A collaboration between big business and youth theatre is helping to regenerate one of the most deprived areas of the UK. Stuart Mullins explains what’s happening in Thurrock

Tilbury Tightrope at the London Cruise Terminal © PHOTO David Fisher

Theatre Is… works in places like Tilbury in Essex. Places with economic challenges that reach far beyond the current financial crises. Tilbury, in the borough of Thurrock, was once the gateway to the south of England, a major port where Gandhi first stepped upon these shores; a place rich in cultural heritage but with seemingly few prospects of a cultural future. Regeneration is a priority in Tilbury and the arts can inspire young people to develop a sense of creative entrepreneurship.

In this time of economic decline it is heartening to tell a positive story where the arts and business are working together to connect with deprived and challenged communities, driving young people towards the notion of social enterprise.

Theatre Is… has been working in Thurrock since 2009. Supported by Thurrock Council, the company has been delivering a programme of work called ‘It’s Our Theatre’ (IOT). Designed to develop the next generation of theatre makers, IOT goes to the places that most mainstream arts organisation fear to tread. At the heart of its work is the belief that talent lives in even the most deprived and diverse communities. Phase one of IOT recruits and engages large numbers of young people; phase two takes the most gifted and committed and develops their ability to make theatre. Often poorly resourced to develop their talent, the young people are encouraged to apply to the ‘It’s Your Future’ bursary scheme. The IOT programme is also structured to deliver the Silver and Gold Arts Award.

The skills gained through the IOT programme are put into practice by involving the young people in the production of a community theatre piece. For example, in October 2010, in partnership with The Gateway Academy and a design team from the Royal Opera House in Thurrock, IOT produced a new piece of community theatre called the Tilbury Tightrope. Two nights of drama, opera and dance produced an evening of outstanding quality, staged at the London Cruise Terminal in Tilbury.

The Port of Tilbury is keen to work with organisations that share its community values and over the past six years has supported a number of community events. It has recognised the impact of the work Theatre Is… does and felt that its sponsorship would not only support the production of an event but would underpin the ongoing development of the young people of Tilbury. Perry Glading, Chief Operating Officer for Forth Ports Limited, owners and operators of the Port of Tilbury said: “As a major employer in Thurrock we recognise, through our employees and engagement with the local council and organisations like Theatre Is, that the creativity that lies within Thurrock can be unlocked with our support.”

At the heart of the partnership is a desire to create a sustainable future for the young people who have clearly demonstrated a passion and ability for theatre and the arts. Currently the partnership is exploring how it can ignite a new social enterprise run by the It’s Your Future bursary holders that will provide entertainment for cruise passengers. Theatre Is… and the Port of Tilbury – a small-scale arts organisation and a large limited company – are demonstrating that the arts and business can create the climate for economic regeneration.

Stuart Mullins is the Creative Director of Theatre Is....
E stuart@theatreis.org
W www.theatreis.org