Seeing first hand the impact of National Lottery Players: A visit from National Heritage Lottery, Heritage England, and Arts Council England

Tue 12 Sep, 2023

Our Chief Executive Melanie Lewis reflects on the importance of partnerships and how integral they are for delivering on our vision and mission for our community.

“Today at Shakespeare North Playhouse we welcomed guests from National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, and Arts Council England, along with our partners at Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council. It was a moment to reflect on all that has been achieved together in our opening 14 months.

As Chief Exec of Shakespeare North Playhouse, I’ve had the honour of leading this charitable organisation for two years now, working in partnership with Knowsley Council to support the tremendous work in our community, and for the people we serve.

We’ve achieved some incredible feats in our first year of opening. The stats really do speak for themselves so let me take a moment to boast. We welcomed 121k visitors and sold 55k tickets. 10% of people had never visited any theatre before – this is a phenomenal statistic and underlines the need for places like Shakespeare North Playhouse. 8k Pay What You Decide tickets (from £3) were  taken up by local residents in L34 and L35 postcodes.

12k children and young people engaged in the theatres work through watching a performance or taking part in a workshop – this included groups of young people at risk of anti-social behaviour and looked after children.

A total of 2.6 million people engaged with Shakespeare North Playhouse in the building, off-site at festivals and community events and online via our social media channels or our website. We’ve also landed some incredible coverage across regional, national, and international media. In our opening weekend alone 6.6m watched us on national TV.

73 volunteers gave a total of 3k hours. Ranging from ages 16 to 78, working front-of-house welcoming guests, backstage, technical roles, beekeeping, and gardening to name a few. We have a waiting list of 110 potential new volunteers and working hard to onboard.  This epitomises how embedded we are in the community; this is a playhouse for the people.

Engaging the local community has been central to our work – reflected in ‘All The Joy’ (our opening ceremony) which saw a parade of community groups through the town culminating in an outdoor performance watched by 2k people. The community see this as their theatre – a thriving community hub.

I’ve been asked on many occasions ‘Why build a nationally significant theatre in Prescot?’ I’ve always said proudly and facetiously ‘Why not? Everyone deserves arts and culture in their neighbourhood’. However, the heritage here is crucial to its success. Although a proud Scouser, I’m not from Prescot and yet I didn’t read about the history and heritage of this place in books; I was told by the people of Prescot. When I pick up my lunch in the butty shop, when I go to the card shop or chemist, I’m given a history lesson. As is the pride of the place. 400 years ago, in Prescot stood the first purpose-built playhouse outside London, Shakespeare almost certainly visited through his friendship and patronage from The 5th Earl of Derby a tradition continued as the 19th Earl of Derby is our president now at Shakespeare North Playhouse.

Our vision is clear: We are inspired by Shakespeare, bringing joy. We tell stories that feel like our own. We are opening doors, inviting debate, and inspiring a love of learning. We are relevant for people, we are useful to our community, we deliver world class theatre, arts, heritage to people on their doorstep. We ask them to demand this of us.

Special thanks must go to National Lottery Heritage Fund for generously funding the heritage aspects of Shakespeare North Playhouse. We’ve had artists commissions and work created by our wonderful community curators, our Quiver Vision augmented reality activities, and an open weekend with artistic programme earlier this year. It celebrated the Frons Scaenae install on Shakespeare’s Birthday Weekend.

Historic England have also been instrumental in supporting our place and regeneration through funding Prescot Heritage Action Zone; making an impact to the town and infrastructure which amplifies the work we are delivering.

Critical and continuous support has also been secured from Arts Council England who have contributed to capital investment of the building, the ‘Borough of Culture’ yearlong programme and many arts projects across the borough.  Arts Council England made Shakespeare North Playhouse the first organisation in Knowsley to join the National Portfolio of funded organisations. A tremendous honour and achievement.

Our focus now is on developing our audiences and engaging local communities further, in volume and in depth. A perfect example is the superb opportunity coming up this autumn with a loan from the British Library of Shakespeare’s First Folio which will be displayed in this very room during the run of The Book of Will.

 Today, as a collective, we had the opportunity to tour Shakespeare North Playhouse and Prescot town centre. It reinforced the outcomes I detailed above and most importantly how these outcomes and ambition maps deliberately across to the wider impact of Knowsley as a borough.

We are extremely grateful for the investment the Heritage Fund has given to Knowsley over the last few years, this funding has given the confidence to aim high and deliver ambitious and game changing projects that have been driven by our communities and their connection to their heritage.

Major investment projects have included the restoration of Bowring Park in Huyton, Prescot Townscape Heritage Initiative, and the monetary and strategic support for our amazing ‘Borough of Culture’ year last year where we celebrated storytelling with a fantastically diverse programme of events, festivals projects and exhibitions and our fabulous Community Curators Project embedded into this wonderful building.

Being a priority area for these funders has also enabled us to think ‘what’s next’? Projects include Prescot Picture Palace, Cockpit House, and delivery of the masterplan at Court Hey Park.

Our partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, and Arts Council England is critically important to Shakespeare North Playhouse and Knowsley Council and most importantly our community.  It’s exciting to think about where the next few years will take us and what impact we will see as a result.

So, once again I thank National Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England, and Arts Council England for coming to visit Knowsley, thank you for giving us a chance to show off Prescot, and thank you for their continued crucial investment in our borough.”