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Founded in 2000, Slung Low is a theatre company based at the Holbeck in Leeds – Britain’s oldest working men’s club. Its Artistic Director, Alan Lane pays tribute to the people who have inspired him.

Wherever Slung Low has been we’ve been surrounded by people who have looked to make change, who thrive by saying yes. They have taught me that if you don’t like the world the way it is, you have to change it, one step at a time.

Iain Bloomfield

When I was a kid trying to make theatre, there didn’t seem any way forward for young artists in the region who didn’t already know people in the industry. Then I met Iain. Iain Bloomfield ran Theatre in the Mill - a small studio in Bradford. He just said yes. He didn’t have any money, but he had space and he had the power to say yes. 

That yes gave me and those around me the confidence and momentum to crack on with projects. That yes helped us attract money, other support, other belief. That quick yes, confidently given, changed our path. We’ve tried to hold on to that now that we’re older - with our rehearsal spaces, van, flat and equipment. 

Say yes, say it early, say it with confidence, support momentum. Momentum is everything.

Kully Thiarai

I think Kully’s the most impressive arts leader in the country - leading at Red Ladder, Contact, Curve, Cast, National Theatre of Wales and now Leeds 2023. And I’ll have forgotten something in that list. I’m lucky to have worked for and with her since the West Yorkshire Playhouse put us together to programme the first Transform Festival many years ago. 

I’ve seen her achieve extraordinary things with her combination of generous listening and a rare ability to see the world from other people’s point of view. It’s perhaps the most important skill for an artist and one too often overlooked. 

But I’ve also seen people underestimate her, often because she has a different way of leading, a different way of being an artistic leader. And the quiet, calm steel with which she deals with this disrespect. Such grace under offence. That’s been an important lesson that I’ve often taken inspiration from.

Sarah Millard

There is an amazing school in Holbeck: Ingram Road Primary School. Educating children from a variety of challenging backgrounds, many newly arrived in the country with the trauma that can bring, the school could easily be overwhelmed. That it isn’t but is instead an inspiring, energetic, joyful place is a consequence of the great team the school has. A team led by headteacher Sarah. 

The focus she has on her duty to care for the children in her school is inspiring. To see how she ignores the nonsense life throws at her to stay focused on the management of the staff and the inspiring of her pupils is a lesson I needed to learn. 

You’re never going to be able to do everything, so do the things that really matter. Put your attention where it counts, not where it’s most noisily demanded.

Adam Smith

Adam is a chef and food campaigner who set up the Real Junk Food Project and, before that, a network of Pay What You Feel cafes around the world. He is an absolute pioneer in food waste and the understanding that, without radical change in our food systems, global disaster is accelerating towards us. 

When we opened a foodbank during the Covid crisis and promised that anyone who needed food would receive it, he was the first person to get in touch to help. He helped every single day of the 15 months we ran the foodbank. 

He refuses to accept that a broken system can’t be fixed, however big that system is. He understands that change comes from the act of doing. You just have to get on with being the change you want to see in the world. Whatever the cost, no matter how many people tell you it isn’t possible. 

I hold that close to my heart every day. Don’t accept the unacceptable. We have the power to make change.

Alan Lane is the Artistic Director of Slung Low. 

His book about the company’s activity during the Covid crisis ‘The Club on the Edge of Town: A Pandemic Memoir’ is out now from Salamander Street publishing.

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