Combating Social Isolation: Chichester Festival Theatre’s Buddies Scheme

Omid Djalili (Tevye) and Company in Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo Johan Persson

It began with a chance conversation with a long-standing member of our audience. She was 92 and loved the theatre but sadly didn’t feel up to coming on her own any more.

That got us thinking. So much focus today is on finding the “new” audiences and theatre-makers of the future: at Chichester Festival Theatre we have the biggest youth theatre in the country and work extensively with young people. But there are many other people who might love to come to the theatre but for various reasons aren’t able to do so.

Thus the CFT Buddies scheme was born. Potential users of the scheme may include elderly and socially isolated patrons; those with learning difficulties or who are on the autistic spectrum; and individuals with physical disabilities or with eyesight and hearing difficulties.

Our next step is to launch the scheme for regular performances in the Festival Theatre on a one-to-one basis. This month, a pool of 30 volunteer Buddies will be available for the three plays which make up Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests between 2 – 13 October.

The scheme is being publicised through our Access list and we will also be asking the Theatre’s 10,000-strong Friends to find anyone who might have come regularly in the past but now struggles to do so. We will offer the opportunity for patrons to meet or speak to their Buddy prior to the performance.

We’ll also be producing a guide to make clear exactly what a Buddy’s role is: they are not a replacement for a carer in terms of medical or personal needs but are there to assist and provide companionship. This will be given to patrons and Buddies to manage expectations from both sides.

Our Access members receive a 40% discount for their ticket and for their companion.  A supporter’s donation has funded the Buddies’ tickets for the first phase of the scheme, and we will be seeking further donors for the future.

Ultimately, we see the Buddying scheme as a way to open our whole programme to a wider audience who currently feel unable to attend by themselves. We’re very much hoping it will become an important extension of our mission to welcome as wide and diverse an audience as possible.

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Perhaps this is a way to encourage more Deaf BSL users to get to interpreted theatre performances.  We appreciate theatre is generally a ‘hearing thing’, but if a ‘buddy’ who could sign well went with the Deaf person, even just for the first visit, that might help them to feel more comfortable and understand the processes and what to expect, and then feel they could go to every interpreted or accessible show.

Why not let us know your thoughts!!

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