When I think back to the 16th March 2020, the world seems like a very different place. We had just come off an amazing weekend, where Bloomin’ Buds Theatre had taken over our building for a site-specific version of Road. We were all concerned about the worrying rise in coronavirus cases, but the weekend had been so normal, so joyous, so full of life and theatre.
The following day, we shut our doors to the public, and sadly, we haven’t been able to fully reopen them since.
After we put our new artistic strategy in place in 2017, the staff team worked tirelessly, and it had paid off – our audiences were regularly full, room hires were at maximum capacity, The Rooftop Café was thriving. To go back to silent, empty spaces was heart-breaking.
It’s not an exaggeration to say it was genuinely touch and go for us at one point. The Job Retention Scheme helped us protect jobs, but this came at a cost for our capacity – at one point there was only myself and a part-time member of staff not on furlough.
It was crucial to us though that we continued to offer what support we could to the independent sector when were able to partially reopen some of our spaces. We were proud to support free places on Heifer productions Summer School, offer daily workout videos funded through Bradford Council’s Response grants, provide dancer Vince Virr with space so he could teach artists in Beijing, commission poet Sharena Lee Satti to create a new work for National Poetry Day, facilitate a covid-secure theatre for Skipton Camerata to film their Lockdown Diaries, support artist Hardeep Sahota and photographer Tim Smith in the creation of their Bhangra Lexicon exhibition and more.
It wasn’t until we were successful in our application to the Culture Recovery Fund though, that we were really able to start planning with certainty, and offer crucial support to the freelance sector. The £123,000 we received was vital for us, not only in ensuring our short-term future, but in enabling us to run our Back to the Studio programme, supporting 26 dance artists with space, money, and time to restart their practice. Watching the first of these artists re-enter studio spaces has been a real privilege for me, and crucially has confirmed what we thought – we need to take care of each other as we emerge from the other side of this pandemic.
(Keira Martin, Jake Evans, Displace Yourself Theatre, Lloyd Thompson, Mez Galaria and Chemaine Cooke during their Back to the Studio weeks. Photos c. Karol Wyszynski)
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all those who generously donated to our Crowdfunder campaign in the autumn. This income came at the most valuable time for us, as we waited for the result of our CRF bid – your money made a HUGE difference, so thank you.
As with the whole arts sector, the future for Kala Sangam is by no means certain, but we are beginning to plan to welcome you all back into our theatre, meeting rooms and café as soon as we can safely. The support we have received over the last 12 months has reaffirmed to us how vital this building is to Bradford District, and we’re more determined than ever to reach as many of you as possible over the coming years.
We’ve spent the last year coming up with some exciting, ambitious plans to do this that we can’t wait to share with you, so watch this space!