Tell us about your organisation, how you started and what you do?
Gazebo was established in 1979 as a Theatre in Education Company, in line with the movement across the country to ensure everybody had access to the Arts, no matter what their social or economic background. This included free theatre in schools addressing a wide range of issues and subject matters and providing training and employment to local people at a time when unemployment and poverty had significantly struck our communities.
More than 40 years later it almost feels as if we have come full circle and Gazebo remains a vitally important charity in the heart of Wolverhampton, utilising creativity as our tool to address a wide range of issues affecting our community. Theatre in Education remains at the heart of our organisation and we are proud of the high quality important projects we deliver, including “A Sense of Belonging” addressing county lines, grooming and knife crime; “Invasion of the Flingatrons” promoting environmental awareness and “Sorry! No Coloureds, No Irish, No Dogs” sharing black history and experiences of racism and prejudice.
In addition, we provide intensive mentoring for 17-29 year olds facing significant barriers, as the Talent Match Black Country Wolverhampton Hub; out of school hours activities, developing resilience and providing fun; creative activities for children and young people, as well as support for parents and carers as the commissioned provider for HeadStart in Bilston. We provide a key worker, supporting young people, as part of the multi-agency Power 2 team and have Gazebo Autism Group, a social group for adults living with Autism, which is currently run over Zoom.
More recently, our Covid-19 response includes Gazebo Mindful Support, through which we provide an email and telephone helpline (07393 018271), free counselling, digital support, budgeting advice, mentoring and well-being packs to be delivered in the run up to Christmas. We are also a delivery partner for See, Hear, Respond (0800 157 7015), providing free remotely delivered advice, guidance, group-work, reintegration to education and therapeutic support to children, young people and families.
We produce a range of digital productions, through Gazebo Studios training and tour theatres. Our next national tour is set for March 2021 with our play “Wanted” which shares the stories of 5 remarkable women through time, who have stood up for what they believe in.
What has been your greatest achievement?
This is such a difficult question! (They’re always the best ones!). Through my work I have had the opportunity to do so many exciting things. I have worked at Gazebo for almost 20 years now and really feel that we have created a family of staff, freelance creative practitioners, trustees, volunteers, service users, and the wider community, including so many who launched their careers with the company over the years.
Some notable experiences for me include performing in Seattle alongside Tonia Daley-Campbell at the 1448 Festival, as part of an international partnership project; the family of Walter Tull telling me how much they loved the play I wrote and directed telling his story “The Hallowed Turf” and how it was so representative of the truth; the shows we have produced and toured nationally, including Jamaica 50, The Sistren and of course, Wanted, which was cut short this March.
We have managed to not only survive but thrive through some really challenging times, including the austerity years and now a global pandemic, during which time, with the amazing support we have received, we have managed to still engage 28 freelance practitioners, provide employment for our team of 24 and support hundreds of people in the community!
In truth, though, when I reflect, my greatest achievements are in the accomplishments of the people I have had the privilege to work with; the children and young people that attended Village Playhouse Youth Arts, a small charity I set up in my community in New Park Village back when I was 25; the young adults we have supported through Talent Match, the young people that have taken part in productions and films I have directed over the years, or attended the Youth Clubs, where I worked as a youth worker in the 90s, and the aspiring actors and practitioners I have had the pleasure of employing.
Sometimes I bump into grown people, including those running their own groups and organisations now, and they tell me how much of an impact those early experiences had on their lives – and that is why I do what I do – and why I doubt I will ever stop!
What is your experience of support received from WVSC?
WVSC have always played an important part for me both at Gazebo, and through the support they provided to me to establish Village Playhouse as a Charity back in 1998. The vital role they play for the Voluntary and Community Sector in Wolverhampton is what led me to join their board of trustees a number of years ago, and I feel truly proud of the work the organisation undertakes.
They have grown so much and are now positioned to be able to draw down significant levels of funding into the city to help support our sector, and ensure organisations both large and established and small grassroots groups, can access funds and also vital advocacy support, as well as demonstrating the beauty of working together, collaboratively and of new ideas such as the fab Wolverhampton for Everyone!
What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt about working with people in Wolverhampton?
I have lived in Wolverhampton my whole life, and also benefitted from the amazing work of others, seeking to provide opportunities and widen horizons – including most notably Jane Ward, and Central Youth Theatre, which I was a member of from the age of 10-17.
I mention this, because what I have learnt is that we have an AMAZING sector of driven, determined, passionate and caring people in this city who will truly not stop fighting to ensure everybody has equal access and equal opportunities.
I have learnt that by working together, by supporting one another, by standing for what is right TOGETHER, we as a city are a force to be reckoned with!
What are some of the challenges you face and how can WVSC help to support your organisation in the future?
Of course, as with everybody else, our biggest challenge right now is Covid-19; ensuring we can pull through as an organisation, ensuring we can retain people’s jobs and of course, ensuring we can support our community, by addressing the biggest health (both physically and mentally) and economic crisis of our lifetimes!
As an organisation from both the VCS and Arts sector, this is a challenge but one which we are taking a step at a time. We are very fortunate to have received funding to support us through the crisis, and now we look to 2021 and opportunities for commissioned services and funding to support our sustainability plans and ensure we can keep supporting residents.
I think the key support is information about funding opportunities, free training and help provided to ensure we are all “Covid Secure” as well as promoting the work we are all doing, to ensure that as a City, we are noted for the local solutions we are able to address in a cost effective and most importantly, successful way.
Where can we find out more?
Would you like to be featured in our Voluntary Sector Focus? Contact Sharon Nanan-Sen on email@example.com for more info!