Mental Health Awareness Week with NRTF

NRTF Staff and Board Members
Away Day March 2023

As employers, NRTF has a responsibility to ensure that our staff are well looked after, and their well-being & mental health is taken care of. This means creating an environment where people can feel safe, secure, and valued.

We are currently exploring the Conscious Leadership approach to employment. This approach encourages employers to be more mindful of their staff’s emotional needs and create a culture of trust and respect in the workplace.

Here’s what the team had to say:

“I try to make sure I leave the house for a short walk or a run everyday, working from home can easily fall into a pattern of never going outside, but I find I am so much more focused and energised if I am able to do this. It’s also brilliant that NRTF supports and encourages this.”

Hattie Thomas – NRTF Membership Manager

“I make sure I turn off all notifications on my phone and I don’t have work emails on it. I try to get to an exercise class at least 3 times a week and I get up and move around between meetings. I also try to keep external meetings to 30 minutes so I don’t get overwhelmed with Zoom fatigue.”

Holly Lombardo, NRTF Director

At NRTF we all work remotely so it is important we have the means and strategies to stay connected and to replicate the in-person experience as much as possible. We are building our systems with this as an aim. We promote a space of balance including regular group check-ins, one-2-ones, workload assessments and encouraging the team to feel confident and able to take time out in the day for rest, exercise or a mindful activity.

By taking steps to ensure that our employees are taken care of, we create a healthier work environment for everyone. We help the team reach their full potential, be productive and proud of their role outputs.

Supporting Mental Health at the NRTF Conference

Part of our commitment to making the Conference as accessible as possible, includes adopting a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere to help everyone feel safe and comfortable. We will have chill out spaces available, and attendees will be welcome to step out and take a moment whenever they need to. If you have any worries about attending the conference, please do get in touch and we will do our best to help put you at ease, you can contact our Project Manager Jess on

Mental Health Support Lines

Below are a list of organisations you can contact for support if you are struggling with your mental health. Our friends at Rural Arts have also produced a comprehensive resource page which you can find here.


To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email or visit some branches in person. You can also call the Samaritans Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day). 

SOS Silence of Suicide – for everyone 

Call 0300 1020 505 – 4pm to midnight every day Email 

SOBS – Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide 

Support for people who are bereaved  suicide – 0300 111 5065 


If you’re experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day). 

National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK. 

Offers a supportive listening service to anyone with thoughts of suicide. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 (open 24/7). 

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). 

You can call the CALM on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) if you are struggling and need to talk. Or if you prefer not to speak on the phone, you could try the CALM webchat service. 


If you would prefer not to talk but want some mental health support, you could text SHOUT to 85258. Shout offers a confidential 24/7 text service providing support if you are in crisis and need immediate help. 


Free, live instant chat service for people experiencing a bereavement. ttps:// 

Nicola Pollard – On Tour with Up The Road Theatre

One of our brilliant trustees, Nicola Pollard, is currently on tour with her theatre company. We asked her to tell us how it’s going…

It’s been four years since Up The Road Theatre were last on tour. Creating and developing a touring production is always a mammoth undertaking, especially if you’re project funded. Now, if I’m honest, it feels even tougher than before. The threat of Covid looms over everyone, audiences and performers alike; the cost of living crisis makes you wonder if people will want to turn out, if the halls will be able to pay their bills. And then, on the day of your dress rehearsal, it snows so heavily you’re nearly snowed into your digs and your rehearsal space has a power cut!

However, all the planning and preparation is starting to pay off. Beneath the Banner opened on Saturday March 11th, with Highlights Rural Touring in Middleton-in-Teesdale. A full house, and, despite the snow outside, a warm reception. Our production explores the vast array of experiences and perspectives from coal mining communities: the men underground, the workers on the surface and those in the community. I realised it’s been two and a half years since I received ACE funding to begin our R&D, which was followed by a second grant last summer for the rehearsals and tour. In between that time there have been a great many Zoom calls with potential project partners and creative team members; programming emails; submissions to Rural Touring scheme menus and (finally!) in-person meetings. Plus research for the show, encompassing interviews with former miners and their families; reading anything I could find and visits to the National Coal Mining Museum and other sites. Then the writing process: drafting, developing and re-drafting. At times it all seems unwieldy and impossible to navigate, but come the start of this year we had our tour, including twelve dates with Rural Touring schemes, a finished script and a cast.

