Theatre offers important skills for life in pioneering Littlehampton community project

Trick Your Way Home offers a pop-up theatre production for children in Littlehampton.

Hilary Strong
Hilary Strong

As spokeswoman Madeleine Wadley explains: “Making Theatre Gaining Skills is an interesting and important community interest company that not many people at local, regional or even national level know much about. This will change locally when the Littlehampton community will have the opportunity to learn about the organisation and see first hand the pop-up theatre production being staged in St James Church in East Ham Road.

“Despite its closure as a functioning church, the building and its hall, are being established as a lively local community hub for all to use.

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“Trick Your Way Home has been written and produced within a training and development programme operated under the creative auspices of the Making Theatre Gaining Skills organisation.

“Established in 2013 by founder Hilary Strong, highly innovative creative training techniques are employed to engage and encourage those individuals at risk of exclusion from employment and long-term unemployed. It is the brainchild of Hilary who has 30 years experience in the creative sector from running a touring company and the Greenwich Theatre to the world’s largest arts festival, The Edinburgh Fringe.

“Over the years Hilary became increasingly interested in providing education and training for young people from disadvantaged areas. Having secured funding from the European Social Fund to support creative training programmes, she re-branded the theatre and switched its focus to learning and participation whereupon it won the London Region Edge Award for Training.

“A unique learning programme was developed offering practical experience of a range of technical, craft and production roles combined with employment skills. A new theatre piece for children was created using a specially designed mini theatre so that students gained technical and craft skills in set construction, props, costume making, lighting and sound design as well as stage management.

“Since its inception, the programmes have been expanded from training programmes for children to involve a wider group including those struggling to gain employment or an apprenticeship some with learning difficulties, mental health issues or physical disabilities making it difficult to gain employment.

“The wider training programmes followed reports from employers constantly indicating that young people lacked the work-related skills and attitudes needed to gain and sustain employment.

“Now the training focuses on transferable skills ensuring that a real understanding of career paths on offer in technical theatre are gained but those that also equip them to progress to employment in any sector of the business community.

“This is instrumental in ultimately reducing long-term unemployment, encouraging confidence and self-esteem, and discovering opportunities to pursue a wider range of further education, career options and apprenticeships.

“Making Theatre Gaining Skills has recently launched a three week project in Littlehampton with participants being long term unemployed from various age groups who were put forward by the local Job Centre.

“As a result of their unemployment and despite having good skills and knowledge, these individuals have become lacking in confidence and isolated in their daily lives. The current project has covered scriptwriting, designing and making scenery, props and puppets, designing and distributing a poster and erecting a pop-up theatre in the church. This has given them confidence, pride and new skills for the future.

“Trick Your Way Home, a play written for children is based on a Halloween Theme and involves a Wizard played by 11 year old local boy Max Collins, a pupil at Littlehampton Academy. Auditioned for the key role by Hilary Strong, she soon discovered his natural talent for comedy theatre.

“Max has had an interest in performing theatre since he was six, and is a member of the Sussex Youth Theatre. There will be two performances of ‘Trick Your Way Home’ on Wednesday, October 22 at 12 noon and 2.30pm in St James Church, East Ham Road, Littlehampton. Admission is free and it will be a great treat for children during their half term break.”

Madeleine added: “St James Church building and its adjacent hall are both available for hire by local groups and the buildings are being overseen by the Edwin James Festival Choir. Bookings can be made on 01243 582330. The choir rehearses every Wednesday evening from 7.30pm and Coffee, mornings are open to the public every Friday morning in the church hall from 10.30am to 12 noon.”