MY YEAR: Northern Stage Young Company | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Wambui Hardcastle by Von Fox Promotions

Northern Stage has a long term commitment to working in Byker. The company’s main rehearsal space is next to Byker Primary School and Northern Stage is part of the Byker Children and Young People’s Partnership (BCYPP), a pioneering initiative of almost 50 organisations working together to raise aspirations, enrich lives and achieve social change.

When the UK went into lockdown earlier this year, the Northern Stage team quickly adapted to meet the changing needs of residents – working in partnership to help deliver food parcels and activity packs, and regularly speaking to isolated members of the local community. This led to the Doorstep Music project – 48 pop-up music performances over the summer, and Northern Stage Young Company co-creating eight brand new audio experiences for Byker and beyond made with the local community. Northern Stage was also one of the partners involved in Byker’s Best Summer Ever, funded by StreetGames, Byker Community Trust housing association and Newcastle City Council. More than 150 children, young people and their families took part in a range of activities each week throughout August across four outdoor locations on the Estate.

The Team is part of Northern Stage’s Young Company – a gathering of young people aged 16–21 with a hunger to learn new things and a desire to make things happen. Since May 2019, The Team have been meeting every week to cook, eat, think and laugh together.

The Team is a place for young artists, and community activists at the core of Northern Stage Young Company Ensemble to develop their approach to community projects. The Team have invested in the people and place of their community in one of its most challenging years.

This year, in unprecedented times (!) The Team pulled together to help make great things happen in Byker including Doorstep Music and with the Byker Children and Young People’s Partnership (BCYPP) Byker Best Summer Ever, Byker Audio Stories and Get Out and Move About in October half term.

Wambui Hardcastle collaborated on Byker Best Summer Ever in 2019 and 2020 and was key to the support and delivery of Doorstep Music. Wambui wrote and presented her Audio Story about working on Doorstep Music and the importance of Byker to her and her relationship to the city. She says: “When I was growing up my Mam was sad that I didn’t have the community she had growing up in Kenya – where she could play outside with her friends, and know there were aunties on every corner keeping an eye out for you. Coming to Byker, it’s allowed me to see what a true community is. It’s formed from trust, laughter, and knowing that there are people who will always be there to catch you if you fall. Being able to come in during the Summer and work with the people of Byker was so important especially after staring at the same four walls for so long. Seeing everyone engaged in the activities, whether that was cooking outdoors or dancing in the rain or listening to storytellers, served as a reminder as to why we do what we do. I love coming to Byker – it’s my favourite thing to do each week. I hope I’ll always be able to come back no matter where I go in life.”

Founder member of The Team Sammie Clarke has been core to each project, bringing experience, intelligence, humour and team spirit. Sammie says: “Before I came here I didn’t see people normally. I didn’t really like humans and wasn’t a socialised person. Now I give people a chance. I don’t judge a book by its cover. I like how we’ve gone from cooking each week to new and different experiences – we’ve evolved. I made so many hot chocolates on Halloween that they’re basically the best in Byker.”

Brandin McCafferty joined The Team for Byker Best Summer Ever in 2019 and has since been part of front of house teams and Byker Best Summer Ever 2020 supporting activities from dance, to planting, to den building. Brandin says: “People have told me how my confidence has grown – like I’ve found my voice. We’ve done so much together and I literally never miss a session.”

Both Sammie and Brandin, and second founding member Naomi Baker, co-created and presented three brand new audio stories as part of a playlist of eight Byker Audio Stories, available to listen to for free on the Northern Stage website.

The Team are currently developing festive and spirit-lifting music, food and light installations for a Winter Feast in December with the Byker Children & Young People’s Partnership.

Associate Director, Louie Ingham says: “Although it’s been the most difficult year to make things happen in, working with The Team and their collective spirit, tenacity, generosity and great humour has been the highlight of 2020. They’ve never missed an opportunity to be present, connect and bring energy and activities to their wider community and I’m enormously honoured to work alongside these people.”

The Team are Adrian Atkinson, Naomi Baker, Jordan Candlish, Sammie Clarke, Elizabeth Doyle, Wambui Hardcastle, Harrison Rowley-Lynn – with previous Community Collaborators including NE Edge, Byker Community Centre, Emma Leggott, Steve Sheraton, Shelley Jackson and Abdul-Aziz Kouamé. The Team is led by Northern Stage Associate Director Louie Ingham with a team of freelancers including writer Lee Mattinson and Project Coordinators Tilly Riley and Cooper McDonough.

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