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…

Libraries Week

Tell us what you’re up to!

Libraries Week is an annual showcase and celebration of the best that libraries have to offer. Taking  place between the 4th and 10th October, Libraries week 2021 will be celebrating the nation’s much-loved libraries and the central role that libraries play in their community as a driver for inclusion, sustainability, social mobility and community cohesion. 

The Touring Arts In Libraries (TAIL) project is all about boosting the ambition of libraries to deliver a programme of touring work. We know taking arts into these open, friendly, public spaces is both positive and inspiring not just for those communities but also for library staff, and artists. 

We want to promote Rural Touring arts activities in libraries by sharing your events with our project partners, forum members and followers.

So don’t hesitate to email Jess Huffman TAIL project manager on with links and details of what you’re up to. Let us help you to shout about it!

What else is the TAIL project doing for Libraries week? 

Our monthly mail out will highlight the latest project news and opportunities for libraries, schemes and artists. Including touring shows, new library specific commissions, Go See Grants, and artists workshops.

On Monday 11th October as part of our Mechanics: Online Rural Touring Workshops for Artists, we’ll be running an interactive session that will include feedback from artists with library touring experience and a chance to pitch your own creative ideas. 

To join us or find out more about the Mechanics Workshops programme go to: 

For more information on Libraries week go to: 

Keep up to date by following @librariesweek and share your plans at #LibrariesWeek.

For more information on the NRTF’s Touring Arts in Libraries (TAIL) project go to: 

An Introduction for Artists to the Rural Touring Scheme Model…

Rural Touring in the UK happens in lots of different ways. There are, of course, rural-based theatres and arts venues that will have a full tech set up and their own programming teams, who operate much the same as their urban counterparts. Alongside this, rural community venues such as village halls, pubs and libraries also host professional arts events, to provide their communities with a rich cultural offering.

One way of rural touring is to work directly with these community venues. You may book the hall for your show, or in some cases, the hall may book you directly or you may agree on a box office split. The other way and the way that the NRTF is predominantly involved is through Rural Touring Schemes.

Rural Touring Schemes act like the programming department for a theatre or arts venue, except instead of programming different spaces within one building, they work with a network of volunteer promoters and rural venues to programme shows across a geographical area (usually they cover a county or two).

Each Rural Touring Scheme works slightly differently (depending on their size/funding etc.) but the basic model is this…

Artists apply to be programmed with the scheme (like you would with a theatre venue). Schemes then liaise with artists to pencil in dates, usually two or three dates, discuss fees etc. and make sure their work is appropriate for their rural touring spaces.

They then put together a menu of shows, which they send out to their rural venues and their volunteer promoters. This menu will offer a variety of music, theatre, children’s work, dance etc. Each scheme has different sized seasons and menus depending on their funding.

From this the venues and volunteer promoters tell the schemes which show, or shows, they would like for their halls, based on their space, knowledge of their audience, and importantly what dates are available in the venue diary.

The schemes then take in all of these expressions of interest, and piece together the season – like a giant jigsaw. They will then confirm with the artists which halls or venues they’ll be heading to on which date.

The artists then provide the halls and promoters with the marketing material. The volunteer promoter is responsible for promoting the event and selling the tickets, helping the artists get in on the day, and hosting the event on the night. The schemes are there to support the artists and the venues with marketing, or any teething problems that come up along the way. Schemes will usually produce a season brochure which is sent out across their location and to their mailing lists, they will run social media campaigns and support online ticket sales via their websites (but again this differs from scheme to scheme).

Schemes tend to guarantee the artist a set fee per show, rather than working on box office splits etc. but as I said each one operates ever so slightly differently. Some schemes also cover overnight stays or will facilitate homestays.

Take a read of this blog post to find out more about getting programmed by a scheme:

Babylon Arts ‘Creative Ideas Lab’

Babylon Arts are offering nine micro commissions for creative practitioners of any artform, to provide a gentle springboard for them to work up a new or existing early idea, that is about connecting people in East Cambridgeshire with the arts in some way.

This opportunity is aimed at creative practitioners who have some experience in delivering socially engaged arts activities or projects that make connections with people.

The offer

  • A micro commission payment of £200 for each of the nine creative practitioners that are selected from their expression of interest.
  • The chance to discuss your idea with a panel of creatives and project managers to get feedback, make connections and gain suggestions for next steps.
  • The opportunity to have your idea selected for a £2000 commission to develop and bring to life your project, so that it can be tested/delivered to an identified audience, group or community based in East Cambridgeshire. We have one £2000 commission available.
  • The opportunity to have two, one-to-one coaching sessions with a qualified careers coach

All you need to do:

To get started, creative practitioners need to submit an expression of interest either by completing this short online form, or sending in a video of no more than 2 minutes, covering the following points:

  1. Your name
  2. Two or three sentences describing your experience in delivering socially engaged arts activities or projects
  3. A brief outline of your idea – this might be something like “As a filmmaker, I’ve been thinking about how we use our smartphones to capture and edit films and I have the spark of an idea about how to use this technology to create a film with young carers or young people excluded from school…”
  4. You might show us an example of your work or provide a visual reference point for your initial idea.

If submitting a film you will need to provide your postcode and contact telephone number in the email too.

Deadline for Expressions of Interest is 10am on Monday 26th April 2021.

More information about the programme can be downloaded from the Babylon Arts website here.

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

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!

Artists FAQ (COVID Edition): I don’t want to create digital work – is that going to harm my career?

No. Right from the beginning of lockdown Rural Touring schemes have been asking ‘how do we reach audiences offline’ and working with artists to address this. We work with audiences and in communities where access to the internet (or good internet) can be limited. Just as some schemes and venues will continue to think about digital work becoming part of their core offer in the future, others are exploring alternative art forms and ways of reaching audiences. So if you have an idea that isn’t digital, but also isn’t an in-person event, now might be a good time to explore that! 

It is also a very stressful time, so if what you need to do is secure yourself financially, or take a break completely, we all want to support you to do that too.

Artists FAQ (COVID Edition): What about digital work?

One of the fantastic things about the lockdown was the access to digital work it has created – and the appetite for it among some of our least tech-savvy audiences. Some schemes have embraced digital work and started projects which they are now looking to tie in with their regular work and make long term, others have been focussing on how to reach audiences offline.

One thing all the schemes have kept at the forefront of all their digital thinking is, how do we deliver something online that still captures the magic of rural touring and feels local? If you’re thinking of creating or sharing work digitally, it is worth keeping this in mind too when you approach schemes.

Artists FAQ (COVID Editing): Are other creative ideas being discussed?

Yes! And as we all know, the best people for creative ideas are artists. So if you’ve got a new project you’ve been thinking about that responds directly to these new conditions we find ourselves in then speak to your local scheme, keeping in mind their capacity right now.