The funding boost means the charity’s community theatre can expand and will be introducing an adult and youth (11 – 16) group for people of all abilities. It will also begin training people with learning disabilities in the technical aspects of theatre.

These groups join two existing sessions for people aged 16 or over with a learning disability, autism and other additional needs. The weekly workshops have been helping more than 30 budding actors to build confidence, develop communication skills and make new friends.

Funding for the sessions and the technical equipment needed for the Above The Rafters project has come from Arts Council England (£15,880) and Hampshire County Council (£8,700). The charity is looking for more donations to raise the last £5,000 to complete the project and expand the technical training it can offer.

The funds will allow the community theatre to pioneer truly inclusive performing arts through a range of exciting opportunities which bring together people of all abilities and ages from all four groups. It will also fund the purchase of equipment that allows trainees to learn how to operate the lighting and sound for performances from a new fully accessible portable tech desk in the main auditorium.

As well as its work with the community theatre, Minstead Trust also supports more than 200 people with learning disabilities to achieve greater independence, lead fulfilled lives and live as full citizens in society.

The Arts Centre runs shows and events all year - with high quality comedy, music and theatre from some of the country’s most talented performers. Every ticket bought helps the Trust’s charitable work to support people with learning disabilities.

Emily is a member of the community theatre and said: ‘I like the drama group. I enjoy using my imagination and pretending to be different people and things. Sometimes I feel nervous but when the crowd clap I feel happy and that I have achieved something. Thank you to the people who work to run the group, I’m looking forward to doing more.’

Emma Golby-Kirk, Head of Arts Programming at Hanger Farm Arts Centre, said: ‘We are delighted to have received funding to expand our high quality drama training to the whole community. In time, we aim to connect members of all four disabled and non-disabled groups through shared workshops and performance opportunities. In doing so we will learn from each other and model the inclusive society we want to see.’

Existing groups for people with learning disabilities run on Mondays (1.15-2.45pm) and Wednesdays (1.30-3pm). The new adult group will run on Mondays from 11.30am until 1pm and the youth group will run on Wednesday evenings from 6.30pm until 8pm. Both new groups will start in March.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the community theatre or helping to fund the sessions email [email protected]