My journey with Rural Touring began in 2015, with Up The Road’s first show. I didn’t even know Rural Touring existed until I was introduced to Spot On and Cheshire Rural Touring. Our 12 dates in 2023 haven’t happened overnight, they’re a result of eight years of collaborating and producing good shows that speak to audiences. This is our third touring production, which has given us plenty of opportunity for learning as we go.

As I write, on a train heading south, we’re three shows into this tour. We’ve played two of our three shows with Highlights, at the end of the week we’re with Arts Out West, followed by Rural Arts, Spot On Lancashire and Applause before our tour finishes in mid-April. We’ve already played to 180 people, and we’ve plenty more audience members to share our show with. Our van has miles to travel, and numerous digs to drop into. If you see a red VW Fox beetling up the M1 this month, give me a wave as I’ll be heading off to a schools workshop or joining the team for a show. If we could just hold off the snow for a few more weeks, that would be great…

Using Zoom for Storytelling & Performance – Thoughts and Tips from Gav Cross

About midway through 2020 the whole concept and notion of Zoom fatigue was being discussed.
Suddenly, new regular phrases emerged, such as ”Can you hear me okay?”, “You’re on mute!” and “you have no authority here..”

And I envied it…
I haven’t been in many Zoom meetings. As a freelance performer and creative I wasn’t really in a team.
I wanted to play with Zoom!

So I started to tell stories on Zoom*.

*I know it’s never going to replace live work with an actual audience. One you can see and smell. And I, like you I’m sure, miss that dearly…

And I loved it. I loved having a new audience of people to interact with and get a response from. As I’ve got more used to the software I learned how to adapt my material and performance style to increase interaction. I started to be able to bring the bulldozer of chaos that I adore in my own storytelling, into this new realm. I learned how the software could include people at what ever level they want to be included.

It has meant that I’ve been able to work across the country and beyond. That I’ve been able to tell stories and shout at children from around the world! Who could ask for more?

I had hoped to tour my storytelling show, Twisted Tales for Terrible Children…” in 2020. Instead I took it onto Zoom. And I could hear laughter. I could see the engagement and I could involve an audience that wanted to be part of my stuff and nonsense. I was invited to perform for Manchester Libraries, with one of the days being 20 classes in 3 shows. Joyous!

I’m also the talent manager for my cousin, Father Christmas and actively encouraged him to deliver some storytelling zoom sessions. And equally, he had a wonderful time being extraordinarily silly. Well he does have a very high pressure job so it’s good to let off some steam. The Father Christmas Storytelling was projected into the venue at The Pound. Mr Christmas was able to see and hear the audience. Sat in the their family bubbles 15 minutes before the virtual audience, there was a chance for FC to have a pre show chat and hello with those that had come out on that Christmas Eve. The Zoom Audience was let in and the estimable Pound Zoom hosts were able to let me see, hear and interact with audience members online and on site. After the Zoom show there was time for Father Christmas to interact once again with the audience in the venue. Before having to leave and get on with the other jog of that night… That blend was deliciously fun. Jokes were swapped, funny faces were pulled and shared. Laughs and the lovely echo of a time together that will soon return, I’m sure.

More recently I have been enjoying zoom storytelling sessions for Cubs, Scouts and Beavers up and down the country. Virtual Fireside storytelling. Plus a Funny Looking Kids: Comedy Club. An online live sketch show for families. So I thought I would give you a few top tips.

I think there are going to be plenty of opportunities moving forward, of retaining the online element. I’m looking forward to experimenting with blending live storytelling performance and an online audience.

