Every Sunday morning at the Fairview Youth & Community Centre in Adlington, Chorley, a group of young artists meets.
Brought together by Project Perform, they have two core things in common: they love musical theatre and many of them have a mental health issue, autism, or attention deficit disorder. A rare space where the children can feel understood and safe - where they can express themselves - Project Perform has been life-changing.
A performing arts group originally designed for those for whom other theatre groups overwhelming, Project Perform was set up last February by Andrea Andrews, a Youth and Community Worker with Leyland-based social charity Key Unlocking Futures, and her friend Tara Oliver.
Entirely voluntary-run and reliant on grants - they currently receive crucial funding from the National Lottery and Tesco's Bags of Help to meet running costs - the group is free for most children who attend, while others pay a nominal £2 weekly fee to help meet costs. It's only mission is to help kids through the power of the arts.
And that's something Andrea knows plenty about.
"My daughter, Leah, was attending various theatre groups but she struggled with anxiety and it was costing a fortune and she wanted somewhere she felt at home and safe," said Andrea. "We identified the need for some local provision for children to experience performing arts with little or no cost and which was inclusive."
Adding Andrea's vision, her experience in youth work, and her passion for musical theatre to Tara's own theatrical background, and Project Perform was born.
“It’s like a family; we’re all really close because we all understand each other," Andrea explained. "We welcome anybody who has the passion for performing regardless of ability and we’ve got some amazing talents, some great singers, some great performers.
"Performing arts, especially in musical theatre, is a way of forgetting any problems and just pretending for a while," she added. "It helps with their self-confidence, self-esteem, and is somewhere they feel they belong. It’s great for mental health; it should be prescribed."
Currently working with 14 young people aged between nine and 18, the initiative is working wonders. "The difference that we’ve seen in these young people in 12 months is incredible and seeing the improvement really spurs me on," said Andrea, a former foster carer. "It’s hard work, but we love it. I’m very passionate about working with young people because that’s what I’ve always done and watching them develop and progress is worth it.
"I get really emotional when I watch them – it’s life-changing."
Having recently performed in front of a paying audience of 110 people in Wigan, the Project Perform artists are no strangers to the big stage, and next month (July 6th) they're set to put on a musical tribute to Blood Brothers at Chorley Methodist Church.
"Everything’s going well ahead of next month: we’ve condensed the full musical into half an hour, so that’s a little challenging," said Andrea, with the group set to cover around 15 musicals in the show. "Everybody has at least a solo or a duet and we’re all part of the group numbers.
"It’s a showcase for their parents and friends and it’s so important they’re supported and get the chance to perform to an audience," she added. "When people hear you mention young people, mental health, and performing arts they think it’s going to be amateur, but some of the stuff will wow people.
"I can guarantee some fantastic entertainment. Anybody with an interest, come along; they’ve worked really hard so they deserve a chance to shine.”
Tickets for Project Perform's show on Sunday, July 6th at Chorley Methodist Church are £5 each (£2.50 for u16s) which includes refreshments. Pay on the door or call Andrea on 07976 358 962. All proceeds go to the group.