With Christmas rapidly approaching and 2021 imminent, perhaps it’s time to take stock. 2020 has been a bruising year, and during challenging times it’s tempting to push things from our thoughts. How many times have we heard “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over?”
This year has indeed been filled with tragedies and challenges. Personally, but also as a community, a cultural sector, nationally and globally, perhaps 2020 will be remembered as the most difficult year that any of us have experienced in several generations.
But it is also an undeniable fact that we have experienced countless acts of kindness and generosity which reveal the very best of people. Without the low moments, it is debatable whether we would appreciate these high points as much.
Setting aside those small victories, there have been a few big moments that warranted celebration too. We will go through all of these peaks and valleys below as we review our year at Jacksons Lane.
PEAK: London International Mime Festival (LIMF)
Fresh from the success of our Christmas show, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we came into the new year with high hopes.
January is a time of year that we always look forward to at Jacksons Lane because it means that the London International Mime Festival is round the corner. Spread across London, but with many events taking place at Jacksons Lane, LIMF is a wonderful showcase of contemporary circus and a host of innovative British and international visual theatre.
Our audience adored shows including Dead Good by Vamos Theatre, and Raven by Still Hungry. The building was buzzing with excited guests. It was all going so well, and then...
VALLEY: Boiler goes kaput, leading to chilly months
Out of nowhere, our boiler gives up the ghost. Much to the dismay of the Jacksons Lane team, the entire building is plunged into freezing temperatures. Hats and scarves are suddenly in vogue in the office.
Those thoughts are quickly pushed from the mind as the team turn their attention to guests at the LIMF.
Quick thinking leads to the arrival of several gas heaters, and despite a bit of discomfort, the festival can continue and community classes go on. We're all still so thankful to these class operators for being so understanding in those challenging conditions.
PEAK: February Half Term
With the boiler still not operational, a routine has settled in. It mainly revolves around huddling as close to the gas heaters as possible and thinking about the sun.
Despite the difficulties, the team pulls off a very successful February Half Term. Seeing families enjoying Hansel & Gretel is a lovely moment.
Rumblings of the grim Covid-19 news in Europe begin feeling like the thunder of an approaching storm. But there was no time to dwell on that, because...
VALLEY: “The Flood”
The team, already half-frozen, runs for cover as the brown liquid seeps down the walls like a scene from The Shining. The entire office is evacuated as the clean-up operation begins.
Sadly, in the event, now referred to internally as “the flood”, laptops, stationery and other valuable equipment is lost.
Things can only go up from here, right?
Peak: Woman Rise
Despite the challenges of the winter, spirits are high, and several projects are realised which makes the entire team proud.
In February our Creative Learning and Artistic teams worked arm-in-arm to produce a physical and mental strength building workshop with Strong Lady Charmaine Childs as part of our Woman Rise project. This broad project focussed on Haringey-based women and helped them to learn about security, self-care and empowerment through performance, skills classes and group sessions. It ran from 2017 to 2020 and was supported by the DCMS Tampon Tax Fund.
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The positive momentum and energy carried forward into the highly anticipated opening of shibari-themed circus production Everything I See I Swallow, which opened to a sold-out audience. Little did anyone know that this would be the last shown presented on our stage for several months.
VALLEY: Covid-19 changes everything
Just like that, Covid-19 entered the British Isles and affected the lives of every man, woman and child in the nation.
Efforts to deep clean the building are valiant but only serve to tide off the inevitable closure and cancellation of all activities on site.
A decision is taken, and on March 16th, Jacksons Lane hosts its final guests before the national lockdown begins.
It’s a surreal feeling. The building is a conduit for so many different communities to gather together. Without families, circus artists, performers, guests and staff, it simply isn’t Jacksons Lane.
Financially, Covid-19 is potentially fatal for the entire organisation. Earned income, which comes from renting out spaces and selling tickets for shows, normally represents 50% of our income each year. Overnight, these pools of funding fall virtually to nothing. It is a bleak time indeed.
With uncertainty hanging in the air, the members of staff begin to work remotely.
PEAK: Green shoots of inspiration
It’s always darkest before the dawn. Despite reeling from current events, the team rallies brilliantly and decides that the coming months will be spent serving all of our communities in any way that we can.
The result is a rash of new online classes, tutorials, programmes and help groups, which allow people to stay in touch, heal and develop through the medium of circus and performance.
Lockdown Lunches are created, with sees Haringey-based over-55s meet on Zoom weekly to share spoken word performances and other art.
JL Shorts and JL Quarantine Sessions offer online viewers the chance to learn circus skills from the comforts of their homes, armed with only a few household items and tools. A highlight of this programme is a circus and dance workout led by Dergin Tokmak, an artist and wheelchair user from the beloved Cirque Du Soleil.
Together, helped to enable enriching partnerships between arts practitioners, care workers and health professionals in Haringey. The project was supported with sponsorship from City Bridge.
Feeling Good, funded by Cadent Foundation was launched to re-engage our Christmas Day guests who we know are on their own right now, and help provide them with what they need – whether that's a chat, a number for local essential services, or help using available technology to stay connected.
