Celebrating 50 years of Chickenshed

Susan Jamson from Chickenshed on how the Southgate theatre group plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year

Chickenshed founders Mary Ward MBE (left) and Jo Collins MBE (right) at the original chicken shed in Barnet that gave the theatre group its name
Chickenshed founders Mary Ward MBE (left) and Jo Collins MBE (right) at the original chicken shed in Barnet that gave the theatre group its name

Chickenshed’s hugely successful Christmas show – The Toymaker’s Child, which ends its run on 13th January – also marks the launch of our 50th anniversary year in 2024.

This show is the first of many events we have planned for the coming year as we offer opportunities to connect people from our past, present and future. Chickenshed is a community that embraces everyone. Every person who walks through our ‘door’ changes us in some way – and we hope they are also changed.

The Chickenshed story began in 1974, when musician and composer Jo Collins met teacher and director Mary Ward. They both shared the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to perform and create, leading them to establish our theatre company.

Initially operating out of local church halls, the pair approached Lady Elizabeth Byng, a local benefactor and landowner, to inquire if there might be a vacant space on her land that the company could use as its base – history was made when she generously offered them the use of a disused chicken shed in Barnet!

For five decades since we have produced bold and beautiful work from our limitless belief in each other. Through our productions, our performance training, our education courses and our outreach projects, we have created wonder out of chaos and change out of challenge.

We are very excited about the coming year when we’ll be celebrating our 50th anniversary by gathering stories, sharing memories and creating a collaborative vision for another 50 years of innovation. As we celebrate this milestone, we will reflect on the incredible achievements, shared endeavours and unwavering support of our Chickenshed and wider North London communities – and beyond.

It’s a time to cherish the memories that helped to shape us and the triumphs that inspired us to push boundaries and show the world what we can be.

Throughout this remarkable year we invite our community to join us, as we present a series of special shows, events, initiatives and fundraising campaigns celebrating this monumental occasion.

Commemorative gatherings and community-driven projects will provide an opportunity for everyone to be a part of this historic moment.

The original chicken shed in 1974

An exciting part of our celebrations is a National Lottery Heritage Fund project called ‘Echoes’, which will help us to keep alive the stories of those who have contributed to Chickenshed’s past and present – and will preserve Chickenshed’s heritage for future generations to come.

Five decade-focused community projects will explore different aspects of our history with events and exhibitions throughout the year, culminating in a film documenting the 50-year history and heritage of Chickenshed.

Each decade focuses on unique themes, from the 1970s letter-writing exchange between our original Chickenshed members and young people involved in Chickenshed today, to the 1980s celebration of Enfield as the home and long-term supporter of Chickenshed.

The 1990s highlights our inclusive education programme, and the fourth decade invites the community to vote for next year’s Chickenshed Christmas show. The fifth decade explores Chickenshed’s theatrical methods based on participants own lived experiences.

We hope you will join us on this incredible journey!

To find out more about Chickenshed’s 50th Anniversary Year:

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