Regional Venue to Launch Youth Theatre for Children with Physical and Learning Disabilities

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Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds is set to introduce new groups into its already successful Youth Theatre programme aimed specifically at children and young people with physical and learning disabilities.

Youth Theatre Inclusion is only possible with the funding which is being provided by St Edmunds Trust for year one and the GeeWizz Charitable Foundation for years two, three and four.

Theatre Royal’s Artistic Director Owen Calvert-Lyons is excited about the positive impact these groups will have. “We will be the only professional theatre company offering provision of this kind in West Suffolk. The new groups will enrich the lives of children and young people using theatre and performing arts techniques designed specifically with them and their needs in mind. Youth Theatre Inclusion will support our young participants in building self-esteem, increasing confidence and developing a positive sense of who they are and what they can achieve. By being able to create quality art, reflecting and celebrating their unique creativity, they can explore theatre making in an inclusive and responsive environment.”

Support for year one is being provided by St Edmunds Trust. The Trust was set up in 1997 with the funds remaining from an appeal committee launched in 1976 to convert The Square House Hotel in Bury St Edmunds to a private hospital. The appeal was closed with more than 800 contributors and The St Edmunds Hospital was opened in February 1981. By 1997 major development was required and the Hospital was sold to the Nuffield Trust (another charitable organisation) and is now run by BMI. As the original money had been raised by local appeal it was considered important that any remaining money should be retained for local use. £2.25m was left after the sale, which is the origin of the funds of the St Edmunds Trust.

Hazel Pidsley, Chairman of St Edmunds Trust said “St Edmunds Trust’s objectives are to provide financial assistance to any charitable organisation in West Suffolk and Sudbury providing the treatment or care of sick or disabled persons, and we are delighted to support this new theatre provision in our community.”

The GeeWizz Charitable Foundation, who are providing support for years two, three and four, is a very special charity based just outside Bury St Edmunds. The charity focuses on supporting children and young adults in Suffolk and Norfolk who suffer from life-threatening conditions, a disability or cancer. Their work aims to help fund the provision of equipment for children with physical disabilities, support potential developments in care for children affected by cancer and support education and research into cancer treatment and care.

Gina Long MBE, founder of GeeWizz, has been a voluntary fundraiser and charity campaigner for more than 40 years. During that time, she has helped raise almost £7 million for national and local charities. Most recently she created the Ed Sheeran Made in Suffolk Legacy Auction working closely with John and Imogen Sheeran which raised £506,000, of which £50,000 has been pledged to Theatre Royal’s Youth Theatre Inclusion project.

Gina is proud to support this initiative which is so close to her heart. “I personally know of many local families who will benefit from a much-needed project like this. Working in conjunction with the fabulous work of education providers Theatre Royal’s Youth Theatre Inclusion group will enable young people to make friends in a supported and friendly environment with a team of experienced practitioners. This is so important in helping them feel more able to direct or manage their lives and express themselves and engage with activities and matters that affect them and GeeWizz is proud to be able to help.”

Theatre Royal Youth Theatre Inclusion will provide new youth theatre groups for children and young people aged 8 to 18 with a range of physical and learning disabilities.

These groups will explore a variety of theatrical mediums through non-verbal delivery. Through ongoing training Theatre Royal will develop the programme with leading theatre companies creating work with, and for, young people with disabilities.

The support provided by St Edmunds Trust and GeeWizz Charitable Foundation will provide specialised training (delivered by leading Young People with Learning Disabilities theatre company Open Theatre) for Theatre Royal Youth Theatre practitioners to enable them to tailor the groups specifically to the needs of the children and young people.

Andrea Denny, mum to 9 year old Alfie Denny who hopes to join the new Youth Theatre Inclusion group speaks of their excitement about these new groups, “How wonderful for Alfie to have this chance to be introduced to the wonder of the stage, not only will this make him feel a part of something very special but to give him that extra confidence to build on his already incredible personality. Alfie is 9 years old and profoundly deaf, He relies on Cochlear implants and British sign language to help him communicate and understand the world around him. He is extremely excited to be part of the Youth Inclusion Project.”

Youth Theatre Inclusion hopes to welcome its first participants in September of this year, Covid restrictions permitting.