Case Study:
Factory of Creativity

The Show Must Go On


The Full Story.

William grew up on a farm.

“I knew I was different.” Listening to Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat in the car on family holidays allowed him to dream.

“I connected to Joseph. He was rejected but ended up becoming someone. Growing up, I imagined I could achieve something too, even though I was not having a great time at school.”

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How has Covid 19 impacted the Factory of Creativity?

William graduated from Lane Theatre Arts in 2011. Performing took him across the world, but a few years in, he had surgery on his vocal cords which meant he had to give up his touring life.

William started producing and found joy in creating opportunity for others.

“It brought a new passion, and that led on to the idea behind Hope Mill Theatre – what’s now Factory of Creativity.”

Moving to Manchester with his husband Joseph, they saw a need for an accessible venue for emerging artists.

A former Cotton Mill, with no heating and basic plumbing, was on Gumtree. They loved it, but the landlord couldn’t imagine a theatre in the district, notorious for deprivation and crime. After five months of persevering, the landlord agreed.

“October 2015, we got the keys.”

The pair got a £5k start-up loan and threw in their savings. The first six months, they lived in the theatre. If a play made money, it was ploughed into facilities. They began to win awards and critical acclaim.

“We got a lot of industry recognition because we filled a gap in the regional market, and lots of artists were coming through our doors and developing their craft.”

In the first couple of years, they produced 13 musicals, two plays, five London transfers and UK tours.

“I was doing 100-hour weeks, but we always saw the bigger picture and what we believed it had the power to do.”

As a Limited Company, the future of the 140-seat theatre was at risk. Key Fund helped them transition to a charity in 2019. They took on a new space 50 yards from the theatre, refurbished into a community and performance hub. In the first lockdown, audiences donated £25,000 in the first few weeks.

Grants, alongside online ticket sales, ensured they were able to pay every contracted artist, employing over 60 freelance artists in one show alone; a production of Rent streamed to 7,000 households. Its LGBTQI+ festival also moved online, supporting four artists while providing free webinars on trans representation in the arts.

“It brought a new passion and love, and that sort of led on to the idea behind Hope Mill Theatre, and what’s now Factory of Creativity.”

The Hope Mill Theatre School opens this summer after being delayed by Covid. Education is a key objective. “A lot of people in the arts come from privilege. We want to provide affordable training in a Saturday school for ages four to 18, and 50% of the places will be free.” The show will go on.

Loan: £100,000
Grant: £100,000
Total invested: £200,000

“Key Fund have always been supportive of our journey. When we found out about them, it felt too good to be true because as a new legal entity, we couldn’t get grants or loans. Without Key Fund we certainly wouldn’t be in the position we’re in now, and might still be trying to find someone to help us get the charity started. The good that’s come out of us becoming a charity is huge, and we’ve been able to achieve so many of our objectives. We’re really pleased it’s gone the way it has, we’re just very grateful.”

Will Whelton
Factory of Creativity


Janelle Thompson

Facilitator at the Factory of Creativity Play Reading community group.

“The Arts have been a lifeline for people in lockdown,” Janelle said. “Yet the industry has been largely ignored. It’s devastating, like you’ve just been disregarded.”


Janelle moved to Preston to go to university and worked in education and community theatre jobs, before finding an agent to focus on acting.

“I heard a bit about Hope Mill and thought they were definitely people I need to be involved with.”

As a black actor, she is passionate about its inclusive programming. “They have The Wiz on at Christmas and I’m absolutely beside myself. It’s an all-black cast, it’s going to be brilliant! It’s aspirational. It’s hugely important to have somewhere local residents can see magnificent productions without West End prices.”

During lockdown, the theatre appointed Janelle to host its successful play readings, which had to move from a community setting to Zoom, with around 15 people on a ‘pay as you feel’ model.

“It’s a really wide-ranging age group, and people in different stages of their creative journey.” Janelle started facilitating the Zooms in February 2021. “They bring joy and people together.” It’s a vocation she’s compelled towards, for her own happiness and wellbeing.

“To not be able to do the thing you love and work in a supermarket to get by is devastating, it’s just not what you trained for.” The work provided Janelle with a financial buffer.

“It’s been hugely important because I’ve had that bit of cash coming in, on top of that there’s the feeling that you’re being useful.”

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