In its 21st birthday year, Highlights became the star of its own show, treading the boards to accept a raft of awards at the annual NRTF (National Rural Touring Forum) awards in Worcester.
The awards, made during a ceremony at Worcester University last month, recognise achievements in the rural touring sector and celebrate the amazing people who make it happen – the promoters, volunteers, touring schemes, artists and companies.
An independent panel of judges, made up of arts industry and rural experts, were looking for examples of excellent and dedicated practice, and from hundreds of award nominations submitted from industry peers across the country, they announced Highlights as winners in three of the six award categories.
Highlights tours shows to village halls across Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland, but it was in Northumberland that it did particularly well, with two of the three awards being for Northumberland promoters and projects.
The first award for Voluntary Promoter of the Year went to Mike Greener, from Spittal Improvement Trust.
Highlights then took the award for Best Touring Collaboration for its partnership with Morpeth theatre company November Club and its new musical, Beyond the End of the Road, which toured with Highlights in June.
The show appeared at eight village halls in Northumberland and involved communities in craft workshops, cake baking and story gathering, as well as appearing in the show as actors, choirs and musicians.
The project allowed Highlights to work more in-depth with its promoting villages and helped November Club to reach new audiences in its first rural tour.
To end the evening Highlights also took the highest accolade – the NRTF Special Award for outstanding contribution to the world of rural touring. This award went to Highlights co-director Barbara Slack.
“It’s not so much what Barbara has done in the last 12 months,” one of those who nominated her said. “It’s more what she has done in the past 21 years.”
Barbara was the first director of Highlights when it began in 1997. She has grown the organisation from working with a handful of venues to programming around 160 performances per year in some 65 village and community venues across the region.
She has been not only a dedicated manager and leader for Highlights, but also an advocate for rural touring across the UK.”
Barbara said: “Working with so many volunteers, artists and colleagues who are passionate about the arts has been a real privilege. It was a great honour to receive the award.”
The awards were presented by poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan (BBC Radio 3’s The Verb). The ‘Bard of Barnsley’ had himself toured to BURC with Highlights in March with his aptly titled show Words, Music, Glee & Delight in which he spoke of his connection to Spittal and his fond memories of family holidays in the area.
The annual awards ceremony is hosted by the National Rural Touring Forum, which represents the interests of 33 member schemes across the country, including Highlights.
Highlights works with 20 village promoters across Northumberland and a further 50 across Cumbria and Durham, and works together to bring performances from national touring companies into the heart of rural communities.
Central to the scheme is its partnership with a network of mostly volunteer promoters who, like Mike, bring their time, energy and enthusiasm to promote and host events for the enjoyment of their communities. They make a significant contribution to their communities.