These projects and others generated many positive comments from everyone who took part in them. It is truly touching for all involved to feel like they have made a difference for people in a difficult time.
Another silver lining during this period is the number of donations we received from our visitors and hirers. Many chose not to seek refunds for cancelled shows, and this made a huge difference during a time when our cash flow was acutely impacted by the pandemic.
VALLEY: Building remains shut
Despite the positives of the previous months, one fact remains the same: our building is firmly shut and has been for months. Where there were once in-person meetings, Zoom has now become the norm.
The entire team is upbeat, however, as fantastic news is about to arrive.
PEAK: Capital project is agreed, Closer and NHS
After months of discussions with major supporters Arts Council England and Haringey Council, an updated plan is agreed for a major capital building project, which will transform Jacksons Lane.
The project will allow Jacksons Lane to emerge from the pandemic with a more accessible building, that can operate safely in a post-Covid environment. Improvements to the studio spaces and other facilities will allow the building to serve various artistic and local community groups long into the future.
As if to prove this point, Closer is released. This short film, produced by Jacksons Lane, is a collaboration between three European circus companies, which explores intimacy and touch in a year of distance, and finding community in a time of solitude.
Although the work was shot away from Jacksons Lane, the building is about to spark back into life. Whilst it remained shut to the public, in June, workers use various studio spaces to create scrubs for NHS workers. It seems that despite everything Jacksons Lane remains firmly entrenched within the community.
AUTUMN and beyond
PEAK: Supporting artists, funding grants and Christmas Day
The arts, cultural and hospitality sectors have been some of the hardest hit of all, during 2020. Performing artists of all disciplines were trapped in a position where they were unable to earn income but also not able to gain access to spaces where they could develop new work for after the lockdown.
Having nurtured talent and introduced the world to some wonderful contemporary circus talent over the years, we wanted to do something to help artists in a time of need.
With this in mind, Jacksons Lane offered artists free use of the theatre space to rehearse and create new work.
Over 2 months, the building buzzed with creativity and energy that has been so sorely missed since March. In all, 36 brand new pieces of contemporary circus have been created, with more than 2,000 hours donated to the artists during this time.
Although this won’t help them to recover lost bookings and income, we hope that in time it will allow dozens of artists to launch successful works which will play to packed audiences after social distancing ends.
Our work within our communities has not gone unnoticed. We were extremely proud to finish as Runner Up in the 2020 Haringey Community Impact Awards for the Community Organisation of the Year category.
Jacksons Lane is fortunate to have the support of both Arts Council England and the London Borough of Haringey. In the autumn, we were reminded of this once more, as we received news of two successful funding applications to the ACE Cultural Recovery Fund.
In October, ACE confirmed that we would receive £197K to support our ongoing operations until March. This was then followed by the confirmation of a further £415K grant, which will help us to return some essential elements to the plan that improve our prospects for the future, support artists and help serve our communities better, internationally and locally.
On the face of it, this is a great deal of money. However, context is key when it comes to funding grants such as this. During this financial year, Jacksons Lane has lost more than £500K worth or normal operating income since the March lockdown began. Furthermore, the original total for the capital building project was cut from £5.2M to £3.75M; although this has since risen again, the funding does not represent a silver bullet that will see us out of the woods in perpetuity.
Despite this, the funding news and the return of artists into the building was a shot in the arm for Jacksons Lane. Finally, we could look towards 2021 with a feeling of excitement for a better tomorrow.
All of these developments in the capital project meant that we had to vacate the building once more so that construction works can begin. Although there are tinges of sadness, many are excited about the prospect of returning to a building without leaks and weeping walls.
For over 40 years, Jacksons Lane has hosted elderly and disabled north London residents on Christmas Day. Despite the challenges of the year, we were determined to keep this tradition alive, even if it meant thinking outside of the box.
The result was an ambitious plan that would see us recruit volunteers to create and deliver a raft of festive hampers directly to guests. We needed financial support to do this and were humbled to receive more than £19,000 of donations from the public at the beginning of December for the project.
We take huge pride in our work for various communities, and the support we received was a wonderful reminder of what this work means to people around north London and beyond.
VALLEY: Another Lockdown
It wouldn’t be 2020 without a sting in the tail, right?
As we headed towards December, the news of a second national lockdown was extremely disappointing. We were forced to cancel plans for our Winter Wander event - which would have seen 20 young people parade across Haringey in wintery costumes, although this was able to take place online.
We were also forced to delay the live circus performance element of the project - although we're hoping to do this again in the spring.
The new lockdown rules once again remind us of the ongoing travails of our colleagues working across the cultural sectors.
Roll on 2021
2020 has been a rollercoaster. But there have been some great moments mixed in with the challenges. We’d like to thank everyone for continuing to support Jacksons Lane through thick and thin during this tumultuous year.
Eat mince pies, be merry, and have a wonderful break over the holidays. We can’t wait to welcome you back into the building from next summer. Roll on 2021!