Here are my very simple top tips, from a very simple Storyteller:

  • Play with Zoom as a Host if you haven’t, see what the differences are between pinning, spotlighting, the different types of views.
  • Keep your set up in gallery view, so that you can see as many of the audience as possible.
  • Look at the camera lens and not the Zoom room…
  • Have fun with a green screen! Or any blank wall colour. Adding backgrounds are a nifty little way to transport yourself with simple video and images.
  • Light your face. Bright and clear. It helps with the video quality.
  • Have the camera at eye height, not desk height. Look at your audience, not down on them.
  • Talk to the Waiting Room before you start your show! Ask them to change their screen name to whoever is watching this show.
  • I ask that a grown-up is there to give me a thumbs up if children are on screen.
  • Encourage people to take part. Unmuted as individuals, or a specific times, the full group. Or contribute in the chat.
  • Have a buddy/co-host that can help you steward the group and send messages to you about audience members desperate to be involved you might have missed.

I think it will remain perfect for scratch performances, readings, poetry, storytelling and more.

I can’t wait for live audiences, who we know are desperate for enthralling, engaging, exciting, entertaining performances. But not everybody is going to be able to get out so readily.

I know personally I am enjoying the opportunity to see more work from diverse people, from around the world.

I bet you’ve got a fantastic story to tell and I would love to watch and help. Do get in contact with your experiences. I always love a chat with another performer about what they have been up to. See you soon, on Zoom?

Gav Cross

Some Zoom audience Feedback:

“The joy and laughter of the Beavers – and the parents chuckles in the background (we were a zoom session) spoke for itself.”

“Just wanted to say thank you for organising such a great meeting tonight. My children both really enjoyed it and I loved hearing their laughter throughout. It was exactly what we needed part way through this lockdown. Thank you.”

“Stories told very well and funny. Liked the “best smile”. Very much enjoyed the interactive bits.”

“The whole group loved it! Primarily booked for beavers and cubs, some of our scouts logged in also and he thought it was very funny, So spanned from 6 to grown ups, loved seeing them all laughing and enjoying, and thinking differently about traditional tales!”

About Gav Cross

Gav describes himself as a Storyteller, Creative & Idiot. Find them on:

Facebook –
Youtube –
Twitter –
And grab a peak at the tour brochure for “Twisted Tales for Terrible Children…” –

For the upcoming Funny Looking Kids: Zoom Comedy Club details, go to

Mumbo Jumbo Artists Report: Performing Live Under Covid Safe Conditions

Thank you to Oliver Carpenter from Mumbo Jumbo for sending us this artists report on their live show, performed under Covid Safe Conditions on the 18th December 2020.

Mumbo-Jumbo – Live Performance in Covid 19 Conditions
Venue: Hartlebury Parish Hall, Worcestershire
Scheme: Live & Local Date: 18 December 2020

Regulars on the Rural Touring circuit, singer-songwriting trio Mumbo-Jumbo were asked to put on a full live performance at Hartlebury Parish Hall on 18th December 2020 under very carefully controlled conditions developed by the venue team, Live & Local and the performers. While the arrangements were fundamental it was also important to see whether, throughout the performance, it would feel like real entertainment without a cloud of conditions hanging over it.

The Venue
Hartlebury Parish Hall is a 100 capacity modern village hall serving a large village which was in Tier 2 at the time. The promoters had selected a two-set performance with a short interval.

The Performers
Mumbo-Jumbo has three performers and a technician, all from different households.

With so much at stake the venue, scheme, and performers all fully understood the importance of getting both the planning and the delivery right. Following regular Zoom discussions Covid 19 specific Risk Assessment documents were prepared by both venue and performers and a room capacity of 30 was decided upon.

Areas covered included;

  • Full Social Distancing – including movement routing, toilet arrangements, arrival, set up and departure programmes
  • for performers and audience, performer distancing etc.
  • Ticketing & Registration – including pre-purchase only, named audience, NHS app etc.
  • PPE and Conditions – including wearing of masks throughout (other than on stage) for performers and audience,
  • ventilation and cleaning down procedures.
  • Catering – There was no bar or food (bring your own) and no hospitality for the performers.

