In a new regular column, Jumped Up Theatre’s Kate Hall explores the city’s cultural landscape
“What’s the difference between Peterborough and a yogurt?”
“A yogurt has a culture of its own.”
When I was first told this joke I laughed – it reflected my initial impressions of the city having moved here from Manchester after two years working at the Royal Exchange Theatre. Fifteeen years later I am a champion for the arts in Peterborough, a passionate supporter of the organisations and the artists who work hard to inspire and entertain us all. I have been on a journey and so has the city.
I didn’t really know where Peterborough was when I agreed to up-sticks with a new husband and new job. I just knew I could commute to English Touring Theatre’s offices on London’s South Bank. At first we went to Northampton, Cambridge, and Leicester for our cultural fixes, or I would stay after work and come home bleary-eyed on the late train.
After two years I returned to freelancing and had a bit of time look around, to be curious. I was still spending half my life on trains, touring for the Royal Shakespeare Company, but my husband had discovered Peterborough Artists’ Open Studios. He thought we should take part. Maybe I could do a play in the house at the same time? I had put on plays in pubs, parks and churches before, so why not?
HOUSE, part the 2006 Peterborough Arts Festival, hosted audiences of 30 in our kitchen, lounge and office for monologues about autism, petty crime and a donkey sanctuary. It went well. One of my neighbours was surprised – she hadn’t expected it to be good because it was ‘in Peterborough’. She had lowered her expectations because it was made and presented here, which just shows the damage a joke about yogurt can do.
Things were changing. Arts Council England committed to growing the cultural offer by funding companies like Eastern Angles to work here. Vivacity was created, a well-resourced local organisation which could drive change. I worked for both. Running a schools project and then directing Our Nobby for Eastern Angles. Then for three years I was the Programme Manager for the Vivacity arts team, my highlight being the city-centre arts festivals, bringing some of Europe’s best circus and street theatre to thousands of local people. I was proud to part of the team bringing over a million pounds of extra funding to the city, staging an ambitious programme, from music to visual arts to theatre, worthy of a vibrant, growing city.
In addition, as a founding member of Creative Peterborough, I worked alongside some of the sparkiest local artists on projects such as Find Me Keep Me, a treasure hunt where crowds combed the city-centre searching for hidden pieces of art to take home. That joke about yogurt didn’t ring true anymore. I saw how art could inspire confidence and raise pride, and the city seemed hungry for this ambition.
Peterborough does show signs of change: the installation of the Gormley statues has put international-quality public art in the city centre; PRIDE saw 35+ organisations create a bold and vibrant programme was driven by young people marking how they want their city to be.
Things have changed for me too. I am freelancing again, running the Platform8 Theatre Festival, a partnership with London’s award-winning Battersea Arts Centre, staging high quality shows all over the city, from Hampton to Bretton to Paston to Lincoln Road. And now I’ve agreed to write a regular column for The Moment.
In future issues I will explore what’s going on now, and what the future could hold for Peterborough’s arts and cultural scene. I will celebrate the great work going on in schools, community groups and a cross-section of projects led by independent artists. I will also be asking why isn’t there a broader cultural offer? Where is the support for new initiatives which reflect Peterborough’s ambition to be a grown-up, modern city? And what can culture do to support high-quality growth and lifestyles for everyone?
I hope to make you curious and proud about the arts and culture on your doorstep, to celebrate inspiration and share mutual frustrations – and maybe we can come up with some new, and better, jokes about this city of ours.
Kate Hall @jumpeduptheatre