Manchester Theatre Awards

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Making Contact

Man, I feel old. My response to hearing that The Contact Theatre was closing for renovation was to mutter ‘What- again?’ It doesn’t seem that long since the theatre was last revamped although a bit of research reveals it was actually in 1999. The current project will help Contact expand in order to cope with growing demand from young participants and audiences as well as further improving the theatre’s economic and environmental sustainability.

The redevelopment will support new and improved performance spaces; and include a purpose-built recording studio for young people’s music projects; an arts and health development space; new offices (for artists and cultural organisations to hire and work alongside Contact staff) and a new café/bar.

Contact has raised over £6m of the £6.65m target for the redevelopment and has now launched the final phase of its Capital Redevelopment fundraising campaign, with a target of 500k.

The launch, under the title ‘Making Contact’, took place on 19th April, 2018, at Manchester Art Gallery. It was an intimate event with participants making heartfelt tribute to a theatre that has had such a positive impact upon their lives. There was also the rare chance to see Julie Hesmondhalgh in full Bob Geldof mode pushing attendees to dig deep into their pockets. The event opened, however, with a promotional video featuring MTA winner Keisha Thompson that was so polished it generated the comment: ‘’Wow- we’ve got an advert.’’Making Contact

The launch, was introduced by Contact advocate Julie Hesmondhalgh, Contact's Chief Executive and Artistic Director Matt Fenton and featured excerpts from Contact Young Company’s She Bangs The Drum.

Matt Fenton, Chief Executive and Artistic Director at Contact, said: “We are incredibly grateful for the generous support we have received so far to get this project up and running, with our contractors now on site. To have raised over £6 million in the last 18 months is testament to how much people value what Contact does with and for the young people of Greater Manchester, the kinds of radical new performance we produce with them, and the many communities we reach.  However, our challenge now is to raise the final £500,000 to finish the job, and to do that we need people who care about what we do to support our campaign now.”

Julie Hesmondhalgh, Contact advocate, said: “I know more lives transformed because of Contact than I can count. Some of the most prolific artists I’ve met started out at Contact. Contact has always championed young people, and were years ahead of everyone in promoting diversity. I’m delighted to support this new era in Contact’s life in our glorious city, bringing that wonderful building bang up to date to host the next generation of exciting, vital, diverse and ground-breaking work.”

Typical of the approach taken by Contact to the involvement young people is ’Con:Struct’, a dedicated team of people aged 13-30 who are leading the project to transform the building for the next generation of audiences, artists and young people. The Con:Struct team have been involved in the appointment of the lead architects ,procuring the official contractors and consulting on the fundraising policy; interior design choices and signage strategy. They revealed the plans for the building, which is looking to reopen in Summer, 2019, along with a new film to introduce Contact to a wider audience.

Ella Dix-Nagra, Con:Struct member said: “Contact is incredibly important for young people; it is diverse, warm and welcoming, and the knowledge and platform it has offered me kick-started a full time career in the arts. Now we need everyone’s help, whether they can offer donations or their voices to support the amazing we work we need to continue.

“I already miss Contact but I am so excited about next summer when we can see all our ideas and hard work brought to life. It’s an incredible legacy to have been a part of at just 24 and an opportunity I couldn’t have even imagined.”

The redevelopment will include a new arts and health space (rather ominously titled ' Space Zero'), funded by a Wellcome Trust grant of £500,000, which will provide a dedicated space to develop new partnerships and relationships with NHS, patient groups, young people, local communities and artists. Additional funding will support a three-year post of Health Producer to lead on projects and produce new theatre shows that explore health inequalities and other current issues.

Although in darkness, Contact has remained active with productions staged at partner theatres and in non-traditional venues. The Palace Theatre, known for hosting blockbusters and middle of the road entertainment, was a surprising participant but was so committed it became an associate producer of Dancing Bear. She Bangs the Drum and Handlooms were staged, respectively, at the Museum of Science, and Industry and a sari shop on Manchester’s famous Curry Mile.

Contact is also expanding onto new platforms with a television co-production from Contact and 20 Stories High based on their hit theatre show I told my mum I was going on an R.E. trip… broadcast on BBC Two in January reaching viewers nationally both on and offline. The frank, warm verbatim drama about young people’s experiences of abortion will screen again at Manchester HOME cinema in May 2018 as part of Pilot Light TV Festival.

Contact will begin their crowdfunding campaign in the autumn. Remember the advice of Julie Hesmondhalgh and dig deep.

David Cunningham