So How Did It Feel?
From a performing point of view, once the stage lights came on and everyone’s attention was on the music it felt like a gig. The audience laughed and clapped in all the right places, the interaction of everyone in the room seem to build with each song and the shape and pattern of the evening.

Changing Times

Nicola Pollard is a freelance theatre director, and Artistic Director of Up The Road Theatre, a small-scale touring theatre company based in Kent. Founded in 2015, the company have since created and toured two shows across the country, visiting village halls, community theatres and non-theatre spaces.

I asked Stephie back in April if she’d like a blog from me. I’d been blogging for Eastern Angles while directing their spring tour, and, after a brief hiatus, had just concluded the series of missives. During those intense, focused weeks of rehearsal in February and March, coronavirus had felt really far away (literally, we were in Suffolk), but news had gradually filtered through that something alarming was occurring. Then, the idea of cancelling a handful of shows felt absurd. Government restrictions on gatherings seemed far-fetched. But, plans for the tour changed, then changed again, and again, until the entire 10-week tour consisted of an ‘opening night’ behind closed doors. I won’t need to explain to many of you what it’s like to work on something for months then have it all taken away. A show isn’t done by opening night. It needs time, and audiences, to grow, breathe and develop into a fully-fledged production. We’re hoping that Red Skies will have that opportunity next spring.

So that was going to be the first blog, but I soon realised that no-one needed more stories of cancelled shows, lost work and fear for our future. In August I put it to Stephie that I could write a blog about starting to begin creative work again. ACE had opened up Project Grants, the summer looked good for outdoor performances, there was a general vibe of positivity.

As I eventually sit down to write this (September 24th) I’m not sure where we are. Many of our schemes, promoters and artists are in areas with local lockdowns, new restrictions have been announced and other restrictions passed into law. Many of us have sweated over and submitted ACE bids of one form or another, and might well be aware that our future, be that short or long term, depends on the outcome of those bids. It’s an uncomfortable limbo state.

How does it feel to be a freelance artist right now? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s vital to try to keep going with creative work, in whatever capacity we can. We don’t all have avenues, outlets or resources to actually make something regardless of what’s going on, or an audience eagerly waiting for us to put something out there. But maybe we can plan. Maybe we can dream and then turn that into something of a plan. I found it really hard to keep working on something when I couldn’t see a way it would ever see daylight, but now I think there is daylight, even if it’s a small chink that keeps changing size. 

There will be a way through this and the arts will have a place. It isn’t easy – artists tend to need some kind of support from venues or organisations, and they can’t make any promises right now. I have to keep telling myself that there is no rush. I don’t want to be in that situation where I have to tell a hard-working, dedicated cast that our first night is our last night. I won’t be the first one out there with a show when we’re given an unequivocal green light. But I will be out there at some point in the future. Actors and other creatives want and need work. Audiences want and need work. Schemes and promoters will want and need work. That’s the motivation. At some point, Up The Road will be back on the road, and what a tremendously long road it will have been. 

Do you have a Rural Touring story or point of view you would like to share on the NRTF blog? Email Stephie Jessop with your idea!

Celebrating a Rural Touring-iversary with Spiltmilk Dance

Image credit: James Dodd

We’ve recently celebrated our 6 year Rural Touring-iversary (yes, that’s definitely a word!). That, coupled with the current public health crisis which is keeping us away from the audiences we love, has led us to take a delightful trip down memory lane. We’re looking back to where this adventure all began and sharing some of the stories we’ve collected along the way. 

In 2013 we took a show called Spiltmilk say Dance to Edinburgh Fringe, it was a tongue in cheek celebration of social dance crazes that have swept the nation over the years from The Twist, to The Charleston and The Hand Jive to The Macarena!

