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Writing Home: Opera North invites community to compose new songs for its home in Leeds

Opera North has launched Writing Home, a community songwriting project which will help create an innovative arts installation as part of the Howard Opera Centre, the Company’s redeveloped home in Leeds due to open later this year.

The Howard Opera Centre has been designed as a creative space for the whole community to use, and we aim to embody that purpose in the fabric of the building by creating an interactive musical trail on the theme of home. Contributions will be recorded by schools, community groups, the Opera North Youth Company and members of the public, with visitors able to listen to the resulting performances as they walk around the building.

As part of the project, a six-week course of free Writing Home workshops will be held online at 6.30pm from Monday 22 February. Led by professional musicians Thandanani Gumede and Dave Evans, participants will be asked to explore what ‘home’ means to them through a variety of musical genres before creating their own compositions. A selection of these will be featured as part of the final trail. Everyone is welcome to join. No previous musical experience is necessary, just the willingness to try something new.

Jacqui Cameron, Education Director, Opera North, said:

“We will be embedding the voices of the people of Leeds and the North in the very walls of the Howard Opera Centre to create a sense of ownership and to encourage everyone to see it as their artistic home. The word ‘home’ has assumed even greater importance over the past year, and this project aims to give participants the time to reflect specifically on what it means to them, and why it is important to us all to have spaces where we feel ‘at home’.

“We hope this project will also provide a boost at a time when we are aware how much people are missing their usual evening meet-ups. Thanda is looking forward to finding the inner composer in everyone who takes part, helping them create something that will provide a great testament to the creativity of the people of Leeds in our new building.”

Despite the setbacks posed by the pandemic, Opera North has continued with its £18m redevelopment project on New Briggate in its home city of Leeds, albeit it with new Covid-19 safety measures in place. As well as providing new rehearsal facilities for the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North, a costume and wigs workshop, and administrative offices, the Howard Opera Centre will include several communal areas open to the public. These include a new, flexible Education Centre which will enable audiences of all ages and backgrounds to come together to learn about, and participate in, music making. Anyone accessing the Education Centre will use the same entrance as the artists and staff in a bid to inspire the younger generation and to encourage a feeling of parity and belonging.

Other public spaces will include a fully accessible atrium and a new restaurant and bar which will replace a row of previously vacant shop units. The Company’s eclectic performance venue, the Howard Assembly Room, is also due to reopen with an enhanced programme of musical and spoken word events. The work is being delivered by Sheffield-based contractors Henry Boot Construction with the first phase due to open in the late spring, with final completion in the autumn.

Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North, commented:

“We want young musicians to feel that they’re an integral part of Opera North which is why we’re delighted to be able to give them the opportunity to rehearse in the same building as the Chorus and the Orchestra. Having our own dedicated Education Centre will facilitate more collaborations with mainstage, open up more learning and performing opportunities for children and young people, and provide extraordinary musical experiences for the wider community every day.

“We very much hope that people will see the Howard Opera Centre as their artistic home in the city, with Writing Home marking the first step in ensuring they feel a part of the building and everything it represents.”

The overall target for the Music Works fundraising campaign is £18 million. Opera North has raised over £17 million to date, including a significant philanthropic gift of £11.25 million from Dr Keith Howard OBE, President of Opera North and founder of Emerald Group Publishing.

Leeds City Council has pledged to contribute £750,000, together with the lease of the vacant shops on New Briggate, and Arts Council England has contributed £1 million including a £500,000 Capital Kickstart Award. The balance of the funds has come from private donors, trusts and supporters, including a £1 million donation from The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, as well as a significant contribution from Mrs Maureen Pettman and major gifts from a number of private individuals. In addition, gifts have been pledged by The Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Charitable Foundation, Wolfson Foundation, Backstage Trust, The Kirby Laing Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust, Sir George Martin Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, J Paul Getty Jnr General Charitable Trust, The Arnold Burton 1998 Charitable Trust and Alerce Trust.

The Company has recently launched the Play Your Part campaign seeking support from Patrons, Friends and audience members, as well as continuing to attract funding from the business community in Leeds and further charitable trusts and foundations as it looks to raise the £500,000 still needed for the project.