Shows delayed but food deliveries go out on time

School boxes sorted at the Abbey Theatre ready to be delivered.

School boxes sorted at the Abbey Theatre ready to be delivered. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

While the show currently can't go on at one St Albans theatre, the venue is ensuring food deliveries still get out on time.

The Abbey Theatre, the home of the Company of Ten, has given space in its premises over to the Sopwell foodbank so organisers can sort and batch up deliveries to families in the locality.

Just as St Albans came out of the second lockdown in December, the Abbey Theatre offered to host Sopwell Community Trust’s foodbank project.

Little did they know that within days, it would be the only activity able to take place in the building as the city moved from Tier 4 into a third national lockdown.

Sadly, during the pandemic, the growing need for this service meant that organiser, Raihaanah Ahmed, was unable to continue to accommodate it in her home.

Food boxes sorted at the Abbey Theatre ready to be delivered to families.

Food boxes sorted at the Abbey Theatre ready to be delivered to St Albans families. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

The theatre at Westminster Lodge was an ideal location, with a large rehearsal room, plenty of parking, and easy access to the Sopwell area.

Raihaanah and Abbey Theatre manager Tina Swain met during a council Zoom meeting when Tina asked for advice on the theatre’s new diversity project.

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"We wanted to find the best ways to make contact with the local community and to show what we have to offer for everyone," said Tina.

"I invited Raihaanah to attend a performance of Building The Wall in October and it was soon clear that we had a resource which could benefit SCT."

By December, St Albans Foodbank was making a weekly drop-off at the theatre where SCT volunteers sort the donations into bags and boxes for delivery to local families.

Food boxes sorted at the Abbey Theatre ready to be delivered to families.

Food boxes sorted at the Abbey Theatre ready to be delivered to families. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

In the week leading up to Christmas, both the rehearsal room and large foyer at the theatre at the bottom of Holywell Hill were full of nets, bags and boxes of fresh produce, generously donated by local businesses and individuals.

"The demand for deliveries by our local foodbank has already tripled in recent weeks," said Raihaanah, "and we’re very grateful to the Abbey Theatre for offering us space when it’s most needed.

"I couldn’t have accommodated the amount of donated food in my own home, so having space at the theatre meant we could offer the service to many more people."

And the project shows no signs of winding down. In addition to delivering to local families, Sopwell Community Trust has now been contacted by a number of local schools.

Last Friday, they delivered their first batch of school lunch boxes to Mandeville School, and more are expected to follow in coming weeks.

The theatre has offered a base for this project for as long as it is needed.

"We feel privileged to be working with Raihaanah and Kelly and their fantastic team of volunteers to support the local community," added Abbey Theatre manager Tina.

"Our own activities may be on hold, but the theatre is still able to make a contribution."

A third lockdown means that performances at the Abbey Theatre have been temporarily suspended again, while the resident Company of Ten group, along with the rest of the entertainment industry in this country, await decisions on the future.

The St Albans theatre has been granted See It Safely status in a national scheme administered by UK Theatre. 

Before restrictions closed the venue's doors, the theatre was hosting 'hybrid' productions with live audiences in the auditorium and others watching streamed performances online at home.

The Abbey Theatre in St Albans has been awarded the See It Safely mark.

The Abbey Theatre in St Albans has been awarded the See It Safely mark. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

However, productions won't start again at the Abbey Theatre until the time is right.

"A move from lockdown, when it comes, will probably be back into the Tier system, so it still may not be possible to perform at all," said Karen Thomas, production executive for the Company.

"We won’t resume our activities until we feel it’s the right thing to do within the spirit of the law."

Endgame and Stones In His Pockets, originally scheduled for later this month and early February respectively, have been postponed until later this year.

Ticket holders have all been contacted and discussions are under way to decide what the next step might be.

For details of the Abbey Theatre’s COVID Secure procedures and updates on Company of Ten productions, visit www.abbeytheatre.org.uk


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