Happily, whilst we were up there some touring schemes saw the show and the feedback was great, they loved the accessible subject matter and that it mixed complicated choreography with proper belly laughs.

So in discussion with the lovely folk at Live and Local we began to build on a little dream of ours – to tour the show alongside a social dance with live music, fancy dress and everyone getting stuck in! They gave us the encouraging nudge necessary for this participatory, great night out to be born – and we’ve never looked back.  Spiltmilk say Dance went on to tour to 35 village halls across the country and from the first few shows we knew, in this setting, our work had found its spiritual home.

Image credit: James Dodd

It’s that heady combination of doing shows for such a diverse range of audiences, mixed with the total joy of being fed, watered and welcomed in by a local promoter plus the glorious opportunity to become part of a community for the night – well, we were hooked!

We’ve gone on to tour three more shows on rural circuits, visiting hundreds of fabulous halls from the Scottish Highlands to Cornwall and from Norfolk to Wales.  We now make all our shows with rural and community audiences and venues in mind.  Embracing the ‘think on your feet’ challenges of fitting into halls of all shapes and sizes is all part of the fun and we get a huge thrill from the complete absence of a ‘fourth wall’ at rural shows; we can’t imagine doing a show now without the chance to chat to everyone as we pack up our gear at the end of the night!

And where else in theatre land would you be able to gather such a brilliant selection of touring anecdotes? We could entertain you for hours with tales of ‘tricky’ changing rooms (a cupboard with no lights or a curtained off section of the kitchen, anyone?).  Warm your heart with moments of pure joy such as the audience turning up to a show in Wales all in 60s and 70s gear and the promoter leaving us homemade brownies in the morning.  Or arriving at a venue in Scotland to discover our digs were in a castle with four poster beds!  And we’ll give you a chuckle relaying the occasional challenges unique to rural touring such as the tiny Kent church where we just about squeezed in 3 stage blocks and our techy had to operate the show from the pulpit.  Or even the time we got snowed into a Derbyshire village and had to appeal to some friendly locals for a bed for the night.  These are all experiences we will never forget and which we can’t wait to collect a few more of in future.

It’s always important to try the local cuisine…

Whilst the world is taking a necessary pause from such live events at the moment, we’ll be leaping back into touring as soon as we are able to, and look forward with excitement to what the next 6 years on the rural road may have in store for us – we’ll see you there!

Sarah  Boulter – Co-Artistic Director, Spiltmilk Dance

Find out more about Spiltmilk Dance online here:

Twitter @SpiltmilkDance
Facebook @SpiltmilkDance
Instagram @spiltmilkdance

Do you have a Rural Touring story you’d like to share with us? Then email Stephie!

Becoming Part of the Community

Rural Touring is unique in many ways, but one of the things that make it so special for artists is the feeling you get when a community welcomes you into their homes… some times quite literally.

Often, artists on rural tours, are heading so far off the beaten track, that staying overnight in a hotel just isn’t an option. So how do rural tourers solve this? Homestays with promoters. We’ve spoken many times about the extreme lengths promoters will go to in order to make rural touring happen in their community, and offering artists a bed for the night is yet another example. Here Oliver Carpenter from Mumbo-Jumbo talks about the joy of homestays.

One of the joys of Rural Touring is becoming ‘part of the community’ for the evening, and nothing says that more than being put up in people’s homes after the performance. We’ve had delightful experiences from the Scottish Borders (where they shut the village hall immediately after the show and the whole audience and band went straight down to the village pub together), to Somerset, where we were put up in the house of a lovely lady with a full sized snooker table!

This last weekend for our gigs with Creative Arts East was no exception, where the lovely people of Freckenham and Ovington put us up, let us pat their dogs, chatted about everything till late in the evening, gave us the odd snack and glass of wine and fed us lovely breakfasts the next morning. We like to leave them with something appropriate, so here they all are in their Mumbo-Jumbo aprons, and a MAHOOSIVE THANKYOU!

