We're looking at the Playhouse's relationship with Black artists, Black people and communities and taking action through our Plan for Change.

In 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and in support of Black Lives Matter, we responded in an attempt to show solidarity and our commitment to change. That response, was wholly inadequate and in hindsight we realise that we simply weren’t equipped at the time to express a more complex and meaningful reaction.

Through the 50 years of the Playhouse, whilst the organisation was established for and continues to be a place that aims to serve all our local communities, we know we haven’t always delivered on this aim, losing the trust of some Black people and communities along the way.

As a response to the events in 2020, we set out to develop a Plan for Change specifically looking at the Playhouse’s relationship with Black artists, Black people and communities. This has led to the formation of a Reference Group, involving a cross-section of Board members and staff facilitated by independent consultants Armstrong Cameron. The work of the Reference Group was one aspect of our ongoing work on our broader ambitions for Access and Inclusion, and set out to develop a Plan for Change that would create an action plan for progress in this specific area as a matter of urgency.

Whilst we acknowledge we still have a long way to go, over the past year we’ve taken a deep look at what we need to do to become a truly anti-racist organisation that provides a safe and supportive environment for Black people. A lot of work with staff from across the organisation involved in the Reference Group has taken place, for which we are incredibly grateful, with tremendous support from Board members and external consultants Armstrong Cameron. We acknowledge that systemic and structural racism exists and are fully committed to and take responsibility for making deep-seated change happen at Leeds Playhouse, whilst also continuing to work together with others to see much wider change happen across the sector, within our region and nationally.

More information about the Plan for Change and what we are doing to become a fully inclusive organisation can be found below.

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Plan for Change

The aims of the Reference Group:

  • To make urgent, fundamental change for and with Black people, to make things better for everyone.
  • To build more meaningful and positive relationships with Black communities in Leeds.
  • To employ more Black members of staff at more senior levels
  • To better support Black members of staff, including freelancers and volunteers.
  • To build an anti-racist culture at the Playhouse.
  • To connect with others to promote and exemplify anti-racism across the city and the sector.

Our Plan for Change has been developed by the Reference Group comprising a cross-section of Board members and staff of a range of grades, has involved an extensive internal perceptions analysis and also research amongst people outside the organisation about attitudes to and experiences of the Playhouse. This has formed a valuable and important part of the learning and helped set the direction of travel for the action plan which contains commitments, specific targets and measurable outcomes covering some of the following areas:

  • Continuing to make recruitment and induction processes more open and inclusive and better targeted to creating routes into the organisation to diversify our workforce.
  • Restructuring so we have more diversity of thinking and are more representative of the diversity of the city region at a senior level in the organisation.
  • Further expansion of our Furnace Artistic Development activity to support more Black theatre workers into producing, design and backstage roles
  • Every member of the Senior Management Team committed to taking responsibility for specific actions and commitments for every department so the Plan for Change makes an impact across the entire organisation.
  • Offer training and learning opportunities across the organisation.
  • Increase financial commitment to this area of work.
  • Responding to and build on outcome of perceptions analysis.
  • Improving data gathering and analysis.
  • Consideration of our communications in this area.

The Plan for Change work is taking place in the context of a programme of developing Access and Inclusion which is endorsed by our Board as a cross-cutting theme in our Business Plan. This aims to drive the diversity of our staff and output, and actively strengthen our commitment to inclusion, particularly of under-served communities.

The Plan for Change is intended to be dynamic and evolving, to guarantee longevity.

As well as the specific actions identified in the Plan for Change, we’ve:

  • Consulted with a large number of Black artists across the region, having frank, honest and sometimes difficult conversations.
  • Overhauled our recruitment packs and started trialling Interview Welcome Packs, continuing to make the process of recruitment and induction more inclusive and accessible.
  • Identified, ring-fenced and spent a pot of money to specifically support Black artists and initiatives, putting our money where our mouth is, such as paying for training for Black artists, creating bespoke placements, and prioritising Black led projects within our project development programme.
  • Created a Champions and Allies scheme where staff are trained to support people with protected characteristics (as well as socially disadvantaged people and care leavers).
    Created a micro-aggressions reporting tool
    Introduced strategic interventions to develop opportunities from under-represented communities to gain paid experience in backstage and creative roles.
  • Discussed with staff and our Board members what it means to be an anti-racist organisation and created a safe space in which to have difficult conversations. We’re aware that a change of organisational culture often requires people to develop and grow individually as well as collectively and we intend to support people at all stages of their personal as well as collective understanding.
  • Held regular Access and Inclusion Working Group meetings which all staff members are encouraged to attend, reporting to the Access and Inclusion Steering Committee comprised of Board members and senior staff.

The Plan for Change with its specific enquiry into racial equity and racial justice will enable us to improve all areas of accessibility, representation and diversity thanks to the energy and focus on equality and access which it has generated. The focus on Black people within the Plan for Change should not be interpreted as the Playhouse having less interest in areas of under-representation of other marginalised communities. Our work to make the Playhouse and our society fairer and more inclusive continues with undimmed determination but the particular focus on the experience of Black people is a response to the specific historical and political injustices Black communities have experienced over a long period. We want the Playhouse to play a part in dismantling institutional racism and we will strive to do so through this Plan and in as many other ways that we can.

A scoping session with the Executive team and Armstrong Cameron

Defining the five organisational ambitions:

  • Building more meaningful and positive relationships with the Black community in Leeds: audiences, artists, participants.
  • Employing more Black members of staff and at more senior levels.
  • Better supporting Black members of staff.
  • Building an anti-racist culture at the Playhouse.
  • Promoting anti-racism throughout the city.

Recruitment of a Reference Group to oversee and contribute to the process, taking a ‘diagonal slice’ approach in terms of representation from the staff body and Board

The Reference Group defining the underpinning principles for the work:

  • Understanding that systemic racism exists and recognising our role in tackling it.
  • Exemplifying compassion and kindness.
  • Individual and collective accountability.
  • In it for the long haul – Part of our DNA, striving for continuous improvement, and creating and sustaining long term relationships.
  • Avoiding assumptions – recognise groups are made of individuals, listen and check in.
  • Identify priorities, set targets and track progress.

Design of an internal perceptions survey (itself informed by the five ambitions) and circulated to staff, freelancers, trustees and volunteers

Conversations with stakeholders (including creatives, promoters, theatre makers and activists)

On the basis of all of the above, designing a Plan for Change which sets out Leeds Playhouse’s long term ambitions and first year actions

Gaining feedback and contributions from the Reference Group and Board members about the Plan

Leeds Playhouse Senior Management Team refining the Plan and its SMART actions


    Arts Council
  • Leeds City Council
  • LTB Foundation
  • Principal Partner

    Caddick Group
  • Principal Access Partner

    Irwin Mitchell