Why Gosforth Civic Theatre is more than just your average arts venue
We go backstage to raise the curtains on how this theatre is at the beating heart of our local arts community.
There’s something so special about an evening at the theatre.
A chance to sit in a room filled with strangers to share a moment of getting lost and being entertained by theatrical and musical performances. A place that brings people together from all walks of life.
And this is exactly what Gosforth Civic Theatre is all about. Home in the heart of Gosforth, this theatre is more than just an arts venue, it’s a showstopping community that gives talented artists, regardless of their age, ability and background, a chance to step onto the stage.
Here at HLN, we’re all about celebrating local talent, so we caught up with Scott Forbes, marketing and programming coordinator at Liberdade Community Development Trust, who run the theatre, to find out more about what goes on backstage.
What makes GCT different from other theatres in the North East?
We aren’t just an arts venue. We are a disability arts charity that was founded by an amazing group of people with learning disabilities. They have built this place for everyone to use and enjoy. Historically society has created certain places for people with learning disabilities to go, but here people with learning disabilities are creating a place for everyone to come together.
GCT is a great place that is recognised for quality throughout. Great shows, community participation, food, coffee and customer service. It is the opposite of segregation or people with learning disabilities being seen as simply recipients of services.
Why do you feel Liberdade Community Development Trust and the work that you do is so important to the local community?
It’s about creating positive social change. It’s about creating a community space that all sections of our local community, regardless of background, can use in different ways. And by doing so and seeing the work that we do starts an organic shift in people’s perceptions of people with learning disabilities and autism. All the while having somewhere they can be proud of and that brings art and culture to their doorstep
Because we are a charity, it means we have objects and a mission which guides us. Our decisions are based on the fact that we have beneficiaries and we want to make positive social change within our community, I hope everyone that comes to GCT feels that.
There may be an assumption that, because GCT is a community hub, the performances you host may be purely amateur. But that’s not the case – who have been some of the more high-profile performers or productions you’ve staged?
That’s true, and while we do work with smaller local companies and amateur performers too, we do make sure our artistic programme is of high quality, bringing artists and performances to Gosforth that people would normally only see in the city.
We’ve had international artists come over via local roots promotor Jumpin Hot Club including The Delines, Chuck Prophet and Sam Outlaw. We’ve had legendary folk and feminist icon Peggy Seeger play here in March, and local music luminaries The Unthanks, Paul Smith (of Maximo Park), The Futureheads and The Cornshed sisters; we even got Chris Difford of Squeeze playing here in July.
We’ve had two productions from Northern Stage here, and regularly work with highly regarded local companies Curious Monkey, Kitchen Zoo, Unfolding Theatre and Mortal Fools. We also platform up-and-coming artists from across the region who create original music.
We noticed GCT still organised live streams throughout lockdown. Why was it so important to you to keep performances running as much as possible?
Gosforth Civic Theatre was created by Liberdade and our company members as a place for people to come together, and we’ll always strive to try and fulfil that. When we couldn’t have our Liberdade groups back in the building safely and we had staff returning to work, it was our duty to undertake that original mission, which is why we started with our Friday evening live music slots in the garden. But when we had to shut down completely, we moved to live streaming to bring people together in a different way. If we didn’t, we’d be failing them.
It was a way to support staff, artists and technicians by giving them a platform and a chance to get paid in what was a very difficult time financially for everyone. It also helped us to raise our profile and reach more people. Those live streams had an average viewership of 400 on our YouTube channel which is double our sell out seated capacity.
GCT Kitchen is also a top hotspot for the Gosforth community to pop in for a coffee or claim a seat in one of the best-kept secret beer gardens of Newcastle! Tell us about some of the local suppliers you work with and why this is so important to the ethos of the Kitchen?
We’ve made a conscious effort to make our café offer a celebration of good quality produce and create balanced meals that are not only tasty but are good for the body, mind and soul. Our chef, Dyonne, is amazing – she was head chef at Gusto on the Quayside and has worked for high end hotel restaurants in Newcastle, Glasgow and her home of St Lucia. Since relaunching the café in 2021 with a new menu, the feedback has been excellent.
We are passionate about celebrating local produce and suppliers including those right on their doorstep, so you can expect to be enjoying produce from local butchers Charlotte’s Butchery, baked treats from Pink Lane Bakery and coffee from Pumphrey’s Coffee. All our fruit and veg come from Hillheads Farm. We are reviewing our drinks offer right now but always have a couple of local breweries represented on the bar – Almasty, Northern Alchemy and Allendale are mainstays.
What are 3 upcoming events/performances that you’re most looking forward to?
It’s really hard to choose. Our programme for the rest of the year really is high quality and we have so much more in the pipeline that we’ll be announcing, but we can’t look past Gosforth Beer Festival on 5th – 7thAugust. It’s our yearly community event that was getting really big before we stopped it for the pandemic, so this is our first one since 2019. It’s free, there’ll be an installed festival bar with 20+ taps on, live music, DJs, street food and good times which is open to everyone.
Outside of that, families need to come and see Kitchen Zoo’s new show The Tortoise and The Hare: A Suitcase Story on 30th and 31st July. They’re an amazing theatre company that creates vibrant and fun family shows, and we’re excited to be supporting them with their new one this year.
The music programme, generally in the next few months is brilliant, from Kris Drever and Rachel Baiman in June to Voices of Virtue Gospel Choir in September, there’s some great stuff in there to check out.
How can we support GCT and Liberdade?
People can support us in loads of ways, you can donate to Liberdade through our website or by dropping some money in our donation boxes at the theatre. You can buy some of our GCT Merch which can be bought via the café, or just come down and visit, any money spent over our bar and café and from ticket sales goes back into the running of the theatre too. Or just spread the word, word of mouth promotion is powerful so tell friends and family and help us reach more people.
What has been your proudest moment at GCT so far?
This will differ for different members of the team but I think having our first Engage Platform in 2019 is significant. It was the first time our Liberdade groups and outreach school groups had performed exclusively for a public audience at GCT since we took the building on. It was one of the objectives that our company members had when we wanted to get our own building and having 115 people watching them, in their own theatre, was something special.
What are your ultimate ambitions for GCT and Liberdade?
Last year we published our Theory of Change which outlines our direction and what we want to do. Our next main objective, which is our most ambitious one to date, is developing the venue. We are delighted because we’ve just secured £499,999 from Arts Council England’s Capital Investment Programme, which will allow us to accelerate plans to improve the building and infrastructure which would include a new roof, soundproofing, internal décor and a new community space built on to the side of the existing building.
Expansion of the bar area will also allow us to embed people with learning disabilities into our café and events teams and achieve one of the key objectives of the charity. We ultimately want to be the best we can be and deliver the most accessible and high quality venue we can to our local community to create positive social change.