Company brings community theatre back to life

The OVO theatre group has rescued and renovated an empty building in St Albans, opening it up as arts venue and community hub

There are too many empty buildings in Britain today. The Big Issue’s Fill ‘Em Up campaign has called for greater support for social enterprises with fresh idea on how to bring empties back into use.

One small theatre company in Hertfordshire has shown how to rescue and breathe new life into a derelict arts venue.

The OVO theatre company has saved the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans and transformed it into a community space providing training opportunities to aspiring talent.

“The place had been dark for 18 months which was a real shame,” remembers Adam Nichols, founder and artistic director of OVO. “We felt there was a need for a small-scale arts venue that does things for the community, and we felt we could do a really good job of running it.”

There is a lack of high-quality artistic opportunities out there for young people

Thanks to investment from the local authority and Big Issue Invest – The Big Issue group’s social investment arm – OVO now a extensive program of activities.

As well as has been putting on 100 live performances a year – from Shakespeare to opera to musical theatre – the place has also been opened up to drama, ballet and music classes for young people.

Many of the children in the youth theatre group took part in OVO’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream this summer.

“There is a lack of high-quality artistic opportunities out there for young people,” says Nichols. “We really want to give them the chance to participate in a professional environment.”

“Because of cuts to arts funding in recent years, a lot of venues across the country have gone. We think our model, using professionals and volunteers and getting the community really involved is one that works really well.”

Natalia M Fernandez, one of Big Issue Invest’s investment managers, added: “Our investment has enabled the venue to improve its theatre facilities and learning space.

“It’s a great example of dedicated team making great use of a local resource and providing new opportunities for people to learn new skills.”