About us

National Rural Touring Forum supports Rural Touring Schemes, promoters, artists and communities to bring high quality & professional creative experiences to rural venues & audiences. It does this via national projects, networking, development & showcasing opportunities, grants and information sharing.

NRTF members are made up of a national network of Rural Touring Schemes who programme menus of events that tour in their region. We also have artist, venue, promoter, producer and festival members all promoting and developing professional work for rural settings.
NRTF provides its members with opportunities for training, making connections, showcases, research, discussion and advocacy. It also develops strategic projects that enable national & international partnerships and commissions. We sit on Arts Council Rural Stakeholders panels to lobby for support in the rural sectors and highlight the importance of meeting the needs of rural audiences and communities. We also lobby at government level and throughout the creative and cultural sectors. Through research and advocacy, the NRTF aims to promote a better understanding of the value of rural arts and touring.

Many Rural Touring Schemes are funded, and some by Arts Council England. This means they can subsidise programmes to bring bigger or more innovative work to their venues. The schemes will spend a lot of their time seeking creative work they believe are suitable and enjoyable for their audiences. They will also challenge audiences to try something new, like dance for instance. Since 2015 the NRTF have joined forces with The Place, Take Art and China Plate to launch an innovative initiative for making and touring dance performances to and for rural areas. Originally a 3-year project RTDI has now been extended until summer 2021. RTDI offers curated dance Menus to NRTF members. The feedback from audiences has been astonishing; people who didn’t think ‘Dance was for them’ have come away with a new appreciation for dance as a genre and are keen to see more. Equally the performers get to immerge themselves in the space and directly with audience members.

There is a big difference between performing on the rural touring network and in Blackbox or urban theatres. Rural Touring performers need to me much more self-sufficient, they need to be able to get there, be flexible with get-ins and have minimal or easy set ups. What they get in return is a up close and personal experience with the local community. They will probably arrive with the audience, perform near the audience and then have a drink and a chat with them after. They may even be staying with one. It is not often you get this raw, instant and direct feedback from audience members on your production. It is unique and beautiful and incredibly rewarding.

A large part of what the NRTF is about is not underestimating rural audiences. Funding for the Arts is still a city-centric issue; travelling to large towns and cities to see productions can be time and financially prohibitive. There are also physiological barriers to some who don’t feel as comfortable in larger cultural institutions. Access to the arts is important for everyone in society. It is reasonable assume most people appreciate seeing high quality and innovative performance & art. This is what the NRTF are addressing and highlighting.

Across the UK there are currently 30-member schemes, 1,650 promoting groups, 110,000 voluntary hours, 332,000 audience, over £1,000,000 box office sales.

NRTF became formally constituted in 1997 and is a registered charity as well as a company limited by guarantee. In 2004 NRTF became an Arts Council England Regularly Funded Organisation.
In 2011 NRTF applied successfully to become one of the Arts Council National Portfolio Organisations.
In 2014 NRTF applied successfully for the second round of NPO funding taking the organisation to 2018.
In 2018 NRTF applied successfully for the second round of NPO funding taking the organisation to 2022.
The NRTF was administrated and managed by Alice & David Porter along side Ralph Lister for 20 years. In 2017 it began the process of a new business plan and the appointment of its first Director.

National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) will work strategically with partners to develop a programme that delivers high quality artistic work and cultural experiences, broadens and deepens audience engagement, and strengthens rural and other communities.

NRTF is the leading voice for the rural touring sector across the UK. Every village can become a cultural centre.
NRTF is recognised as a key strategic organisation by major funders and policy makers. This includes the Arts Council England (ACE), Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and other government and sectoral organisations where our interests and ambitions coincide.

NRTF underpins a sustainable, resilient rural touring infrastructure that enhances the quality of life for those people living in rural areas. NRTF CONTEXT

The UK approach to rural touring shows what the independent arts sector, local authorities and communities can achieve by working together: it is a model of good practice, demonstrates value for money and builds volunteering capacity in rural communities

Guiding Principles

NRTF aspires to be bold in the following areas:

High quality professional arts experiences suited to local needs and interests
Fair partnerships between communities, organisations, artists and public bodies
Creative diversity in artistic programming and among our audiences
Creative innovation in arts practice, management and policy
Maintaining and developing our unique relationship with thousands of community volunteers
Developing an appropriate mind set for NRTF’s role as a strategic and national leader.


Holly Lombardo, Director (started March 2018) holly@nrtf.org.uk

Holly has worked in creative industries at a senior level for over 16 years. She founded the Brighton Fringe in 2004, managing it to become the 3rd largest Arts Fringe Festival in the world. She was a senior manager at the Edinburgh Fringe Society and Director of an Edinburgh Fringe venue. Known for working within some of the UK’s largest international Festivals. In 2007 pooled her knowledge of the cultural sector to found World Fringe Network, which links over 230 Fringe Festivals across the globe. As well as this lectured at Universities on event & business management. Assessor for the Arts Council England, where she assessed the NRTF and has been an Executive Trustee of the British Arts Festival Association for 8 years. More recently she was the Project Director for Wooden O Theatres and left her position as the Artistic Director of Fusion Arts Oxford.

“Throughout my career one tread has remained; my passion for networking and generating platforms for creative development, linking up and facilitating opportunities for artists and audiences. I am ambitious and can see the wider picture for national and international cultural tends and am comfortable liaising with cultural leaders.

