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“Everyone involved is a winner” this World Theatre Day


“Everyone involved is a winner” this World Theatre Day

After receiving almost half a million pounds from the Combined Authority to develop their already unique and vibrant cultural offer, the community in Soham now look back on the impact Viva Theatre has had on residents, making culture and wellbeing accessible to all residents and raising the town’s profile as a creative epicenter. 

In 2022, Viva Theatre received £325k to further expand Spencer Mill, already a vibrant theatre, to help attract more weekend and evening visitors to Soham. Spencer Mill was purchased by Viva as a decaying building, becoming an ambitious capital project to create a permanent home for the company and a centre for arts, cultural and community activity run by and for the community. 

Established in 1997 by Soham resident Daniel Schumann, Viva began life as a small youth theatre, run by a team of volunteers to enable young people to take part in the arts without the need to travel to Cambridge.  It has since become a trailblazing company in community action, creating exciting arts and culture opportunities for the local community to participate in, learn from and enjoy.  

132 events have taken place at the Theatre since its opening in 2022, with 11,600 people visiting. The programme consists of plays, musicals, live music, cinema screenings and more. Viva Theatre has produced 8 shows in the venue to date, involving over 500 local performers aged from 6 years to 85 years old and entertaining audiences of just over 5,000 local people. 

The community take pride in their ability to bring people together in an intimate venue with a “come alone and leave with friends” mentality, helping to alleviate rural isolation. Viva have also worked with local schools and food banks to give away £4,000 worth of free tickets to individuals and families who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend productions. 

The goings-on at this theatre extend beyond traditional performances, with the space also hosting services for families, learners and businesses, including baby massage and yoga, mobility classes, adult education, alternative provision education, after school clubs and theatre school. Adding further to its social impact, the team have also raised over £8,000 for other good causes and given over £6,000 to local young people in bursaries. 

With even greater ambitions for the coming years, Viva Theatre hope to install solar panels, build a third storey, launch a post 16 Performing Arts Foundation Course and Adult Skills Centre, open a gallery, add incubation spaces for local start-up businesses, expand their youth apprenticeship scheme and youth activities programme, launch our health and wellbeing project and more. 

Viva’s work to empower Soham residents is gaining recognition for the theatre as a centre for community and culture at a regional and national level. On Sunday 17th March, members of the Viva Arts and Community Group celebrated the achievements of the inclusive Community Theatre Group in a glittering annual awards ceremony, an event attended by four-time Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman, Viva’s President and West End performer Liza Goddard, His Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and The High Sherriff of Cambridgeshire. 

This package of Combined Authority investment has aided the creation of a wealth of opportunities for Soham’s residents, although its impact does not end there, with the profile of the town and its emblematic theatre are beginning to gain national credit. 

Spencer Mill is next to the town’s new railway station, itself funded by the Combined Authority, and opened last month by Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, and the fresh funding will develop business, training, and re-training facilities in what is a strategically placed community hub and help to attract more weekend and evening visitors to Soham. Viva have also been promoting their local impact across the country, playing to over 2,000 people at the Edinburgh Festival last year.

Viva Theatre’s founder, Daniel Schumann, stated, “In a world of celebrity and fighting for the spotlight, it’s wonderful to see that here at Viva there is a genuine sense of ensemble, let’s face it, the sky would be a very dark place with only one star!”  

“Viva is a demonstration of how much can be achieved via the power of a community, a team or in theatre terms an ensemble (Together), At Viva everyone works together each playing their part, supporting each other and lending their talents to the greater good.”