THE emphasis will be on community development as United Co-operatives take to the stage for the second year running.
Theatres in the society's trading area will again benefit from significant funding and the aim will be to explore ways of working with venues which reflect our co-operative credentials and engage with young people.
Unlike many plcs, which sponsor theatres in return for advertising opportunities, free seats and hospitality, United has sought to work in partnership with theatre professionals to develop projects that will help deliver community development goals and highlight co-operative values and principles.
It is not the society's intention merely to fund existing services, but rather to give them added value and develop totally new projects.
The aim of much of the sponsorship is also to encourage hard to reach groups to view the theatre as something which is relevant to them and their community.
In researching the potential to do this, we soon came to the conclusion that there were four theatres with which we could achieve constructive relationships: the Octagon in Bolton, Alhambra in Bradford, New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Manchester's Royal Exchange.
Over the last 12 months, and again in the coming year, a wide range of projects have been developed.
Many of these have been designed to provide young people with opportunities to explore issues relevant to their lives such as relationships, homelessness, racism and anti-social behaviour.
As set out in our partnership agreements, theatre staff have often worked with local youth agencies, referral units and other organisations to ensure that young people who might suffer from exclusion through lack of means, culture or disability, are able to participate fully in the activities. Our involvement with theatres has been illuminating.
We believe they can help us make an impact in key communities by addressing social issues and challenging prejudice and ignorance.
Theatres are particularly good in helping us engage with young people. We have seen for ourselves how they can help develop self-esteem and build confidence especially in young people who have little self-worth and limited aspirations.
And these same young people come to appreciate opportunities and career options they have not considered before.
They also see that co-operative values and principles have something to offer them and their colleagues.
The world of theatre is a co-operative world where everyone relies on each other to achieve the same goals; no co-operation, no production. One year on, our experience of working alongside theatres leads us to one simple conclusion ? encore!
? Michael Fairclough is Community Development Manager at United Co-operatives.