Blog: Matt Fenton

The artistic director of Contact Theatre on plans to move into venues across Manchester, including a sari shop on the curry mile

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At the end of December, after several years of intense planning and close engagement with our young audiences, we will close the doors of Contact’s iconic building on Oxford Road for a major 15-month redevelopment. Our plans for the building have been shaping up over the last four years, and will radically improve and alter the experience for visitors, artists and staff. During this time, we have had to consider not only the building itself, but also how we can continue to engage with our audiences and young people, with no physical building to occupy for the coming year of works.

Firstly we had to plan how we would continue to deliver a public performance programme without a theatre. There was never any question that we would simply “go dark” for a year. In fact this is a fantastic opportunity for us to take Contact’s uniquely diverse programme of new shows out across Greater Manchester, and to engage with new communities locally. Recently we announced the first part of this programme, which we are calling Contact In the City. It will forge new partnerships with venues including the Palace Theatre Manchester, Manchester Academy, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Lowry. We are also taking over various interesting and unexpected spaces, including a show in a working sari shop on Manchester’s famous Curry Mile.

We will continue to announce performances, projects and activities for the rest of 2018. Contact’s young producers group, Re:Con, has worked with us on deciding this programme and is working on a project about the 30th anniversary of the anti-Section 28 protests in Manchester. Over the summer we will be presenting an exciting circus event in partnership with an international company and a new Christmas show written by the award-winning Jackie Hagan will be staged at a partner venue during December.

But Contact is more than just a performance venue. It is close to Hulme and Moss Side and is used creatively throughout the day by local people of all ages. It’s a safe space for young people to come and meet and engage with our range of free weekly activities in theatre, music, dance, spoken word and performance. We were keen that this creative offer for young people should continue throughout our building closure.

We were very lucky to have support from Manchester City Council, which put us in touch with Manchester Young Lives, which manages the Millennium Powerhouse in Moss Side. The building is home to a number of other young people-focused organisations, and is a great fit with Contact’s ethos and mission. We were thrilled that Powerhouse was keen to work with us, not only as a venue for our activities but also as a home for our staff throughout 2018.

Contact will be working with the organisations operating from Powerhouse to increase the numbers of young people using its building. Our regular free activities include Music Drop, teaching young people music production skills, songwriting and recording; Drama Drop is an opportunity to learn from professional performers, actors and directors. Young Identity is a group of young writers and aspiring poets that formed in Moss Side in 2008, led by Shirley May, Reece Williams and Ali Gadema, and is one of Contact’s longest-standing partnerships. In addition to our weekly programme, Contact’s arts and leadership projects such as Contact Young Company, Future Fires and The Agency will all continue to engage young people while the building on Oxford Road undergoes its transformation.

We will also be using the time to research and develop the new socially engaged professional theatre productions that will be part of our reopening programme, as ever working closely with young people to decide the themes and content of those shows. We’ll also be broadcasting a recent Contact co-production on BBC TV in the new year.

Our building redevelopment means that, after reopening, we’ll be able to offer even more opportunities for young people, for many years to come. Given the flourishing of Greater Manchester’s creative scene, and the youth and diversity of its population, it feels timely that an organisation such as Contact should be based in the north, and in Manchester specifically.

Photo: I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip, which will be broadcast as part of BBC Performance Live (Robert Day). For more information on Contact’s redevelopment and In the City programme visit

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