As our summer season at Bolton Gate Arts draws to a close, our Social Media Intern Lauren reflects on an amazing summer programme of variety, community and a lot of rain!
This summer season can be summarised as one of expansion and growth with new social media interns, new shows and workshops, and new performers at GIGZ@THEGATE! Despite the onslaught of rain for a considerable amount of events, we still had a great turnout and we are so grateful for the constant support towards Bolton Gate Arts and Bolton Gate Cafe.
As we celebrate Bolton Gate Farm's second birthday at the start of September, Lauren interviewed the Art's directors, Joe and Emma, and encouraged them to reflect on the growth of Bolton Gate Arts as it begins its third year.
Question One... How did it all start?
Joe: As much as I hate to say it- Covid. There wasn’t a huge amount of good to come out of that year or so for many people. For me, Covid led me back to my home, Staffordshire, for the first time in years after working as an actor in London. With an arts industry forced to its knees it felt like the ideal time to be brave, think outside the box, and reimagine how we can create art in community spaces. We were lucky enough to have our little family farm, but at the time it was sitting idle, awaiting its next lease of life. We always knew the space had potential to be used for something special and we wanted to share that with people, it’s beauty, it’s peacefulness, it’s history. If ever there was a time for a fresh start, to be experimental and just try something, that was it. We wanted to create a venue that honestly put its community at the heart of it all, that said, art is for everyone and can exist anywhere, in the small pockets of society. As long as you have people you have art. It’s funny how things work out, but I think our beginnings really encapsulate what the company has come to represent, creating something from nothing.
Emma: Joe and I hadn’t really spoken in about 5 or 6 years, since heading off to university, but he messaged me out of the blue asking if I would like to help him start up an arts company on a farm. I said “Yes, of course” but with no idea really what to expect, and I am so glad I did! Similarly to Joe, Covid had massively affected my work as a Freelance Stage Manager. The opportunity to turn something so devastating into a place for connection with our local community was too good an opportunity to miss.
Question Two... Do you remember your opening day? What were your main challenges and how did you overcome them?
Joe: Most of that opening week has become a blur of sleep-deprived hysteria, a mix of extreme pride and exhaustion. No matter how much planning, preparation and contingency time you put in place, I think projects like this always go right down to the wire, and this was no exception! It felt like an endless barrage of building works and bureaucracy. We literally still had the electrician in the night before putting together the final touches in the cafe and we were just praying everything would work. In retrospect, we probably bit off more than we could chew for an opening weekend, but as they say, go big or go home, right?
As it turned out, the stress of it all became quickly swept aside by the one thing that really mattered- people. Everyone rallied around and supported us, despite the hiccups and teething problems. Everyone just wanted the same thing, for this to be successful, a celebration and an indicator of all that might be possible, a mark of the extraordinary people in our local area, and we have ridden the wave of that feeling ever since.
Emma: That first opening day was crazy! I don’t think I slept in the week leading up to it. We brought together live theatre, music, children's entertainment and a mini makers market for a full day to celebrate our grand opening, alongside the opening of the cafe. We welcomed approximately 300 people to the farm that day, and really proved to ourselves that this ambitious venture could actually work! It was the first event of this type that I had managed and the support from local artists and from the community on our doorstep made it all worthwhile and showed us just what we could achieve here.
Question Three... How has this year gone? What has been your highlight? Any mentionable changes or specific moments that have particularly stuck with you?
Joe: This year, as with the last, has been a big learning curve for us, but by the end of the year we will have seen a total of 8 live theatre productions, 5 live music nights, 4 markets, a selection of craft and family events and our first community funded project, ‘The Places that Make Us’ working with local schools and artists to deliver a series of workshops. The great thing about that project in particular is we have been able to reach people and share our space with those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to go to a farm or experience the arts. That has been a very rewarding aspect.
I always love hearing from our regulars about how the project has impacted them in positive ways, but one in particular sticks to mind. A lovely older lady, who comes into the cafe quite frequently told me how much she had struggled during covid and how having this space to come to has really helped to get her back on her feet and given her a new lease of life post-pandemic. Amongst all the brilliant shows and events, stories like that are always the highlights of my year.
Emma: This year has been even bigger than the last, more theatre, more music, bigger markets! We have been able to reach more and more people from our local communities and really build on the feedback from last year of the kind of events people want to see.
A particular highlight for me would be our “The Places That Make Us” project. This was the first funded project we have taken on and it brought together 150 local school children with local artists and arts companies to encourage them to be inspired by the world around them to create art, both visually and through storytelling. You can see the culmination of the project on the farm, through the beautiful mural created by We Are Culla, and inspired by the work of all the local children.
A large portion of the children involved in this project had little to no previous involvement in arts activities and seeing the transformation in their confidence and their pride in the artwork they created was so inspiring!
It has also been fantastic to be able to take on 2 marketing interns as part of a partnership with Keele University this summer. Lauren and Katie have been a huge asset to us and have really helped to relieve a portion of the workload from myself and Joe and brought so many new creative ideas to our marketing strategy.
