in limbo waiting to see what the future holds. To have a few hours of escapism, magic and normality provides a real boost.”
— Sue Degnan, St. Augustine’s Centre
Opera North's dementia friendly performance of La bohème 2019 © Ant Robling
Alongside its community work, 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 also staged its first dementia friendly performance of La bohème last year.
“Our pleasure last Thursday at the performance of La bohème was immense. It was stimulating for those with dementia, it was a rare and precious treat for their carers and it was a powerful bond-building experience for the volunteers. At the end of the performance, one carer said, ‘A. has been awake all afternoon and hasn’t missed a minute. At home he falls asleep every 20 minutes’ – the power of pleasurable stimulation!”
— Attendee, La bohème dementia friendly performance
The next dementia friendly performance will be Carmen in 2021 and will be held at Leeds Grand Theatre on Monday 22 February.