Second term dawns for Leeds theatre company’s cultural college

The Slung Low team outside The Holbeck.
The Slung Low team outside The Holbeck.

The latest courses to be run by theatre company Slung Low are an eclectic mix of the practical and the creative, with a dash of whimsy. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Leeds theatre company Slung Low have always thought outside the box – and their ambition and imagination know no bounds.

This is evident in the spectacular, large-scale immersive productions they deliver, including the award-winning Flood, one of the highlights of Hull City of Culture 2017, and more recently in the launch last September of the first term of their Cultural Community College.

They offered a variety of courses, on a pay-what-you-decide basis, that included stargazing, decorative blacksmithing, and vegetarian Indian cookery. It was a huge success with over 350 people attending and half the courses being taken up within the first 24 hours of the programme announcement.

“It was really joyful to see how enthusiastic people were about it and how the wider creative community supported it,” says artistic director Alan Lane. “You have these ideas but they don’t mean anything unless you put them into practice and we were over the moon at how people embraced it all.”

Today, the company announce the second term’s programme – a wonderfully eclectic mix of the practical and the creative, with an added dash of whimsy. Classes begin next month and include woodwork, podcasting, mental health first aid and T’ai Chi but also fire-eating and a one-off session called junkheap challenge which involves making something from scratch out of recycled materials.

In addition there is a strand entitled Big Ideas which will feature talks from artists sharing their passion projects, including Ian McMillan talking about Sir Alec Clegg’s book The Excitement of Writing, a work which inspired him as a poet, and novelist Adelle Stripe speaking about the extraordinary life and work of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar.

It was always the intention that beyond the first term, all the courses on offer would be decided by the members of the college. “We haven’t been able to do absolutely everything that people wanted us to do but I think we have a good balance,” says Lane. “The junkheap challenge came out of somebody saying that they would just like to make something a bit mad; and people seem really keen to do something that is completely out of their comfort zone – hence the fire-eating course.”

The unusual classroom setting for the first term’s courses was a specially adapted yellow double decker bus, which will be in use again this time around, but students will now also have access to Slung Low’s brand new home at The Holbeck social club. The oldest working men’s club in the country, it is not far from the HUB, the railway arches in Holbeck which have been the company’s base for the past eight years.

In another example of thoughtful community partnership, Slung Low approached the club, which was has been run by a team of dedicated volunteers for the past few years, with a proposal. They would pay off the club’s historic debts and take on its running and management.

With uncertainty over Slung Low’s future at the HUB since Network Rail has been selling off their railway arches, it seemed an ideal solution. The company are currently in the process of moving across, putting in a new light and sound system and expanding the stage. The seating capacity for their audiences will go up from 88 in the HUB to 200 in The Holbeck and the plan is to be fully installed there by the end of this month.

“One of the genuine privileges of having Arts Council funding is that it means we can do these things,” says Lane. “For a long time now we have realised that our job is to champion the arts and community. Some things are important just because they are important not necessarily because they turn a profit. We are committed to Holbeck and The Holbeck.”

For more information about Slung Low’s community college and to book a place visit www.slunglow.org/holbeck

The new term begins on February 17.