Creating with our community

Ever since I began working with our local community groups, I’ve dreamt about putting on an incredible community-led event inside our Donald Gordon Theatre.

The community groups I worked with never believed that performing or volunteering here was possible. These were two things I wanted to change from the start.

During my job interview we discussed 'barriers to engagement' or how to enable people to come inside and experience what we do.

Gemma Hicks
Gemma Hicks, our Senior Community Engagement Producer

We talked a lot about the importance of having an experience together and the importance of good food and great access. It came down to the need to have a community voice at the heart of everything we do.

So, my first project set out to combine all of this in the shape of a community banquet.

Everyone loves to eat, and it was great way to get people through the doors to come together and celebrate difference and diversity and create new friendships.

Our Wasteless African Supper Club under the Gaia art installation
Our Wasteless African Supper Club under the Gaia art installation

The menus were, and still are designed by communities, the decorations are created in pop-up sessions across Cardiff and the Valley’s and the amazing performances from dance to song, music to carnival are community led.

I didn’t realise how important these banquets would become when they first began but new friendships have developed, and more and more people are now coming here and getting involved with us for the very first time and it’s fantastic.

So far we've held an African Banquet, a community Lantern Parade and a banquet celebrating International Women’s Day and all three have been really successful.

We had planned another event for this summer so I am now working with the community and our partners to see how we can create a digital version, online to bring us together during the coronavirus lockdown.

Our community events are about making friends and getting people involved.
Our community events are about making friends and getting people involved.

Over the last two years I’ve really enjoyed seeing people collaborating and making work together and I'm proud to say we now have a team of community volunteers here who help to make these events come alive and support to design them throughout every stage.

We also give people access to affordable community tickets and have the chance to support the chefs from our banquets with mentoring and employment opportunities.

Jannat speaking at our International Women's Day Banquet
Jannat speaking at our International Women's Day Banquet

We’ve opened up our Community Performances in the Glanfa for groups to share and showcase their work and we host multiple events and celebrations in our public spaces throughout the year.

I’ve seen The Centre’s relationships with communities change as we found more opportunities to listen. Communities developed their voices and skills, their ambitions grew and they began to create professional work both in the Glanfa and in our Ffresh Cabaret bar as part of our Scratch Performance nights. And then in March we took on our biggest challenge yet...

Singers during the 'Your Wales' event on St David's Day
Singers during the 'Your Wales' event on St David's Day

St David's Day was looming and with a rare empty theatre slot we decided to invite everyone to come together and perform here on one of the world's largest theatre stages - at an event we called 'Your Wales/ Dy Gymru'.

On 1 March 2020, between 3pm – 8pm The Centre welcomed 19 different community groups along with over 2000 people, attending throughout the day, to share their vision of what Wales meant to them.

It wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination, but we did it. And the result was incredible we saw amazing performances from break-dancing, drumming, folk music, local choirs, Tamil dancing and everything in between.

Local Tamil dancing group
A local Tamil dancing group rehearse before stepping onto the Donald Gordon Theatre stage

And as it was such a successful event, we've committed to running it every year. This is just the start though and I can’t wait to see where our vibrant community spirit leads us next.

There are plenty of exciting projects in the pipeline, more performances lined up, more delicious banquets and some really fun collaborations with the Butetown Carnival in the next few months, maybe I’ll see you there.

Gemma

If you'd like to be involved or support our work with communities, please email me at communities@wmc.org.uk

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