Artistic Director, Wendy takes us through the thinking behind leaving.
The 14th of January 2022 we closed our doors to The Higher Space in Cotton Street for the last time. This beautiful and versatile warehouse had been our headquarters since 2006. And what memories we have filled that space with in those glorious 16 years of use.
The decision to leave earlier than the lease period was made as part of the restructure of the organisation which has been in progress for almost 2 years.
On assessing how much time each year we actually use the space for our own productions and training, plus the time allocated to supporting artists to grow and make work, we believed that our money could be better spent and possibility of more meaningful relationships built if we were to investigate how we can share space with other organisations in the region. We are stronger when we work together, and Wired have spent two years working in earnest with this message as a driver.
Our focus shift began around 3 months before Covid hit. The deep-diving we were doing threw up many things for investigation, one aspect was the need to feel a stronger connection with people we were working with. We thought that we could address these feelings in many ways but with COVID adding restrictions, the first thing we could proactively do would be to pick up the phone rather than emailing people for example, taking time to build on relationships with organisations that share our interests and are aiming to make significant offer to our region culturally too.
What was overwhelming when taking the time to speak to people, was that we realised just how many amazing people/friends we have in the region and these fabulous humans seemed interested in what we were saying and wanting to do. In no time at all we were looking at a situation where we had greater access to more information and resources than before. We were building a creative cultural community and it felt a significant moment.
Initial results of finding other organisations to work with being very positive, and Covid taking a real hold, things did begin to lean more towards leaving The Higher Space sooner rather than later – for me certainly, it was time to connect emotionally with the reality that we may be leaving.
In 2007, The Higher Space suffered a massive flood while the landlord was replacing the roof. We were in London working on a commission to open the Millenium dome in Greenwich when this happened. Ultimately we arrived back 4 weeks after we left with everything that existed inside the building covered in mould, still saturated and everything electric well and truly rusty and ruined. Jamie and I took all our personal savings and ploughed it into a refurb that would allow us to continue to work there to continue to make work. Insurance didn’t cover us as we had allowed people into the property to do the work. When I think back it raises a deep sense of connection with how determined we were to ‘keep going’, our savings were to pay for our wedding and deposit on a house. To be honest, the list of amazing stories of love, life and losses are plentiful of The Higher Space, we have housed friends and family who felt lost and needed somewhere to stay, those who didnt have enough money to live anywhere, we worked with Make a Wish Foundation to make a very poorly 4 year old boys dream come true by making it possible for him to fly as if he was Superman and brought up our first little boy and taught him to fly, swing and climb off every platform and rope he could find, as well as hosting his birthday parties each year of his life until 9. As well as the work we created, as well as the amazing artists we supported, as well as the degree in aerial performance and dance we led using our space, and as well as the young people and adults we taught how to fly and climb, it forms a very significant chapter of our existence.
I am of course very aware of being less accessible to those people that want to do and participate in Wired Aerial Theatre‘s aerial techniques. We have given this situation a lot of thought. Our shift in focus means that our education/training work which we now identify as ‘artform development’, occurs as part of a structured program of activity across each year. This means that we can design the training that we will be delivering and most importantly have some kind of progression through the education work we do, so that people can have a more meaningful experience when they come to learn techniques and connect with our company. We also ensure within this work that we focus our attention on lowering the barriers to any of this work to our two chosen protected characteristic groups which are disability (of which we focus mainly on mental health) and race. We want to create stronger more productive relationships with people from these groups so that we can be more effective with the opportunities we provide.
And so now, after creating our first project without utilising The Higher Space, I am wondering how Me vs Me may have been different if we had made it whilst there. I’m overwhelmed by the results that came from our shift. We have found a good friend in Leah Biddle, Cultural manager at Warrington and I'm thrilled to say our new Board member (more about that in a future post). Leah assisted us in forming a relationship with Parrs Bank hotel in Warrington, Their main hall draws together grand touchstones of Edwardian architecture – adorned with beautiful artwork, sculptures above doorways, grand oak doors, terracotta marble pillars with golden foundations, and stained-glass windows on the back wall – is not only a beautiful place to work but allows the height and space necessary to set up the truss structure we use.
Me vs Me uses a ground supported goal-post truss system and Parrs Bank is high enough to house us, even with their incredible chandelier hanging right there in the centre of the room. Whilst there we had so many people ‘popping’ in to watch, say hello and ask what we were doing. We had never really experienced that at The Higher Space. I suppose that would be due to the location, the way our warehouse looked from outside (the big doors not really communicating a ‘come on in, you are welcome’ type of feel). Whilst in Warrington we had visits from the borough council (a few departments) who had heard about the theme of our show and the work we were doing and friends and colleagues who knew we were there, could chose times most suitable to them to come in and watch the work (the only thing I asked was for some feedback in return so this was a huge bonus for us). As Parrs Bank was also a fully functioning (and top rate) coffee bar/eatery we also had excited public members open the door to ask their questions similar to, ‘what the heck are you doing, I’ve never seen anything like this before and certainly not in Warrington!’ which often led to a raised hand and picture being taken of someone dancing in the air. I feel we connected with Warrington in more ways than one and this feeling of connection is exactly what we had highlighted as something we wanted to change and develop and feel as part of what we do. I feel we have accomplished that.
Originally the feelings of fear were present, but strangely after a while the feelings of freedom, the glee of connecting with other cultural organisations and relinquishing the role of replenishing toilet rolls and cleaning bathrooms and washing duvet covers melted away to leave my brain awash with expectation that sharing space would provide more time to focus on creating work and bringing value to culture. As an NPO we have a responsibility to spend public money cleverly and to get the best results.
I am so happy to have made this shift, our initial experience is that it has been a low stress and positive one and absolutely feels the right thing to have done. There is a sensation of jumping into the unknown with what we’re doing at the moment, but when you analyse these thoughts it is just a natural response to change. We have 21 years of experience in the industry and we know our stuff, we have a lot of friends in the region too. Liverpool is also incredibly resourced with regards to warehouses and spaces and creative spaces. We have a few really good relationships forming, we are all dreaming of the possibilities that lie ahead. What we are doing is adding to the richness of other organisations spaces, filling it with more cultural activity, making a louder noise and difference when working together.
I love to dream of the cross-pollination projects that may happen just by working like this. We have taken a deep breath, and stepped forwards and are loving where we have got to.