Hampstead Theatre has provided an original and dynamic education and outreach programme for its local community since 1998. It has developed longstanding relationships with local schools and delivered projects to a wide range of groups, including young people in hospital schools, pupil referral units, and adult refugees and asylum seekers. A significant part of the work has been the Heat&Light Young Company, who have written and devised their own new plays, as well as commission and produce plays by professional playwrights. The commitment, intelligence and sheer passion these young people have shown over the years is an inspiration.
In April it was announced that the programme, now called Creative Learning, was to close in its entirety, from the end of July 2012.
All objective measures show we live in a time when young people and poor people alike are being at best neglected, at worst demonised and punished. Wealth, power and opportunity are being moved away from these groups, against all sense of justice, and wisdom. We seem to be sleepwalking towards a society where the older, richer, and/or more powerful only look out for themselves and their own families. Can anyone really believe the long term consequences, for any of us, will be a happier, brighter, more secure future? A Lear-like desolation seems more plausible: "Come, let's away to prison; We two alone will sing like birds in the cage."
Community arts programmes like Hampstead Theatre’s Creative Learning have a concrete and measurable social value. And without this nurturing of new artists and audiences, without fresh blood, ideas, and movements, a unique cultural ecology will simply fade away and die. But above all the argument is this: these are, on some level, all our children. Arts organisations, charities and funding bodies are traditionally forces for progressive values and action, in a way which brings hope, change, a measure of social justice. If Hampstead Theatre, Arts Council England and LB Camden can no longer defend these, our most vulnerable children, neighbours and citizens, who will?
Please reverse this decision. At least apply a proportionate cut. We the undersigned urge you to at least retain the core, the most effective and progressive parts of the programme, if only to keep the practices and the culture alive. For all our sakes.