The rise and rise of Northorpe Hall Barn

“The site goes back to Tudor times,” explains Julia Robinson as we sit down at one of the large round tables in the Northorpe Hall Barn. “The whole place was left to our charity over 50 years ago by a woman called Audrey Barker ‘for the love of children’.”

cs_061016_030-editI have to get my head around this. I only know Northorpe Barn as one of the venues for Creative Scene’s half-termly family theatre tour. In a couple of weeks it will host an animal beauty contest featuring a walrus and a tree frog.

“The hall itself is home to Northorpe Hall Child and Family Trust, a charity that supports the mental and emotional health of young people,” explains Julia. “The beautiful barn is one of the charity’s biggest asset and we hire it out as an events space.” Got it.

The connection with the charity is the barn’s USP. “People hire us because they know the proceeds go to a young person’s charity. Mostly we host weddings – we’re pretty much booked up for the next 18 months – but since I started four years ago I’ve always seen the potential for small gigs, comedy, children’s theatre.

“Creative Scene has been a great opportunity for us. I was really excited when we were identified as one of the venues for the family circuit because it fits so well.”

cs_061016_013-editFor my benefit Julia has laid out all the promotional leaflets from the half dozen or so shows they’ve hosted. “This was the first,” – she says patting a flyer for The Real Mermaid’s Tale – “which was a lovely puppet show.

“I’m really keen to promote Northorpe Barn to a local audience. People don’t need to travel to Huddersfield or Leeds to see high quality children’s theatre. It’s here on the doorstep, and at a fraction of the cost.

“The Creative Scene model is an interesting one. There are five venues all within about eight miles, each playing the same show in the same week and for several of the shows, we’ve all sold out.”

“And they’re all very different venues,” I say, looking down the list on one of the flyers, “Batley Bulldogs Rugby Club, a couple of community centres. And all developing their own distinct audiences.”

“It’s an unusual model that other organisations around the country have shown interest in,” says Julia.

I can see the collaboration with Creative Scene is mutually beneficial. Both parties share the risk, and the ticket sales. Over time, as the audience grows, Northorpe is seen locally as a venue for high quality family theatre. “Creative Scene has given us the opportunity to test the market. Families now expect a show here during the half-terms. They look forward to it.”

cs_061016_031-edit cs_061016_026-editBut Northorpe is not just a touring venue. Julia and her young staff throw themselves into each performance by dressing up and organising fun activities around each show. And Creative Scene supplement Julia’s extensive experience – she’s managed theatres in the past – by involving her in what is now a commissioning process for new shows.

What, I wonder, happens post-Creative Scene. “Now you’ve built a reputation and an audience, can you see yourselves hosting theatre independently of Creative Scene?”

“It’s already happening,” she says. “At the weekend we’re hosting South Asian dance troupe, Manasamitra, doing their first performance of a show about bees. They’re hoping to take it the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival next month but they’re premiering at Northorpe!”

The Worried Walrus is at The Northorpe Barn on Wednesday, 24th October and at other North Kirklees venues throughout half term.

Bells, balloons, balls and banners

It’s been nearly three weeks since the Batley Festival and we notice the waiter at Roberto’s is still wearing his Festival wristband. Buon uomo.

The bar fills up quickly with Festival committee members and volunteers, Creative Scene bods and the odd bouquet of flowers. Not every post-event evaluation is like this.

cs_290916_276-edit“Good evening everybody, thank you for coming,” says committee chair Kimberley once we’ve all squeezed onto a long table at the back of the restaurant. “As you know, this is a double celebration: to mark the success of the fifth Batley Festival and, as Rebecca is leaving today, to celebrate her time with the Festival and with Creative Scene.”

As we order our food there’s a hubbub around the table. Some are getting together for the first time since September 10th, others are recounting their experiences of the Festival of Thrift the week after.

“I’d really like to bring that den building to Batley Festival,” says Tracey, referring to the hands-on event we saw in a field in Redcar. “It was really family-orientated and had mums, dads and kids all working together and talking to each other. We seem to have lost that idea of communicating with each other.”

At the opposite end of the table Donna is recounting her Batley Picture Show ‘community performer’ experience to Creative Scene’s Nancy.

