Building theatre   Learning new skills

January 2021: Hannah’s Blog

My name is Hannah. I worked with Making Theatre Gaining Skills for 2 weeks. This was to put on a Christmas production stage show for children. When I arrived, it was all about trying new things, as we started from bottom up, including assembling the stage. I learnt new things I had never imagined I could do! I learnt how to use different types of saws to cut certain bits of wood and how to use a lighting board for the stage. The atmosphere was brilliant! I even manged to bring someone out of their shell which in return was rewarding to me. The whole experience was amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone. I am a confident person on the outside, but everyone has something they are nervous about. Working within a group of people you do not even know, but after thinking as your friends.

December 2020: Matthew’s blog

Before the course, I felt quite nervous about working with new people but after meeting the team I went ahead and joined up. I’m pleased I did because I’m having lots of fun and have met lots of friendly new people! The first day went really well! We started by setting up the stage and putting up all the lights. We also did a creative session where we looked at photographs and tried to make a story out of them; then we played a game called consequences where we make a story by writing sentences on a bit of paper and passing them around the group. When I went home, I felt quite confident and also very intrigued about what would happen next.

It’s now the start of week two and we are building sets and props. It’s proving to be a challenge, especially when you only have a few people helping out and you have to lift heavy bits of set but it is satisfying as I will need to learn these skills in the future for jobs. Only three days to go before we do our first performance – I feel confident that it will go very well!

Matthew (participant and photographer)

December 2020: Getting ready for our first course

The team is working hard to get the Makerspace ready for our first course which is due to start on 7th December. Volunteer Tony has more or less heat-proofed the office and IT room so that it’s no longer necessary to wear coats and gloves when using the computers. Another volunteer (John) has wrestled with three donated computers and has got them running so that we should have a network in the office which will certainly improve our efficiency! Meanwhile a steady flow of people has been visiting to find out more about the course and hopefully decide to join us. The creative team (Rosie Hull, Richard Cooper and Chris Nairne) are working on the scenario of the puppet play which the group will be producing and presenting to the public at the end of the month. Frank’s Christmas Miracle! is certainly ambitious but will be really exciting if we can pull it off in the time.

October 2020: Moving into our new home

On Monday 5th October things changed dramatically for Making Theatre Gaining Skills as finally we moved into our new, permanent home. For years the company has moved between temporary homes across West Sussex and experienced all the uncertainty that comes with a transient lifestyle. Sharing facilities with brownies, Zumba dancers and even railway workers; having to put everything into storage so that no one can quite remember what happened to the tool kit or the lighting board plus constant anxiety about how long we might get to stay in each place. Some of our temporary homes have been luxurious, or blessed with supportive landlords, but the biggest problem has been maintaining contact with the hundreds of participants that have attended classes. Now at last we have a home which we can welcome them back to.

The building is a very large warehouse just around the corner from the railway station and in fact our back yard looks across to the railway line. It’s owned by Reynolds Furniture, a family firm that have been trading in Bognor since 1867. The building has a large mezzanine and a massive space of 6,600 square feet which we are steadily filling with making kit. Typical of an industrial building, there is very little in the way of facilities so the first task was to sort out better toilets, install a sink and think about adding electrical sockets throughout the space. It’s exciting to imagine how the building can be developed as we’ve never had so much room!

Volunteers have been coming in to help sort out some of the initial work so we’re ready for our first course which will start on 9th November. It’s brilliant to have old friends come back like Tony, Rick and John who have been helping our Technical Manager (Chris) convert an empty space into a workable unit. As long as I keep them supplied with tea and biscuits they’re happy! Meanwhile, our friends at Aldingbourne Trust have started using the downstairs area as a small-scale day centre and a succession of clients are braving the chilly conditions and the not very luxurious toilet! Hopefully we will be able to offer better facilities by the end of the year.

The photos below show some of the work being done by our team.

Hilary Strong

Director: Making Theatre Gaining Skills CIC

Moving in 3Tony in toiletInstalling sinkElectrical work

October 2019

The Bognor Institute of Laughter celebrates its second anniversary and is going great guns with regular public shows as well as weekly get-togethers. Our most recent gig at the Waverley was another sell-out with hilarious sketches (several written by our members) as well as stand-up performers visiting from Matt’s Comedy Club in Worthing. The Institute is developing quite a following and will soon need to look for bigger premises as we keep having to turn people away!

January 2018

The new year has definitely started! Two major projects are underway and the team are working flat out to get everything ready. Thanks to funding from the People’s Health Lottery we have launched the Bognor Institute of Laughter and are now developing a programme of workshops and events helping our steering group establish a new comedy club for Bognor. Launched by Arthur Smith (our splendid Emeritus Professor) the team has already come up with some fantastic ideas for workshops. Next up: the multi-talented Harry Venning who produces the cartoon strip Clare in the Community for the Guardian and co-scripts the radio comedy version. Harry will be leading a cartoon drawing workshop on Wednesday 28th February, (3.30pm for 14-18 year olds and 5.30pm for adults). Booking advisable, free of charge!

