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Realising they shared values and aims, Sage Gateshead and Newcastle United Foundation decided to team up. Wendy Smith describes a project that brought music lovers and football fans together. 

Photo of young musicaians

How can a high-profile football club work with a world-class chamber orchestra to spark a meaningful conversation with a deprived urban community? Not the easiest question to answer, but here at Sage Gateshead we love a challenge. The conversation we were looking to have was a national one around the relationship people have with music.

Sharing the Stage, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, aims to get a community of people to ‘share the stage’ with professional performers and look at how taking part in football, music and performance can bring people together.

This project has brought people and organisations together. We’ve tried many new experiences, including five-a-side football

We initially made a connection with Newcastle United Football Club through our In Harmony Newcastle Gateshead project at Hawthorn Primary School. The project gives every pupil access to an orchestral instrument and they devote up to four hours a week to making music in an orchestra and ensembles, learning to play an instrument, singing and performing.

The football club is based in the same ward as the school, and goalkeeper Tim Krul and Alan Pardew, who was manager of the club at the time, came to hear the inspirational young musicians at the school. Through this visit we realised we shared the same values and aims as Newcastle United Foundation, a registered charity supported by the football club, and that we worked with the same young people and communities. 

A family of participants

Newcastle’s West End is home to many a die-hard Newcastle United supporter. Through the project we connected with Newcastle United Foundation’s Kicks programme, which helps young people achieve their goals through football, Excelsior Academy, New Writing North, West End Voices (a community choir) and CHAT (Churches Acting Together). Unfolding Theatre Company and our resident orchestra Royal Northern Sinfonia completed our family of participants.

Unfolding Theatre gathered stories from the musicians, aged from eight to 85, until we had enough material for an hour-long performance. Memories and experiences from all walks of life, languages and lessons were shared.

The stories made up ‘We, the crowd’, a performance staged at Newcastle United’s ground in December in front of friends, family and invited guests. It followed people’s joys, frustrations and dreams for the future, side by side with professional actors and musicians.

All the groups starred as crowds at a football match, singing and playing orchestral instruments alongside professional musicians. The actors took the roles of stewards telling the stories of real people they had met and talked to about how music and football had an impact on their lives.

Marjorie Burns of West End Voices said: “It was the most amazing experience. It was an honour to be accompanied by so many professionals.” While Caroline Emmerson, a Senior Youth Worker at CHAT Trust, said: “It has done more for the group than I expected. We’ve noticed a change in them. They’re much more vocal, making decisions, taking ownership. The day after the show they came in and wrote a new song.”

Direct connections

This project has brought people and organisations together. We’ve tried many new experiences, including five-a-side football on our concourse, and we were all out of our comfort zone.

Working with Unfolding Theatre, a much smaller organisation, opened doors, created new possibilities and helped us to connect directly and have conversations with people in our local community and understand much more about their passions and dreams.

The success of Sharing the Stage was dependant on local people’s passions and long-term participatory arts and sports projects run by a variety of organisations in the west of Newcastle. New connections, friendships and creative collaborations have been made.

Wendy Smith is Director of Learning and Participation at Sage Gateshead.

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Photo of Wendy Smith