“Bells, balloons, balls and banners,” she says, tearing a piece of garlic bread, “that’s what they had us doing, and it was brilliant.

“I was so busy focussing on what I was supposed to be doing that I didn’t pay much attention to the actual show. When I saw the video I was nearly crying… it proper moved me.

“I was born in Batley and have always lived here but those Periplum people showed me things about my town I never knew. Amazing.”

Kimberley taps the side of her glass with a knife. “You didn’t think you were coming here without doing any homework, did you?”

Creative Scene notebooks are distributed as Rebecca explains the format: “I’m going to fire some questions at you and, on each page of your notebook, we’d like you to write your answers. Then, at the end, we’ll all hold up our books and reveal our answers together.”

“A bit like Mr and Mrs,” says Kimberley.

“Okay, here’s the first one,” says Rebecca, “and, remember, there are no right or wrong answers: write down three words that describe this year’s Batley Festival.”

For the next 15 minutes Rebecca throws out questions. What did you enjoy most? What did you enjoy least? What’s the Festival’s biggest challenge? How do we get more people involved? And between mouthfuls everyone gets stuck in, scribbling their thoughts down.

cs_290916_304-editcs_290916_300-editThe big reveal is lots of fun. Necks craned to see what everyone else has written, and heated debate about our neighbour’s answers. When we come to the question about what needs to change, there’s broad consensus.

cs_290916_315-edit “It’s all the stuff inside…” summaries Rebecca for my tape recorder, “… the town hall and the library… people want to be doing things outside.”

“That’s been great, very useful,” says Kimberley, bringing the exercise to a close. “We’ll gather up all of the books and we’ll collate your responses.

cs_290916_325-edit“For me, the great thing about this year has been all the new enthusiastic people on the committee, so thank you for that. On the day, I thought the new arts and crafts area worked really well but, I agree, we need to look at the use of the inside spaces.

“Let’s wrap up the de-brief,” she says as oversize plates are brought to the table, “and let’s enjoy Rebecca’s last evening. We’ve brought you some pressies….”

“Pepperoni? Whose is the pepperoni?” shouts the waiter with the wristband.

Seeking inspiration among the reclaimed washing machines

“So why do you organise these trips away?” I ask Creative Scene producer Rebecca as the train leaves Thornaby on the last leg of our journey.

“Volunteers spend a lot of time organising their own festivals,” she says, “so it’s good for them to see other festivals too. It helps you appreciate the visitor experience. Also, you don’t know what you want for your festival until you see lots of others.”

cs_170916_003-edit“And presumably you see lots of things you don’t like,” I say to Batley Festival chair Kimberley who has three-year-old Lydia curled up next to her.

“Oh yes. There’s been lots we’ve seen that we definitely wouldn’t bring to Batley!” she says.

“So why are we here in Redcar at the Festival of Thrift?”

“This should be interesting for our Batley people because of the town’s culture of recycling and shoddy,” says Rebecca. “It’s all to do with living fashionably for less, make-do-and-mend, that sort of thing. There are lots of workshops here which are really popular at Batley Festival too: people enjoy doing rather than just watching.”

It’s a two-day affair and the volunteers are staying over at a bed and breakfast with a wind-turbine-sea-view. We hook up with Tracey and get a cab out of town to Kirkleatham village.

“What are your expectations?” I ask Tracey as we walk under streaming red pennants at the festival entrance.

“I’m looking forward to lots of variety and something very different from what we’ve seen before,” she says. “I always come with an open mind.”

“Before we go any further I’m going to explain your homework,” says Rebecca, pulling notebooks from her bag. This is no jolly. In each book there are questions our investigators are expected to consider.

The vision of the Festival of Thrift is living sustainably with style, a big free weekend of activities designed for all the family, to save money, being environmentally savvy, and living a rich, creative life. So what did you see in the festival that reflects this?

And there are sections on branding, programming, the site, catering, the visitor experience, and participation. “Did you bring any pens?” asks Kimberley.

