Reactivate became a charity in September 1996, taking over the work of a small group of volunteers (most of whom are still with us).
The original group had a background in the Theatre and shared a common belief that the only way to improve future theatre audiences was, and still is, to introduce Theatre performances into Schools at an early age; and the earlier, the better.
Through contact with a number of disabled people and Special Needs Schools, the group realised, that while there was no reason to exclude Special Needs children from this opportunity, disabled people, and disabled children in particular, have enormous difficulty in attending any sort of theatrical event. Despite the many attempts at improving access, Theatres can still be a daunting prospect for many disabled people; and for Special Needs Schools, the thought of a School trip to the Theatre becomes a logistical nightmare. The other perennial problem faced by Special Needs Schools is a general lack of finance within the education system, which can be particularly noticeable in the smaller, more rural Special Schools.
The group decided that if these problems were to be addressed, then it was particularly important, that any theatre productions should be taken to the Schools. This would allow the children to be happy and relaxed in their normal environment and so feel at ease to join in any participatory elements of the performance and would also eliminate the cost and difficulty of transporting large numbers of semi-ambulant children and wheelchair users to a theatre or venue. They also decided that Pantomime might make a very suitable medium for these visits. Pantomimes are recognised as being particularly accessible and an easy route into live theatre for any child; with their larger than life characters and stories that every one knows.
So with these objects in mind, the group headed by the Reactivate chairperson, Linda Griffiths set about raising funds to allow disabled youngsters to experience theatre both as performers and as an audience.
In 1992, the group began in a small way by raising enough money to allow a few local Special Schools to have a free performance, of a Pantomime being toured by the Bitesize Theatre Company. The feedback was overwhelmingly favourable and it proved to be an important learning exercise for all involved. Bitesize went away to look at ways of improving their shows for disabled audiences; increasing the visual elements; putting in more colour and movement; increasing audience participation; introducing more music; and smells. The group went off to raise more money to allow more Schools to benefit from their efforts and so the following year, 30 Special Schools in North Wales, the North West and North Midlands had free shows. Again, Bitesize provided the show. The response was again overwhelmingly positive and so it continued for another two years.
But over that time, the group, increasingly, began to receive replies from Trusts and other Charitable Organisations, saying that they would like to contribute to the appeals but that they were restricted to only giving to Registered Charities. The group decided that the best route forward was to become a Registered Charity and so Reactivate was born.
The charity still has no paid staff, being run entirely by the trustees and a number of able-bodied volunteers, who help to supplement the Charity's fund-raising with raffles and other events; as they all pursue the Charities mission to get live theatre into more of the Special Schools in the UK.
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