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Working with a children’s hospice has allowed Birmingham Hippodrome to make its productions accessible to families who might otherwise miss out, and it has learnt a lot along the way, says Nichole Cooper.

Photo of musician with young girl playing violin
An Acorns family day

Birmingham Hippodrome gives everyone the chance to experience theatrical performances, arts and culture, and as a not-for-profit charity all our revenues (ticket sales, room hire and events, membership and catering) help to fund Hippodrome Projects.

Through Hippodrome Projects we deliver three strands of work:

  • Community: An annual programme of indoor and outdoor live performances, community work and transformational projects.
  • Creative learning: Learning projects from early years through to lifelong learning with schools and colleges and community groups across the West Midlands, plus a regular programme of talks and tours and initiatives such as TEDXBrum.
  • Artistic ambition: Investment in artistic talent and diversity, building partnerships to produce and present. Support for local artists as an incubator of new ideas and talent, while bringing the best international companies to our stages.

Donations and partnerships

Many of our donations come from local businesses in the form of sponsorship and other partnerships. We’re also supported by individuals through donations and memberships and from grant-making trusts for special programming and projects.

We have learnt a lot about the different requirements of the children and aim to make our theatre as accessible as possible

We believe it’s important to engage with other charities, and as part of this activity we’ve been supported for a number of years by Children and the Arts, a national children’s charity and grant-making trust. Over the past three years, it has funded Hospice Quest, which aims to make the arts accessible to those experiencing hospice care through partnerships between arts organisations and hospice care.

We partnered with Acorns Children’s Hospice over four years ago and have been working with them to provide children with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions access to theatre productions and workshops. This is an opportunity for the children and their families to see a show in a comfortable and flexible environment designed to suit their needs.

During an Acorns Children’s Hospice family day, our guests are treated to a relaxed performance of the show. For these special performances, the auditorium doors are kept open to allow free movement in and out of the space, with break-out areas close by. The break-out areas include a playroom and sensory room that provide a place to relax and play during the show.

Certain aspects of staging are specially adapted for the audience, such as the bright lighting and loud noises. At the end of the show, members of the cast still in costume usually come and visit the families for photographs. We have also run projects with siblings of Acorns children, offering them creative ways to express their thoughts and feelings.

This is not only a great experience for the children but also for the families who can find outings of this nature stressful and intimidating. We create days like this to ensure they have the chance to enjoy a family day out just like any other family.

Increasing access

The Acorns Children’s Hospice staff provide training to our volunteers and visitor service assistants in preparation for a visit. They explain the work of the hospice and give an insight into the families who will be attending.

We have therefore learnt a lot about the different requirements of the children and aim to make our theatre as accessible as possible, even outside these family days. For example, during one visit it came to our attention that without a mobile access hoist, that was provided by the hospice, many families wouldn’t be able to attend our other relaxed performances.

Word spread of the need for our own hoist and thanks to a generous donation from two of our regular supporters we were able to purchase one. It is available whenever it’s required to anyone with an access need.

We go to great lengths to ensure our access programme is not just a box-ticking exercise, but one that offers memorable moments executed with sensitivity and flair.

Nichole Cooper is Communications Executive at Birmingham Hippodrome.

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Photo of Nichole Cooper