Stagetext is one of the first arts organisations to relocate out of London to the South East as part of our ambitious plan to bring more access to the regions. The move is part of Arts Council England’s Transfer Programme who are prioritising investment outside London and targeting Levelling Up for Culture Places. After an independent feasibility study, the Mercury Theatre was chosen to be our new base.
Stagetext’s plan is to work closely with a wide range of arts, culture and heritage organisations within the region, so that more people can enjoy being part of the thriving arts scene on offer in the South East. By joining forces with the Mercury, both organisations will work together to put access at the heart of the creative process and everything they do.
Whilst continuing our work in London, Stagetext will develop a new regional model, to engage with new audiences across the region who may have previously felt excluded – not just deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people – but also those who have English as an additional language and neurodivergent people.
Melanie Sharpe, Stagetext’s Chief Executive, explains why the move is so important:
“I’m thrilled to say that the Mercury Theatre is a natural fit for our ambitious plans. The Mercury is a key cultural hub in the region and has demonstrated its passion and commitment to accessibility and will help us put access at the heart of the creative process.
Our research has shown that if more captioning was offered by live venues, a third (31%) of the general public would be more likely to increase their attendance at live shows. This includes people who would be more likely to take friends or relatives who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing to an event more likely to go to events themselves.
We are very excited about the possibilities of creating new partnerships and relationships within the region which will help us realise our ambitions of embedding access in all kinds of arts and culture.”
Steve Mannix, Executive Director of the Mercury Theatre said: “We are over the moon to be working with Stagetext to bring more accessible arts and culture to the region and are proud to support them in their journey of developing a new model. There were only seven captioned shows in Essex last year, but there are 1.9 million people living in the county, so we know we have our work cut out to improve access.”
12 million people in the UK are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, which is one in five people who could benefit from subtitles and captions to experience theatre and arts and cultural events.
Data reveals that lockdown shifted public opinion towards increased captioning for in real life events. Nearly half (46%) said that the number of captioned performances and events available was not enough, with 77% saying they are in favour of venues offering more captioned performances.
Jeremy Freeman, a caption user and ambassador for Stagetext said: “This is fantastic news. As someone who has experienced the transformative power of theatre thanks to captioning, I know first-hand how vital this is. This move will open doors for people across the UK, regardless of hearing ability or postcode, to enjoy and be enriched by the arts. To me, it’s more than just an initiative – it’s a personal mission to share the joy of theatre. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Claudia West, Senior Relationship Manager, Arts Council England, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Stagetext has decided to make Colchester their new home as part of our Transfer Programme. Stagetext is a fantastic organisation and a sector leader when it comes to our Inclusivity and Relevance Investment Principle. They are without doubt a huge asset to be able to add to the South East Area Portfolio.
With their new base in Colchester’s Mercury Theatre, we can’t wait to see how these two National Portfolio Organisations can begin to work together in tackling issues surrounding access in the performing arts for the benefit of audiences up and down the country.”
Cllr Michelle Burrows, Colchester City Council’s cabinet member for Leisure, Culture and Heritage, said: “We are delighted to welcome Stagetext to Colchester. Their choice of our city as their new base, following an independent feasibility study, is further recognition of our status as a major cultural hub and a testament to our commitment to accessibility and inclusion.
“Stagetext’s work is essential in ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the arts, regardless of their hearing ability. Their relocation to Colchester will help to make our city a more accessible and inclusive place for all.
“We look forward to working with Stagetext to develop new collaborations and initiatives that will make the arts more accessible to everyone in our community.”
Cllr Mark Durham – Cabinet Member for The Arts, Heritage and Culture said: “It is very exciting news that Stagetext have decided to make their permanent home at the Mercury theatre in Colchester. Essex has a legacy of innovation and creativity, and we look forward to welcoming Stagetext into the county so that they may continue the amazing work they do to make cultural experiences accessible for everyone.”
The BBC came over to the Mercury Theatre to cover Stagetext move to the South East. We discussed the importance of captions and subtitles in live shows and theatres for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing individuals. Highlighting the limited availability of captioned shows and that this move to Colchester is part of Stagetext plan of remedying that. Interviewed is deaf caption user David Deacon, who shares his personal experience as a deaf individual and how captions have transformed his enjoyment of the arts. Along with Steve Mannix the Executive Director of the Mercury Theatre and Rachele Jele from Stagetext.
We thank you all for you continued support. If you have any questions or would like to get in touch to find out how we can help you with access, contact us at [email protected]
 Arts Council England: Find out more about the Levelling Up for Culture Places from Arts Council England.
 Sapio research. The data was collected by Sapio Research on behalf of Stagetext. Sapio Research interviewed 2,003 people in October 2021 with the results weighted to be representative of the GB general population.