Oliver Carpenter –

Do you have a Rural Touring story you’d like to share? Email Stephie

Artist Perspective: Up The Road Theatre

Friday, February 15, 2019

Rural Touring is a great opportunity for artists but we’d be lying if we said it always went smoothly. As with any tour, there can be bumps along the way. Today we hear from Up The Road Theatre about why they were so keen to get more involved with Rural Touring and how they handled it when things didn’t go to plan.

This March, Up The Road Theatre, are going back on the road. We toured our first production, Bardolph’s Box, in 2016, and dipped our toe in the rural touring scheme waters with Cheshire Rural Touring and Spot On. A great time was had by all. Especially those children at Lancaster Library – I think one of them is still wondering where that witch went. Peril at Sea is a very different kettle of fish. We’re sticking to our roots of very little technology, and it’s still all about story-telling, character and text. No projectors or SubZero SZPA’s required by this company. (I have no idea what that is by the way, but we don’t need one, thanks all the same.) This production is for adults rather than children, and it’s going to boathouses rather than libraries.

Up The Road Theatre are based in Kent. I went to school near Dover, a place that is not renowned for its thriving arts culture. In the days before High Speed, London was two hours plus on the train, and school trips meant getting back at 1am. By the time I got to university, I felt at a disadvantage. I hadn’t heard of half the artists and companies being talked about. I’d done my best at going to see shows in the West End but realised there was so much more out there. After university I wrote to Ivan Cutting at Eastern Angles, asking if he had any upcoming opportunities. I nearly didn’t go to the meeting as I’d already had a few treks across the country to be rejected or ignored and was feeling somewhat deflated. As it turned out, Ivan did have an opportunity and I found myself assistant director on a verbatim musical about New Towns. Obvious choice for someone with a Shakespeare masters. In my time with Eastern Angles we had a company trip to see their production The Long Life and Great Good Fortune of John Clare. That play still remains one of the best things I have ever seen, and we were in a village hall in Suffolk. I found that incredible and over the next few years with Eastern Angles I grew to understand what rural touring means to people. Up The Road Theatre started to emerge.

Our aim is to take work to those communities who have little access to live theatre, or the arts in general. Those communities who aren’t a short distance from a producing or receiving house. Those for whom seeing theatre means spending a great deal of money and getting back at 1am. For our current production, we wanted to focus on coastal communities, it being a show about the sea and set in a coastal community. I really wanted to up our engagement with rural touring schemes and we got onto the menus of the four schemes we applied to. Hurrah. We took a punt with 10 dates, and, unfortunately, the punt didn’t pay off. I know dates are never guaranteed but we had everything – images, trailer, copy, press release. We had a brand-new production made for coastal audiences, all self-contained, Q&As and workshops available, and we couldn’t make it work.

There could be a great many reasons why we weren’t picked up. I don’t know what those reasons are. I know for one venue it was a lack of available dates. Not getting those dates did cause difficulties. I have filled those six gaps, and thank you to those who stepped in and pulled me out of the hole. We’re looking forward to going to Cornwall with Carn to Cove and I’m really pleased to be taking the company back to Cumbria with Arts Out West. I pitched at the AOW menu launch event, it was interesting, informative and not nearly as scary as I thought it might be. We’re also with Spot On now too, which feels like being welcomed into a large, happy family. I have a brilliant trio of actors and I know audiences will take to them; I’m very excited to see what our cast will do with the script.

So if you’re around a coastal area in March and fancy coming to see our work, please do. The tour schedule is on our website. If you’d like to have a chat about rural touring or think this sounds like the sort of production you’d like to have on your menu, get in touch. My email address is on the website. I would like to take the show out again, there is interest. I’ll just need to have a lie down first.

I think rural touring is fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed the previous conferences I’ve been to. As a company, we might have been down, but we’re certainly not out. We’re a relatively new company, we’re a small company but ‘art not without ambition’. As ever, we’re on a learning curve, but at least it’s a curve going upwards.

Do you have a Rural Touring Story you’d like to share with us?  Email Stephie: