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Coronavirus: Hackney Wick’s The Yard Theatre moves all youth projects online

PUBLISHED: 15:53 03 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:19 03 April 2020

An image from the Yardlings: Big performance in 2018. Picture: Alex Krook

An image from the Yardlings: Big performance in 2018. Picture: Alex Krook

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A theatre and community organisation that lost the majority of its income overnight due to coronavirus is now hosting drama and after school clubs online to support its young people.

Theatremaker Daniel Oliver running an online session for the Yardlings group.Theatremaker Daniel Oliver running an online session for the Yardlings group.

The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick makes money from ticket sales and its bar, as well as grants and funding. So when Boris Johnson told the country to stop going out last month it was, as it was for all theatres, pubs and bars, a hammer blow.

Its theatre space, bar and two community centres are now closed, and it would have been understandable had The Yard decided to wind down its youth programmes, which include an after-school arts club and drama sessions for ages four to 19.

Instead, the team got together and decided to continue with the classes, and within three days had moved them all onto Zoom.

“It was a really big undertaking,” said producer Katherine Igoe-Ewer. “We had to write a whole new set of safeguarding procedures. Every young person has an individual profile and there’s about an hour’s worth of admin to do for each session.

Members of the Yard's young theatre company Queen's Yard in rehearsal for their show Really Real Teenz in 2019. Picture: Alex KrookMembers of the Yard's young theatre company Queen's Yard in rehearsal for their show Really Real Teenz in 2019. Picture: Alex Krook

“We’ve had a team of facilitators working on transforming games into online games. So it’s not without work, but there was a real clear desire from us that we were going to make it happen.

“It does feel very precarious for theatres at the moment, but we decided very quickly that we were certain we needed to continue our community work.”

There are five sessions a week, four drama classes and the art club, which has been opened up to the public. Most of the sessions are now responding to the pandemic in some way, and the staff are there to support the youngsters throughout.

“It’s really buoying,” Katherine continued. “We check in with everyone feeling quite disconnected and very strange and then when you check out and people are saying it felt very needed and was really nice, or parents are saying: ‘Thank you for giving me half-an-hour off’.

Kirsty Reynolds runs an art class with children. The sessions are taking place online during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Alex KrookKirsty Reynolds runs an art class with children. The sessions are taking place online during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Alex Krook

“It feels very lovely and also those groups are very connected and very important to us and it’s lovely to be in a shared space with them.”

The older children are working on a project about the role of art in a time of disconnection, which will be channelled into a production in the summer. Katherine said the older students especially are feeling the affects of the lockdown.

“There’s probably about 30 per cent who are like this is great, this is a holiday and then 70% for who this is really disturbing,” she said. “A lot of our GCSE or A-level students, they’ve spent five or seven years being told exams are all that matters to them. It’s drilled into them.

“And then suddenly that’s been taken away. The bottom has fallen out of their daily routine but also the things they’ve been told matter and to build their value system on.

“Some of them went in one day and then were sent a text or emailed saying don’t come in the next day. And that’s the end of their school experience - there will be no leavers assembly or saying goodbye to their favourite teacher or classmates and I think there’s a real sense of grief that comes with that. You don’t quite know what you’re missing but you know it’s something significant.”

Katherine also said a lot of the young people rely on school for security, stability or to be fed, and the classes offer stability that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Staff also check in with people regularly.

Jolina, 17, is on the committee, a group of activists aged 15 to 19 who tackle serious issues facing the arts industry. She says keeping the sense of community has been really useful for people her age.

“We’re all here for each other’s wellbeing,” she said. “I didn’t realise we could still go on despite not being with each other and I think it’s a really momentous time for theatre and communities and young people in terms of how can we do things differently, and not a period of respite.

“Everyone has to adjust slightly. It’s a weird and bizarre time but it’s the best time to be virtual. If this was 10 years ago it couldn’t happen. It’s amazing.

“Every session we do a check in and ask how is everyone? We know isolation is hard and being in the same room helps. It shows we are there for each other.”

After being forced to postpone the summer production of An unfinished man until August, The Yard will also be launching a programme of online theatre and music, with new commissions from leading artists.

The Yard also has a group of about 25 volunteers supporting elderly residents on Hackney Wick’s Trowbridge Estate and in sheltered housing, doing shopping and checking in for chats with isolated people. More are needed, and anyone who wants to help out can email local@theyardtheatre.co.uk.

Anyone who wants to support The Yard can donate here.


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