Back in 2013, United Response’s Community Network in Cheriton were awarded £650, through our community grants programme, to organise a Christmas pantomime.

There’s an incredible amount involved in putting on a pantomime and it really takes a team effort from lots of people with different talents and interests. You need aspiring actors, dancers, singers, set designers, costume and prop makers, writers – the list goes on! Which of course means you can attract a huge range of people within a community. They decided to include ‘A very amateur pantomime’ in the title to encourage all abilities.

They started their journey in June, wary of the task they were taking on, and by Christmas they were performing ‘A very amateur pantomime: Robinson Crusoe’. They performed three times and each performance was full to capacity, raising almost £400 even though tickets were free. After such a huge success, and the news their local drama club had more than tripled their prices, they decided to put some of the funds towards the set-up of their own drama group.

Creating lasting community links

Roll on three years and they have just finished their 3rd annual pantomime! In their first pantomime they named the villain after the mayor at the time – Roger West. He enjoyed it so much he starred as the dame in the second; ‘A very amateur pantomime: Ali Baba and the Four Tie Thieves’.

The Cheriton Commuity Network pantomime - Roger with some of the cast

Roger with some of the cast of Robinson Crusoe

Roger is also a local councillor and has since worked alongside some of the people we support to organise the Christmas light switch on in Cheriton for the last two years. Through the contact made with Roger, the Community Network are regularly invited to fundraising activities and have the support of five other local councillors. They’ve even been chosen as the new Mayor’s Charity!

The local community warden, who starred in one of the pantomimes, has also built a great relationship with the service. He often visits and shares his photography magazines as well as his talents as a DJ at birthday parties. The service has also started to build relationships with the local children’s centres and the local church – the list of community links made is endless!

The Cheriton Community Warden in this year
The community warden in this year’s pantomime

This year’s pantomime; ‘A very amateur pantomime: Hansel and Gretel’ sold out again and they even had to bring in extra chairs! The audience is always widely diverse because the pantomimes are open to all and everyone has a good time.

One reveller said: ‘Hansel & Gretel was stonking! Made my Christmas! Fun, bright, inclusive, natural, free... Hope there's many more to come. Plaudits for everyone!’

The Cheriton Warblers
The Cheriton Warblers, local choir, warming up the audience beforehand

The bonds that have been made are incredibly valuable to both the people we support and their local community. On the surface it may not seem as if a pantomime can create such meaningful, ongoing relationships within a community, but it seems obvious from the experience of the Community Network just how cherished it has become for them.

This project is a perfect example of what our community grants programme is all about; using a small grant to spark something bigger that nurtures and builds long-term relationships between the people we support and their local communities. Without your generous donations these grants wouldn’t be possible.

Sarah Riddlestone, fundraising assistant.
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