Today is our first day as a Theatre of Sanctuary.
Still reeling from last night's ceremony (and panto extravaganza!) where we were joined by our family of refugees, asylum seekers, old locals and new locals, this morning we take the opportunity to reflect on what this prestigious award and important responsibility means for Cast.
As Cast's Director Deborah Rees said in her speech last night, this award marks the start of a journey and not the end. But what does that journey look like, and how can we involve our community, audiences and staff along the way?
Since opening in 2013, Cast has had a track record for inclusion, fairness, openness and community belonging, values which were part of the fabric of everyone here and everything we did - spearheaded by the leadership of Director Kully Thiarai and Deputy Director Clare Clarkson. But with all that said, we knew there were multiple barriers that prevent people from having an equal opportunity of access to the arts and since 2013 we've worked every day to address that.
In 2016 a handful of colleagues decided that we needed to have a more strategic way of understanding and meeting the needs of our most vulnerable local people, and with the generous help of The Paul Hamlyn Foundation we were able to create Social Seats. You can hear more about that incredibly special programme by watching the video below, but basically we worked together with some of our most vulnerable (and most exciting, loving, beautiful, inspirational) local people to learn from them and change the way we do things.
So it's fair to say that what started as a gathering of the willing, has become a movement of the people.
By opening up, and letting the people change us, your theatre has been transformed.
Part of this programme were a very special group of people - the men, women, children, volunteers and friends of Doncaster Conversation Club, Doncaster Minster Literacy Project and the Refugee Council.
Since welcoming our sanctuary seekers as equals and partners to share in our spaces some amazing things have happened.
We've watched performances together, written poetry together, spoken Truth to the Power together, written plays together, pretended to be trees doing physical theatre together and now we're working with the National Theatre to perform in a production on our stage - together with over 100 other local particpants.
But this is all the floor of our ambitions, not the ceiling.
Over the next few years we will redouble our efforts to not only be inclusive of our sanctuary seeker community but benefit from their world views, work alongside them as advocates, welcome their children to play with our own and develop artists from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.
We will develop a volunteering programme, the first of its kind for Cast, which will see sanctuary seekers join alongside their fellow Doncastrians in flagship creative opportunities.
We are committed to tackling hate, racism and divisions in our communities. We will work with our partners DN4ALL to raise awareness in the wider communities around tolerance through projects of unity.
There are other theatres of sanctuary, theatre companies of sanctuary, cities of sanctuary - and I would urge everyone reading this to connect with their local networks doing great things for sanctuary seekers - but there is something special about our friendship as a theatre with this community.
And we're so grateful for this joyous opportunity and thank City of Sanctuary for awarding us this acknowledgement.
Here's to a 2020 filled with togetherness and love and we wish our refugee and asylum seeker communities a wonderful Christmas and we're so thankful to share Cast with you.
If you would like more information about our work with refugees and asylum seekers, please contact Nicola Doyle, Community Producer at email@example.com.