Back row, from left: Ali Kurji, Chief Executive of the Heart of England Co-operative Society; Jo Dyke, Community and Membership Adviser; Phil Kettle, Resources Director at Rugby Theatre and Clive Miles, President of the Heart of England Co-operative Society, with some of the younger members of Rugby Theatre.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A £10,000 surprise windfall from the Heart of England Co-operative Society has enabled Rugby Theatre to improve its safeguarding provision for young and vulnerable people, as well as its facilities for disabled people hoping to work at the theatre.

Bosses will use half the cash to provide a unisex toilet close to the backstage area, designed to help safeguard young members aged 17 and under, while the rest of the money will be used to buy a scissor lift – giving more opportunities for disabled people looking for onstage roles and enabling the backstage crew to manoeuvre heavy items more safely.

The money for the unisex toilet will allow young cast members to change their costumes in Central Hall, rather than using the same toilets as theatre visitors.

The theatre was one of a number of local organisations in Coventry, Warwickshire, south Leicestershire and Northamptonshire to make the application for the one-off windfall from the Society.

The giveaway was in recognition of a significant milestone earlier this year which saw the amount of money pledged to local charities and worthy causes by the Society’s Helping Hearts Awards Scheme top £1 million.

Phil Kettle, Resources Director at the Henry Street Theatre, said the money had helped the theatre tackle increasing concerns about the safety of children and vulnerable adults in its care head on.

He said: “Although we have had no problems at the theatre, safeguarding has come more to the fore over the past 10 years or so. There are of course widespread concerns about safeguarding among society at large.

“As part of our annual summer youth production we can have potentially 80 or 90 young people on site on any one day – previously we’ve had as many as 120 – so we needed to be able to provide toilet facilities nearer to the point where the majority of our young people are changing in order to make life easier for the children and our chaperones.

“Also in the future we are looking at running a drama club for eight to 12-year-olds so the toilets will enable us to continue the future development of our theatre knowing we have all the appropriate measures in place.”

Phil said as the theatre continues to grow ever more popular, so the productions become ever more ambitious. Previously six members of the crew have lifted a piano up and down a flight of stairs during performances, but the scissor lift will help the team to avoid such scenarios in the future. It will also allow onstage and backstage members of the theatre to move around the theatre more easily.

He said there were physically disabled cast and backstage crew who up until now had to suffer the indignity of being lifted on to the stage.

He added: “We are sometimes asked by members of our audience – including disabled theatregoers – how we’ve done certain things during our production, so we invite people in for a behind-the-scenes look.

“The scissor lift has long been on our wish list and now it will enable us to allow anyone who wants to see behind the scenes to do so.”

Opening its doors in December 1949 the theatre celebrates its 70th anniversary next year.

Today it has a membership of 375.

Prior to the theatre the building – which has stood in Henry Street since 1913 – housed a silent movie and music hall theatre.

Phil said: “We have had excellent support from the Heart of England Co-operative Society for the past 23 years when we started our summer youth production.

“I was absolutely thrilled that we were chosen to receive the £10,000. The unisex toilet and the scissor lift are absolute necessities for the theatre and this fantastic donation has enabled us to bring them to the top of our agenda.”

Ali Kurji, Chief Executive of the Society said: “Rugby Theatre has long been a jewel in Rugby’s crown and we are delighted to present bosses with this £10,000 which not only helps to ensure the welfare of existing theatre members but opens a whole wealth of opportunities for young, disabled or vulnerable people hoping to get involved with the theatre going forward.”

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