Question Four... What are you most proud of this year? Has there been any challenges that you have overcome?
Joe: It’s undoubtedly been a year that has come with it’s own unique challenges. A cost of living crisis, coupled with one of the worst summers for weather I think I’ve ever seen, do not make for a particularly kind combination when running an outdoor arts company. Despite that, people have really rallied around and been very patient and understanding as we work things out and we’ve had good turnouts despite the weather. The phrase ‘can they do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke?’ has never felt truer for some of our events, but as always the people of Stoke have shown their resilience and hunger for artistic opportunities, which has been really inspiring.
I would say I am most proud of ‘The Places That Make Us’ project. Having the opportunity to work with those kids and see the impact it has had on them has been really special.
Emma: I think I am most proud of our growth as a company and the community we have built here on the farm. This year has certainly come with some of our biggest challenges yet, and as a small company it's really easy to get caught up in “what could have gone better” especially with event after event, but when we have a chance to look back and reflect it really sinks in.
Our local community and artists have been such a huge part of our success and we couldn't have done it without their support. So much credit as well goes to our fantastic team of volunteers who support us through all our events, and our Advisory Board who help to keep us on track and remind us to reflect back on what we have accomplished.
Question Five... What was your favourite event this summer?
Joe: Ooo, that’s like asking a parent if they have a favourite child! There definitely is one but you don’t want to upset the others- just kidding!
On a personal level I’m going to say, Gigz@theGate, our monthly open mic nights, because I never envisaged they would be as popular as they have become and they are always just a joyous celebration of the talent in our region. It’s great to see people who have perhaps never performed in front of a crowd before just getting up and giving it a go.
It’s also been really great to see some of the more experimental additions to our programme be successful. Hang About Noah, a new comedy by newly formed local group Page2Stage Creatives, and our one person shows Jarman and Buzzing both did incredibly well. It was really encouraging to see, as these are shows with much less financial backing, and offer something a bit different to our summer season. It proved that the people in our area are willing to try out new theatre and experience new things, and ultimately in my opinion, that’s what theatre is all about!
Emma: That is such a difficult question! We are incredibly lucky to have such a varied programme for the year that it is really hard to compare different events.
I have really loved seeing our markets grow even more this year. We love creating a space for local makers, and even though our Twilight Market was a lot soggier than planned, everyone stayed in high spirits and it still had the wonderful community atmosphere we’ve come to love at our markets.
We’ve also had some fantastic craft events this summer with our Fused Glass Workshop and Beginners Watercolour Workshop, which both proved very popular. It was lovely to hear such great feedback from all the participants, and we will definitely be planning more activities like these soon!
Of course the biggest feature of our summer programme is our open air theatre. My personal favourite event was A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Musical. This show nearly didn’t happen as it had to be postponed due to severe weather, so it was incredibly rewarding to finally get this event on. It was a fantastic family friendly adaptation and our audience loved it, so I’m glad we were able to go ahead!
Question Six... What are your plans and goals for the future? Anything you can tease for next year's programme?
Joe: I think there will be lot’s of changes and new ideas coming through next year (although I can’t reveal too much at this point!). The more we produce as a company the more we develop and understand how we can best serve our community. We want to become more internally creative as an organisation, produce more work here on the farm that directly engages our local people. More projects like ‘The Places that Make Us’ are certainly going to be the target for growth alongside our usual programme. The Staffordshire Moorlands is just brimming with creative potential and it’s our job to try and unlock that, so watch this space…
Emma: I can’t tease anything too much yet, but we hope to get our programme out even sooner for next year. You can expect to see more theatre, more craft events, and bigger and better community events! We are reading and listening to all of your feedback from our events and we are learning what works here are what you want to see, so please get in touch if you have any suggestions, we love hearing from our audiences.
We would also love to take on more funded projects to engage with our local community and offer artistic opportunities so that is definitely something we will be pursuing in the next year.
Question Seven... Anything you would like to say to the community that we have built at Bolton Gate Arts?
Joe: Just a massive thank you really! This venue exists for and because of the brilliant people in our area. Those people inspire us to carry on and keep working hard and I hope we can continue to serve them for many summers to come. They are the proof that art can exist and thrive in the most obscure of places. So keep talking to us, keep telling us what you want to see next on the farm and we’ll keep finding ways to make it happen and bring people together!
Emma: Thank you so much for all of your support! You are the reason we are able to continue producing events and dreaming big. We couldn't have done any of this without the people who buy tickets, attend events, bring their artistic talents, donate or even just like and share on facebook. This venue is for the community and we aim to keep it that way and keep growing the opportunities we can offer to build this community even further!
So.... What is next?
Despite the completion of our Summer programme, Bolton Gate Arts has lined up some wonderful (and festive) events to conclude the year. Don't miss out!
Saturday 14th October | 10 - 3pm | Harvest Market
Sunday 29th October | 5 - 6.45pm | Cookies & Carving
Saturday 2nd December | 5 - 7pm & 8-10pm | Wreath Making Workshop
Saturday 9th December | 10 - 3pm | Christmas Market