“I’d encourage you to think of it from your own point of view,” says Rebecca, dishing out biros. “So Kimberley, think about programming and the overall theme; and Tracey, with your interest in site management, you might want to think about how it’s run, what jobs the volunteers are doing.”

cs_170916_030-edit cs_170916_034-editWe start to wander. It’s a sprawling site. Kirkleatham is a collection of Georgian-style buildings that formed the Turner Estate from the 1660s.

There’s a museum (once a free school), a church, a mausoleum, almshouses and a derelict walled garden. Ed from Barrow is selling up-cycled washing machine drums as fire pits on a stall outside some old stables.

cs_170916_061-editNear the walled garden we catch up with Donna, another Batley Festival volunteer, and Andrew – here with his Batley Vintage Day hat on – and his partner, Janet. The mayor and mayoress saunter past and we all say hello as if we’ve known them for years.

“It shows what can be done differently,” Andrew says when I ask him what he’s getting out of the day, “it shows what you do better and what you don’t do as well. It’s good for inspiration. For Batley Vintage Day there’s a lot of stuff that’s relevant. There are some good ideas.

“What have you seen here that you’d like to see in Batley?” I ask as we pass a group of tepees and a storytelling workshop.

cs_170916_089-edit“Some of the workshops are great, they might need to be ‘vintaged-up’ a bit. The make-do-and-mend and the creation workshops, they would translate into Batley Library quite well. We’re collecting business cards.”

“What doesn’t work here so well?”

“The layout,” Andrew says. “It’s a great place and fine if you’re happy to explore but it needs better signposting.”

Which is just about the only criticism I hear from our band of festival factfinders all afternoon. “I found the sign for the stage after I’d found the stage!” Donna tells me as she enjoys the specially-formed Phoenix Choir.

“I’ve struggled to know where things are, even with the map,” admits Kimberley. “I’m glad I’m here for two days because it will take me that long to get my head around it all. But it’s got some fantastic entertainment and activities. It’s certainly given me some ideas.”

“We always try and make something magical.”

The light has faded, a crowd has gathered, it’s almost time for The Batley Picture Show.

Periplum Theatre Company has been commissioned to produce a bespoke show as a finalé to The Batley Festival and we are about to see the culmination of months of planning, research and editing.

“The people we’ve met have been really keen to talk about their community which, I guess, is a reflection of recent events,” says Periplum director Claire Raftery, as she takes up a position amongst the audience. “Everyone has been really friendly. Batley is an easy community to talk to.”

“And what’s been your biggest challenge?”

“To get enough footage that reflects the diversity of the community,” she says. “We got there in the end but, yes, that was a bit of a challenge.”

“Part of what Creative Scene does is about building audiences,” I say. “What sort of legacy do you think Periplum will leave for Batley?”

Claire smiles. “Well, we hope we’ve made something magical. We always try and make something magical.”

The local performers in their donkey jackets congregate back stage. Creative Scene supporter Ammaarah is amongst them. “How was the dress rehearsal last night?” I ask.

“It came together really well,” she says. “I think we executed it almost perfectly. We worked together really well as a team.”

“You’re only saying that because they’re all here,” I joke. Apparently Claire and Damian and the team were so impressed with the enthusiasm of the volunteers, they’ve created a bigger role for them in the performance.

Musician Mike, resplendent in his evening dress, takes to the central podium as if he’s at the Albert Hall. Lights, pyrotechnics, action. The show begins as the first pre-recorded poem competes with whoops from the crowd.

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The town I was born, the town I was raised

Look, the town, it’s coming alive

In between each of five short films about Batley life – school days, industry, ‘horror’, nightlife, and sport – the Periplum actors and their entourage perform cameos involving bells, flares and lots of fireworks that keep the crowd guessing where to look next.

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The biggest communal ‘Ah’ comes as Ammaarah and her colleagues simultaneously release their white balloons into the black sky.


From the twinkling edifice of Mr Smith’s

To the final waltz at the Xclusive

Wipe your feet on your way outside

Look, the town, it’s coming alive

The show culminates with a group of chanting junior rugby players advancing through the crowd, “Batley, Batley, rah, rah, rah!”

“Batley, Batley, rah, rah, rah!” repeats Mike, waving his arms to encourage everyone to join in.

