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.
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.
Total invested: £200,000