An insight into our reopening process: how the HOME Soon panel lead with access and audiences

Written by Kate Royle

We might be closing our doors again, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still bring live theatre, visual art and film to our audiences. We’re heading online this November and we’ve planned for this.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my spare room, my “HOME from home” office, and I’m feeling lucky to have one. Behind me are bits and pieces from my furlough life, and I’ll soon be dipping into that world again. It’s a tad cluttered! Boxes, bags of camping gear, and a blank, prepped, and primed canvas. Awaiting new directions, strokes of colour and form. A good metaphor to describe how we all might be feeling right now.

I joined the brilliant HOME team in February. Little did I know that within my first month, HOME would close. And it is happening again. The arts are retreating for another unpre…dictable (you’re welcome) amount of time.

We’ve achieved a lot since the first time. A huge transformation has taken place.

  • In September, our cinema sold at 52% capacity compared to 34% in September 2019.
  • From opening to reclosing, we’ve sold 12,426 tickets across our cinema, theatre and the gallery.
  • We sold 242 film screenings at over 90%.

Introducing the HOME Soon panel

It is with so much gratitude that I can write this blog as a part of the HOME Soon panel. A small but vital role in HOME’s strategic reopening plans. I was selected as the staff representative and for my experience in disability arts and raising the work and voices of underrepresented groups.

As a part of HOME’s rigorous consultation process, the HOME Soon panel are a group of eight people who were brought together back in July because they experience HOME in different ways: a mixture of staff, volunteers and artists including our Freelance Taskforce – read more about this role here.

We wanted to ensure that we heard the diverse perspectives from people who want HOME and our audiences to thrive in this challenging time. Together, we represent and have experience working with people who are severely affected by the pandemic crisis. Champions of underrepresented groups who already face significant barriers to arts and culture.

It was disheartening to watch organisations and their talented staff begin to fade away. These organisations provide a wealth of value to the public. They mean so much more to people than just entertainment. And don’t we appreciate that more than ever now?

As a keen arts marketer, whilst on furlough (the first-time round!), I spent a lot of my time observing the ebb and flow of strategies undertaken by arts and cultural organisations. All fighting to survive the ongoing effects of the pandemic. All asking the same questions…

“When and if we reopen again, how do we begin to welcome back and protect our loyal audiences, and how do we attract new ones during a pandemic?”

“How do we engage with people who are most affected by the crisis with meaning and impact?”

So far, HOME has survived the storm. We reopened our doors and a wealth of celebration and love poured back into the heart of Manchester’s vibrant cultural scene. It’s good to be able to serve art and culture to Manchester again, although we’ve now had to close again – temporarily.

But we wouldn’t have made it here without such a dedicated and talented team, and our loyal audiences and stakeholders. You can read more about the work behind the scenes in HOME’s Executive Director, Jon Gilchrist’s blog here.

The HOME Soon panel played a crucial part the ‘listening’ phase of our planning.

The panel members are:

Jon Gilchrist, Executive Director at HOME
Marisa Draper, Head of Engagement at HOME
Kate Royle, Staff representative, Marketing and Sales Officer at HOME and champion for underrepresented artists and accessibility
Eileen Hamilton, HOME Volunteer
Melissa Johns and Cherylee Houston, Actresses and Creative Leads at Triple C
Darren Pritchard, of Vogue-through fame, Co-Artistic Director Black Gold Arts/House of Ghetto, HOME Freelance Taskforce
Frankie Blaus, Young Identity

Across eight weeks, we met weekly (virtually) to discuss and inform on all areas of HOME’s reopening plans. We shared unique insights, perspectives and constructive ideas to help shape these plans and cater for as many needs as possible.

Together, we discussed topics including:

  • New safety measures
  • Access requirements
  • Approaches to programming
  • Signposting, ticketing process and messaging
  • Fundraising plans
  • Test Events
  • Feedback on reopening
  • Reopening summary and audience responses & Panel Legacy

Below, members of the panel describe their experience of being a part of this process:


“Don’t forget BSL interpreters and their position to ensure visibility”

“Incorporating access will benefit everyone”

“We had every faith that HOME would continue to champion disability inclusion, even in the middle of a global pandemic.

“For the last couple of months, TripleC have been involved in weekly panel discussions with HOME and other artists to ensure that the reopening of the venue would be as inclusive as it can be.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with HOME to make sure that everybody can get back to enjoying everything that organisation has to offer.

“As always, the team listened, implemented and followed up whilst sharing their learning with the rest of the teams along the way.

“Welcome home, HOME. It’s good to have you back.”

Melissa Johns, Actress and Creative Lead of Triple C

Visitor Experience

“A visitor is going to want a positive experience and reassurance. There are still a few things we’re not reassured about.”

“A smile goes a long way”

“I could feel at our first meeting of the HOME Soon Panel, that everyone involved had HOME’s unique ethos and safety, in hand, in equal measures. Over the weeks, as we moved through the themes of what we wanted to achieve, it was important to maintain a balance of making people feel safe and giving them a positive and enjoyable experience. It was valuable to listen to a wide range of concerns and suggestions.

“Over six weeks we moved from HOME Soon to Welcome HOME. All staff worked extremely hard to follow the health and safety measures, as well as accessibility and inclusion in their plans. Creativity also played a big part in reassuring everyone. HOME is one of the first venues to reopen under social distancing. A huge well done and thank you to an amazing team. It’s good to be HOME!”

Eileen Hamilton, HOME Volunteer

Programming and catwalking back into HOME

“Limitations and parameters create great art.”

“Could we do a Vogue-through?” 

“Limitations also brought about new conversations and new ways of working. It was these new limitations that brought about the Home Soon panel. The Home Soon panel was a weekly conversation about getting HOME open. Health & Safety, programming and new ways of working were all discussed.

“It is in times of great political change that many artists come into their own. We constantly adapt to theatrical fashion fads, funding trends and opportunities appearing and disappearing. We are going through a global pandemic and just witnessed the biggest civil rights movement ever with the Black Lives Matter movement. So, whether you react, rebel or respond to what’s happening in the world change is inevitable.

“A phrase that keeps flying around is the ‘new normal’. So, this new normal will hopefully create a ‘new theatre’, whatever that may be. Hopefully one with artists at the heart of it all.”

Darren Pritchard, Black Gold Arts/ House of Ghetto, Freelance Taskforce

Creative limitations provide opportunity

A lot of our conversations as a panel were positive, hopeful, and forward-thinking, despite the current limitations on our lives.

We’re returning to the blank canvas. Starting afresh, and evolving to be even better than before, with art and audiences’ needs at its beating heart.

Who knows what lies ahead…

We’ve learnt that when creative constraints and barriers are set upon us, within those parameters is the potential for new opportunities and re-evaluation. To be even more creative in ways we couldn’t have imagined eight months ago.