I realise I have big shoes to fill and a 20-year legacy to uphold as Director of the National Rural Touring Forum, a success I plan to build on. I’m excited to get started, meeting as many of you as possible and getting to know the organisation and everyone involved”

Freelancer and Contractors:

Alice Porter – Finance Manager finance@nrtf.org.uk

NRTF currently contracts Alice Porter of Creative Arts Promotion Ltd (CAP) to manage the NRTF finances.  CAP is an arts agency based in York. Founded in 1994 by David and Alice Porter. CAP works principally with local authorities and national organisations to develop arts programmes.

Ralph Lister - Rural Touring Dance initiative
NRTF currently contracts Ralph Lister at Rural Touring Dance Initiative Project Lead.   He is currently Executive Director of Take Art, one of the founder members of the NRTF, and was the chair from 1998 to 2004.

Stephie Jessop – Communications
Stephie works for https://culturapedia.co/  who manage Spot On Rural Touring Lancashire - http://spotonlancashire.co.uk/. She does all NRTF Social media and web comms.

Board Members:

Tom Speight, Chair 
A Promoter, having put on over 30 shows in the past ten years in his village in Cumbria.
He was on the board of Highlights, the rural touring scheme in the North of England for 6 years before joining the NRTF board in 2016.
He's also put on an annual 4-day music festival called Music on the Marr since 2010.
He works for the BBC and plays ukulele. You can find him on twitter @tomspeight

John Laidlaw
Executive Director Live & Local since its inception in 1994. John’s background is in small-scale, rural touring schemes, technical management and the design and management of permanent and temporary venues.

Dawn Badland
Director Applause Rural Touring. Dawn has eleven years’ experience in community arts as a practitioner and project manager.  Her background is in both visual and performing arts.

Natalie Jode
Natalie is the Executive Director at Creative Arts East, an Arts Council NPO working across Norfolk, Suffolk and  East Anglia. Since joining the charity as Diversity & Inclusion Projects Officer and during a time of immense change Natalie helped build Creative Arts East’s diverse portfolio of projects and contracts, managing initiatives as part of large regional consortia and partnerships. Prior to this, Natalie was the Arts Officer for Fenland Arts, a small arts development charity working in the Fenland district of Cambridgeshire. It was here that Natalie developed her enthusiasm for rural and participatory arts, and an understanding of the issues facing those living and working in this setting.

Ed O’Driscoll 
Ed’s experience in the arts world combines a successful career as a commercial theatre producer with that of performer and arts professional. As a producer he has created and toured more than twenty number one productions including stage adaptations of ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘Porridge’ and ‘Shaun the Sheep’ - the last of which played in the Middle East after 12 months on the road in the UK. In front of the curtain he was principal performer in the hit concert ‘Masters of the Musical’ for more than a decade presenting at more than 100 UK venues each year.
In addition to these commitments he also founded the rural touring scheme ‘Arts in Rural Gloucestershire’ (AIR in G) in 2000 and has worked for the charity since that time as Executive Director. He is also a founding member and Director of ‘Create Gloucestershire’ and has recently completed an MA in Social Media and at Birmingham City University; his research focused on crowdfunding for arts organisations.

Barbara Tremewan

A lifelong love of theatre and the arts and a chance request led to becoming a volunteer promoter in Cornwall 30 years ago and a realisation of the joy of bringing shows to a rural community.  Being on the steering panel to set up Cornwall's rural touring scheme, Carn to Cove, and being a member of the scheme ever since has reinforced that and made the possibilities so much better.

Barbara Slack

Director Highlights Rural Touring Scheme

Chris Bridgman

Artistic Director of Arts Out West, the rural touring scheme for West Cumbria. Also programmes the Kirkgate 
Arts Centre in Cockermouth. He has experienced rural touring as an actor and director; and previous work has included programming Lancaster LitFest; heading North West Playwrights for many years; and leading the creation of the Northern Actors' Centre.

Co-opted Board members:

Elizabeth Freestone
Elizabeth is a theatre director. She is the former Artistic Director of Pentabus for whom she directed many new plays that toured village halls across the country including Here I Belong and Each Slow Dusk. Her freelance directing work includes productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Greenwich, Theatre 503 and Southwark Playhouse. She has worked at the National Theatre, the Royal Court, Soho and Hampstead. She trained at the National Theatre Studio and Rose Bruford College. Elizabeth has also worked at the BBC and directed plays for Radio 4.

Philip Holyman 
Co-Director of Little Earthquake, a theatre company based in Walsall, which he’s been running with Gareth Nicholls since 2005, and he has been one of the two Co-Opted Artists on the NRTF Board since 2016. He is a Trustee of the John Feeney Charitable Trust and a regular visiting tutor at the University of Birmingham and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Outside of work time, he is currently getting to grips with his first ever sewing machine and is fighting a (losing) battle with his first ever allotment. www.little-earthquake.com @ little.equake @little_equake


Peter Gregory
Head Night Out, Wales (observer).  Peter is one of the founder members of Nofit State Circus and spent many years touring across the UK in their big top. He has worked extensively in Circus, Theatre, Outdoor and Community arts as a performer, workshop leader, event organiser and administrator. Peter spent five years as Events programme manager at Cardiff Council before moving to rural touring in 2004 as Head of The Night Out scheme at the Arts Council of Wales.

Elaine Price
Relationship Manager, Touring, Arts Council England