The Yorkshire Way  

Mark Glover speaks to Rebecca Winwood, Special Projects Producer at Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre and discovers a venue that cares deeply for its community, working closely with other initiatives to bring art to its surrounding areas.

I’ve been living in the North of England for six months now having swapped the sweeping fields of the Weald of Kent for the steeper (but just as beautiful) hills of West Yorkshire. John, my patient and understanding Editor at Ink Pellet suggested my relocation could add a new angle to the magazine’s content; skewing the southern/London-bias that tends to exist in the arts, I could profile some of the North’s art centres and theatres.

Since then I’ve written about some wonderful places: The inspiring Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough; the newly renovated Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax; and the forward-thinking M6 Theatre company in Rochdale (featured in the last issue of Ink Pellet) among others. The thread that links all of these places together is community. There exists a sense of responsibility to the people that live in these areas and the beneficial effect theatre can have.

“I know when people come here for the first time, it can end up changing their lives.”

“I have a strong affection for this theatre and I have a strong affection for this area,” says Rebecca Winwood, Special Projects Producer of Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre. “I know when people come here for the first time, it can end up changing their lives.”

Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, is located squarely between Leeds and Manchester, where the majority of the town’s buildings – many refurbished old mills – show off sandy coloured slabs of stone which are dusted black with soot, a reminder of its industrial past as a major producer of woollen textiles.

The Lawrence Batley Theatre (LBT) – named after a local philanthropist – was originally constructed in 1819 as a Methodist chapel and sits charmingly in the centre of the town with a pretty cobbled forecourt. It’s here Rebecca and I sit down and chat, among lunch-breaking workers enjoying the sun.

LBT is mainly a receiving theatre, hosting much contemporary dance. They, of course, have a successful pantomime season – produced in-house, and they welcome young emerging companies to try out new shows. “I think we’re a stepping stone theatre on people’s doorsteps”, explains Rebecca, “although I wouldn’t be surprised if Huddersfield residents walk straight past the building unaware of who we are.”

It’s a fair statement. Given the town’s location between the North West’s two major theatres; the Leeds (formerly West Yorkshire) Playhouse and The Royal Exchange in Manchester, theatre enthusiasts in Huddersfield may find it easier to jump on the train or dart up the M62 to see productions. “It’s difficult because we’re servicing a really big population of people,” admits Rebecca, “but we are also servicing a large community of people in outlying areas who maybe wouldn’t go to these places.”

Huddersfield forms part of Kirklees, a borough covering a large proportion of West Yorkshire. The area, in terms of interaction with the arts, can be divided worryingly easily. “Kirklees as a borough does, statistically, have good attendance figures at arts events but if you separate South and North Kirklees there’s a massive divide,” Rebecca explains. “The south is quite well catered for; we have a theatre and gallery but there are no performing arts venues in the North of the area and even fewer places where you can have events and gatherings. It really does need investment.”

“It really opened my eyes to some of the issues that teachers face”

The theatre submits funding applications in order to reach places like Birstall, Dewsbury and Batley; areas with a culturally diverse population and pockets of deprivation. In 2013, the theatre along with Kirklees council, was successful in an application with the Creative People and Places project. The Arts Council project aims to assist neighbourhoods with a medium or low engagement with the arts. It identified Dewsbury as one of those neighbourhoods and set-up Creative Scene, an independent art company tasked with putting on events in the area; which Rebecca, before she joined LBT, was involved in programming. “A lot of my stuff was outdoors,” she recalls. “I would programme a lot of festivals: street art, fire festivals, but also theatre in pubs and fish and chip shops. We wanted it to become a habit for people.”

Naturally, LBT became a lead partner with the project allowing the theatre’s engagement team to step into the community and deliver their own projects. “Their [Creative Scene] main remit was to build audiences in the same areas that we were doing outreach,” Rebecca explains. “Most of their work is about giving tasters for people to eventually go and see things. We don’t have a theatre in North Kirklees but we have all these other places such as the pubs and community centres so if we can kit these out then it sets up a tour network.

Rebecca is from Canada. She came to the UK in 2006 to study an MA in Drama and Theatre Education at The University of Warwick, after which she moved to Huddersfield and began working for the CHOL Theatre, a resident company of LBT and an outfit that worked closely with schools, something that has always enthused her.

Rebecca’s time at CHOL forged constructive links with the LBT, both technically and practically, working on- and-off as the theatre’s duty manager and integrating herself into the day-to-day workings of the building. The circle was complete when in February this year, after a re-structuring of the theatre’s engagement department, Rebecca joined as Special Projects Producer, with a remit to increase engagement with schools. “I know the building,” she says. “I’ve produced shows here so I know how it works. But at the moment I’m crafting a plan to change what we’re doing and doing lots of outreach which, at the moment, is just simply speaking to people.”

Rebecca has regular conversations with primary and secondary teachers as well as lecturers from local colleges and the town’s university. She suggests that the old-style engagement package – show plus workshop – is being passed over by schools. “Teachers are under so much stress at the moment,” she explains. “There’s stress around testing. The curriculum changes in secondary schools mean a lot of creative subjects are being side-lined. Even taking young people off timetable to come to the theatre or have a special workshop becomes a massive task. It’s made me realise that these traditional ways aren’t going to work in the same way.”

She recently invited teachers to come to the theatre to watch a production, have a glass of wine and a chat about their challenges and how the LBT can help. While an extremely useful exercise, some of the feedback surprised her. “It really opened my eyes to some of the issues that teachers face,” she says. “The main one being budget and being unable to take children off timetable. For a trip to be justified the theatre needs to have a title on-stage that is on the syllabus.”

In November, the English Touring Theatre’s modern-day version of Othello is coming to the LBT and Rebecca is excited to host an important production. “The protagonist is a Muslim man so has a real contemporary feel,” she says. “As part of its education pack and offering, it includes post-show talks, so is designed specifically for schools to come.”

As we finish our chat the sun shines over the sweeping, rugged hills that surround the West Yorkshire town. I drink the dregs of my coffee and thank Rebecca for her time, promising to come back to review Othello for this magazine. She leaves me with one final quote, one that affirms her fondness of the area and its people. “There should be a place in people’s life for the arts,” she says. “That’s why I do what I do.”

For more information about the Lawrence Batley Theatre go to

Information on The English Touring Theatre’s version of Othello, including tour dates can be found at