The story of Kaleidoscope

The third annual Kaleidoscope Festival takes place at Storyhouse this autumn with seven action-packed days celebrating the talents of city people living with a disability.

From dance and drama to crafts and clubbing, parades to performances to inspirational personal stories, the festival promises to be a truly kaleidoscopic week. Kaleidoscope was born in 2017 and Communities Manager Nicola Haigh was busy making connections with over 23 different charities and groups from across Chester and beyond.

Four months after the doors were thrown wide open in Hunter Street, Storyhouse was already alive with a diverse range of city communities all keen to be involved with the new shared space. But Nicola recalls: “One community that hadn’t really approached me or Storyhouse was any disability charity. And when I was asked by artistic director Alex Clifton what else I wanted to do, I said I’d really like to run a disability festival.” Nicola had been struck by a TV news report about a ‘mini Glastonbury’ organised by Petty Pool, a vocational college at Northwich that supports students with learning difficulties.

While her vision was to create a similarly entertaining event at Storyhouse for the following season, Alex challenged her to organise a festival during 2017 itself. Within six weeks she had pulled together a one-day programme of activities under the banner Kaleidoscope, the title chosen “because it resonates with the spectrum of different abilities.” “We had a really good day,” Nicola says. “All the support workers were saying ‘can we have this every week?!” And it was really wonderful to see people who live with a disability in the building and enjoying it. “I was worried no one would turn up! And then we were bombarded and almost didn’t have enough activity because so many people came.”

Kaleidoscope returned last season, with activities and events taking place over an extended festival week, predominately organised to appeal to people with a disability but open to all. And now plans are in progress for what Nicola has described as the most ambitious festival yet, which takes over not just Storyhouse but the city centre too and includes a host of events straight from festivalgoers’ own wish lists.

She explains: “I spent time talking to the day care centres and charities and said, what do you want? What do your beneficiaries want? And I’m programming practically everything they said.” The special requests included a Grease cinema evening in the Kitchen (Storyhouse’s restaurant), an 80s singalong tribute act, a club DJ and band night, and the inaugural Kaleidoscope Disability Pride Parade which takes place on the opening day, Monday 30 September, and will involve a colourful procession through the city centre with a gathering at Chester Town Hall.

The parade will also feature a speech by Jackie Hagan, one of several events the Manchester-based poet, comedian, theatre-maker and amputee will be involved in over the week. She will also MC and headline an open mic afternoon, and will return on Sunday, 6 October to present the premiere of a poem written specially about the festival week, joining performers in a Community Variety Day on Storyhouse’s main thrust stage.

Meanwhile among the other highlights is a performance by RAWD – a Wirral-based learning disability theatre group which stages high quality productions drawing on performers’ own unique talents, and an ‘in conversation’ organised in collaboration with Head Injured People in Cheshire.

Nicola says: “An author who wrote a book after sustaining a head injury will be interviewed by Paralympian wheelchair basketball player Anna Jackson. “This will be a really interesting talk for anyone, for someone who might have had a head injury or have gone through some trauma, or who just wants to hear a really inspirational story of how to overcome adversity.” With dance performances, taekwondo, a marketplace with bread making, films, talks by leading voices in the disability sector, music – including a Makaton signing choir – and training sessions, it sounds like this year’s festival could be the biggest yet.

“It was busier last year,” Nicola admits. “But because we’ve taken it down a different route this year, and we’ve programmed more events people have specifically requested, I think 2019 is actually more ambitious.” So, what of the future for Kaleidoscope, both inside and outside its annual festival week?

While some more regular events have been challenging to get off the ground so far, Storyhouse currently also hosts a monthly inclusive and accessible open mic night in the Garret Theatre.

But Nicola admits she has much bigger ambitions for the initiative. She explains: “In the long term, I hope that we’ll get a massive pot of money so that I can just programme Kaleidoscope activity all year round.”

The 2019 Kaleidoscope Festival runs from Monday 30 September to Sunday 6 October. Find out more here.