Our second project is a Pop-up Community Café which kicks off on 14th February and will run every Wednesday morning. We hope that this will be a welcome addition to the local scene and look forward to hosting events and workshops alongside serving delicious home-baked treats. We’re currently recruiting volunteers to help run the café and get vital training which will enable them to improve their employment prospects. The Community Centre is very well-equipped already but my mind is full of trays, crockery, napkins, coffee, etc! This project couldn’t have happened without the fantastic support of our funders: Awards for All, Bognor Town Council, Bognor Rotary Club, Bognor Lions Club and Bersted Parish Council. Thank you to all of them!

Finally, we’ve been completing an exciting project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which involved recreating traditional sound effects and running a programme of community workshops. Young people from St. Anthony’s School in Chichester and Regis School in Bognor plus adults from local amateur groups all had fun making wind machines, rain tubes, slapsticks and many more before trying them out with a proper script! You can download an information sheet here and check out the video.Heritage sound effects info

Hilary (Director)


April 2017


Hello, I’m Richard Mahaffey, 43 and unemployed. I have been volunteering at Making Theatre Gaining Skills with Hilary, Sarah and Tony since December following a short three-week period last March where the three of us and others put on a play, “Spring time in Hotham Park” for local primary schools. It was great fun drawing, painting, doing carpentry, searching for music/songs and sound effects. We also brushed up our acting and vocal skills by using various software to record the character’s voices. The three weeks just flew by. I then carried on with the rest of my life until last November, when I got invited to an open day from my “old friends” from Making Theatre Gaining Skills where I was asked if I would like to become their Part-time Volunteer Fundraising Assistant. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last four months, once or twice a week for just three hours from 10 or 11 a.m. (depending on when Hilary or Sarah turn up) until 1pm. First of all, the coffees get made. Then the computer gets turned on and the e-mails are read, checked, worked on or deleted. When I started the research I did was finding out about the organisation and the deprivation in West Sussex to see why a CIC like ours was needed. I also spent one week signing up for blogs for various newspapers and wrote a brilliant piece (if I do say myself) about current satire for the Guardian website. I got a lot of likes and feedback but I’ve since procrastinated this but would like to come back to this in the near future. Recently, I have been researching various companies’ websites to see those who offer grants to CICs and whether Making Theatre Gaining Skills fall within their remit; basically “Give us your money so we can buy….”  I’ve also researched various products for the office such as photo frames for the pictures of our staff. I’ve also been researching other equipment such as comfy chairs for Sarah’s bad posture, special computers and software for those with dyslexia who may sign up for our services.

Tony Lock, 58. I’ve been working for Making Theatre Gaining Skills for 1 year as a peer mentor.  I started off doing a course followed by volunteering as a technician and handy man. I’ve been on tour and it’s been a laugh. I did lighting. When I was in East Sussex I started to show young people the safest way to use power tools. In my spare time I DJ for Radio respect as a volunteer. I present my own show on Tuesday and Friday nights where I play music and take phone calls and give help and advice where I can. It’s a worldwide internet radio station. It’s amazing to think that people are listening in the USA. I had a text from a guy in Miami, saying well done it was a good show and did we have any Albert King. So I played him “Stormy Monday”. Back to Making Theatre Gaining Skills, I enjoy being there and get plenty of help from Hilary and the team. I have just recently been enrolled in a local college doing art, which I am looking forward to as art is something I have discovered in my later years.

June/July 2015:

Making Theatre Gaining Skills was in Worthing, West Sussex.

We ran a great three-week project with jobseekers from Worthing. The group consisted mainly of younger adults, with two or three more mature members.

In week one the group helped to devise and design a short play for primary- age children. The finished play was called “Let’s Go Exploring!” Professional designer Chris de Wilde helped the group to focus their visual ideas and then produced finished artwork for backcloths, scenic items and animal puppets. Towards the end of the week we started priming the backcloths.

Week two was pretty full-on. Painting continued at a great pace, carpentry tasks were undertaken and some members were coached in the use of the electric jigsaw. Sound effects were both downloaded and created from scratch, edited, and loaded into our playback software ready for performance.

In week three we did a technical rehearsal followed by three dress rehearsals. The portable theatre was dismantled and loaded into a hired van, along with all the props, scenery and costumes for the show. We opened at Worthing Lido where we did two performances, followed by a show at Worthing College and one at a local primary school.

In between all this, the three staff members helped the group with C.V.s, job applications and related problems. The odd tear was shed when we parted on the Friday afternoon.

Chris Bagust, Technical Manager


Jan/Feb 2015:

“My first task in the show was to act as assistant stage manager. This meant I had to make sure everything was in its right place both on and off stage.

When it was confirmed that everything was set and ready to go and the actors were in their starting positions, it was my job to stand off stage and hand Andy his props that he needed. To make sure i remembered which order he needed his props to come, i made a song in my head. Well, it wasn’t really a song, unless you call six words being repeated again and again a song.

‘Screws, manual, manual, outfit, teacup. ALIEN! Screws, manual, manual, outfit, teacup. ALIEN! Screws, manual, manual, outfit, teacup. ALIEN! And so on…’

Overall, I think it went well. There were a couple of times I should have been ready sooner, but everything still went smoothly.

When it came to the first show, for some reason I wasn’t expecting an audience reaction.  So that meant I had to improvise and add a little extra to go along with the audience and actor interaction.

In the production meeting, it came up that too many people were standing on stage right, making it very congested. So it was arranged that Charlie, after finishing her role, would come over to stage left ready to give me help if I needed it.”

Claire, participant on our 5-week course in Chichester