As if from nowhere a line of purple banners appear to flank the watchtower as aerial performer Florence – dressed as a Batley Bulldogs RLFC prop forward – dashes for the try line in mid air. More flares, more fireworks and more cheering from the appreciative onlookers.

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A man grabs my arm as the music fades, eager to tell me what he thinks. “That were absolutely fantastic,” he says. “Spot on. Whoever’s done that has done it with a lot of heart, a lot of heart.”

The crowd reluctantly disperses as I approach a woman and her young daughters who I recognise from earlier in the day, riding the Life Boat.

“They got it in a nutshell,” says Hawa. “They included everyone that lives in Batley. My dad used to work in the mills and he still talks about it a lot. And it was good that they included Asian music because this is such a wide community.”

“Did you feel it was a celebration of the town?”

“Definitely, definitely. It was lovely, brilliant.”

I tell Hawa I’m writing a blog for Creative Scene.

“We need to remember that,” she says to her girls, “Creative Scene.”

The Batley Festival: a Creative Scene’s Who’s Who

Yeshe the Yak is lolling around the Memorial Gardens as I arrive. “Go on, tickle him under his chin, he likes that,” encourages his trainer.

cs_100916_143-editThe fifth Batley Festival is well underway and the town centre has been transformed into a cornucopia of craft stalls, performances, walkabouts, workshops and all-round artiness.

A giant henna-inspired pavement mosaic is being created outside the police station; a Balkan brass band belts out the beats and Madame Zucchini entertains the crowds with Boris the Butternut Squash.

Six-year-old Evie is spraying water at a couple of performers dressed as hedges. Her parents tell me they’re regulars at this annual Batley celebration.

“And have you heard of Creative Scene before?” I ask.

“Oh yes,” they say emphatically, “we helped decorate a chair at the Cobbles café, didn’t we Evie?”

cs_100916_089-editBetween the bouncy castle and circus skills workshop there’s a queue to ride on the Life Boat, billed as ‘the slowest ride on earth’.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I say to Jason from the Institute for Crazy Dancing, as a colleague slowly pushes the merry-go-round of hammocks, reciting the Life Boat A to Z as she does.

J is for joy

K is for kindness, and 

L is for love, and is there ever enough?

cs_100916_136-edit“It’s the only one of its kind,” says Jason, beating a drum and rattling a chain, “you won’t find this on eBay.”

“And what experience are you giving your punters with Life Boat?” I ask.

“It’s about slowness, kindness and gentleness,” he says. “Everyone is endlessly racing around. It’s an opportunity to slow down, relax and think about the world differently.”

“I could do with some of that.”

As the afternoon progresses, I meet more and more people I’ve written about before. It’s a Creative Scene’s Who’s Who: local people who’ve been getting involved in the arts seem to have descended on the festival as stewards, performers, volunteers or supporters. It’s good to see.

There’s teenage Kira who performed in The Jungle Book production as part of Lawrence Batley Theatre’s Young Company, now toting a festival donation bucket; Graeme and his colleagues from Batley Community Choir – a hit as part of Batley Does Opera – have just sung in the Town Hall; Tracey from the Put Yourself in Their Shoes performance at Holocaust Memorial  Day is sporting a volunteer’s yellow hi-vis and Rebecca from West Yorkshire Drama Academy is here with her young mentees.

“I like the way everything is mixed together,” says Rebecca. “It’s helpful for community groups to work alongside established artists as it widens their creative exposure. Without realising it, they’re learning new skills.”

cs_100916_008-editTowards the end of the day, performance trio Kitch and Sync make another appearance, this time as synchronised swimmers. Young and old are encouraged to follow their lead and seven-year-old Ammaarah tells me later that she did her best to tire them out with some outrageous dancing.

cs_100916_271-edit“What have you enjoyed about the festival today?” I ask her dad, Zaheer.

“Everything,” he says. “We’ve been here since one o’clock and haven’t made it home yet. We were thinking of going to Blackpool today but came here instead. We’re glad we did. Everyone has enjoyed themselves, the children, the adults, even my mother.”

“Are you coming to The Batley Picture Show this evening?”

“Yes,” interjects Ammaarah, “I’m going to go on my dad’s shoulders.”