The alarm buzzed loudly in the dark room. 5.30am flashed brightly on the clock. Outside, the rain and wind crashed relentlessly against the perfectly formed Cotswold stone cottage window and the sun was nowhere to be seen.
Luke looked bleary eyed at his alarm and snuggled up under the duvet for a few more minutes before he had to get up. He knew he had a long drive ahead so getting up at this time was crucial to missing the morning commuter traffic.
Freddie nestled his head into Luke’s chest a little tighter knowing that he would soon be leaping out of bed into the hot shower to start his week with yet another charity. His 41st in fact and one that he knew brought so much joy to children across Devon.
Buzz. Buzz. Buzz – the alarm went again. 5.45am flashed in the dark room. Luke had fallen back to sleep and after taking a quick glance at the time he knew he needed to get up. In a panic he jumped to his feet and ran to the bathroom. He turned the tap of the shower and watched the hot steaming water flow from the shower head, filling the room with a billow of steam. The soothing hot water flowing off his head and down his back helped him wake from his deep slumber, a short comfort against the cold winter air that was just outside the bathroom window. Just a few minutes later he had climbed out of the shower, put on his clothes and began rummaging around for his stuff. Not wanting to disturb his Sunday evening, Luke had left his packing until the last minute. A typical endeavour of a Monday morning; but this time he wished he had taken the time to pack the night before. A long 3-hour drive lay ahead of him and rushing around trying to find socks and pants was not the best use of his time!
With a quick rush round he was ready to leave, heading out to his branded car ready for the day ahead.
The drive was typical of that he did every week, long stretches of motorway with the occasional view into the countryside; sheep and cows lining the road. Watching the satellite navigation roll down the miles until his destination.
Turning off the motorway, Luke’s journey was simple and easy, with just a short distance to go to get to Theatre Alibi. The long stretches of road turned into winding one-way streets and after passing a row of terraced houses he pulled up to his destination. The large building before him stood proud and confident. Clearly once a community hall, it boasted a typical English brick exterior with a pale blue door, inviting you in.
“Let’s see what they have in store” he muttered under his breath whilst pressing the buzzer to the backdoor.
Within seconds, footsteps could be heard coming down the internal staircase, getting louder by the second. The door creaked and opened.
“Hello! You must be Luke, I’m Mary, It’s so lovely to meet you” A warm hand extended and the concrete staircase led before him.
My charity this week is Theatre Alibi – who provide children’s theatre across Devon, inspiring creativity and promoting the arts. As they are a theatre-based charity and the majority of their work is based around creative story-telling, I felt it only appropriate to start this week’s blog as a story myself, trying to give you a sense of my day to day life with UA and the Nicest Job in Britain.
I am so blessed to be able to travel around and see so many unique organisations in my year-long job and this week’s charity are the definition of a unique charity.
Away from the traditional cause-led organisation that we are used to seeing, Theatre Alibi works directly in schools bringing magical stories to life. From primary to special schools, their current show “Olive and the Dream Train” takes children on a magical journey of Olive’s imagination.
My first day with Theatre Alibi however was more of a helping role. At the start of every season getting bookings from schools is imperative to the success of the tour. If they don’t have any bookings, the show can’t happen. So I spent all day folding and packing envelopes of letters to be sent to schools across the county. I lost track of how many stamps I put on (I didn’t lick them I may add) but it must have been near 500!
The rest of my stay however was on the road. I was lucky enough to join the current theatre tour and really experience what the charity do every day. Joining Charlotte, Kristy, Vic, Kat and Hannah; I jumped on the tour bus at 7.30am and headed to the next school on their list.
It’s a pretty full-on day. After arriving at the destination, the van is carefully unloaded and the magnificent stage is then assembled in a school hall. Chairs, mats and benches are put out while the actors warm up. Then, within minutes, hundreds of little people flood in to the hall with their eyes wide open at the stage before them, all buzzing with excited chatter.
The 3 actors then take the children on a magical journey as told by ‘Olive’. She has an incredible imagination and her day dream turns into an incredible train journey of twists and turns that excite and inspire the children. Many of these kids will have never seen live theatre performed before so having the opportunity to be immersed in a story told by actors, a set and props is magnificent. I have to admit that even I was totally immersed in the story of Olive and her trip through magical lands that I didn’t want it to end.
It was then, after watching the first show that I not only saw the real value in what the charity do but the impact they have on so many. Being able to take children on a creative journey, inspire them and leave knowing that they would talk about that performance for weeks to come means that they are really making an impact, where it matters.
But for the guys on the road it’s a quick turn around. Packing the van meticulously and heading off to the next school – it’s a gruelling schedule. But after spending 2 days on the road with them I felt a sense of family. A tight nit group of people who, through their love of the arts, get to bring so much joy and pleasure every day. I would question that they themselves have the ‘nicest job’ because I surely didn’t want to leave.
But what breaks my heart is that endeavours like this are not easily fundable. Gaining grants and sponsorship for what I feel is such a vital player in education is a difficult and sometimes almost impossible task. So when I leave charities like Theatre Alibi I cant help sometimes but feel a little helpless. Helpless in the sense I wish I could wave a magic wand and fund their next year. But this isn’t secret millionaire, unfortunately, it’s the Nicest Job in Britain. So I add my own creative ways of making an impact; let’s hope that at least one of those schools I helped mail signs up next year!