Opera director to use £5,000 award for projects to help vulnerable and homeless

A Northern Ireland opera director is the recipient of an award which will be used to help vulnerable people rebuild their lives through the arts.

Kate Guelke, from Spark Opera, has been presented with the Anne O’Donoghue Award – £5,000 of National Lottery funding – by the Community Arts Partnership and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Ms Guelke will use the award to train with Streetwise Opera, an opera company that enables people who have experienced homelessness to find inspiration and empowerment while they rebuild their lives and identities.

The company runs programmes of singing and creative workshops in London, Manchester and Nottingham, for people who are recovering from homelessness.

She will also train with Pimlico Opera in Surrey, which works mainly in prisons and primary schools.

Ms Guelke will use her training with Pimlico Opera and Streetwise Opera to develop new skills which she will take back to Northern Ireland to benefit the vulnerable groups of people she plans to work with in the future.

She said: “The Anne O’Donoghue Award means so much – it gives me the freedom and resources to receive on-the-ground training from Streetwise Opera and Pimlico Opera, taking my learnings to Northern Ireland.

“There is an exciting precedent in the UK for creating inclusive, inspiring opera projects with people vulnerable to homelessness and people intersecting with the criminal justice system respectively.

“This is work I have wanted to do for years and – thanks to the Anne O’Donoghue Award – I can pursue it, co-creating and devising programmes with outstanding local partners the Welcome Organisation and Hydebank College.”

The Anne O’Donoghue award was established under the Arts Council’s existing Support for the Individual Artist Programme (Siap). The Community Arts Partnership administers the award on behalf of the Arts Council.

Community Arts Partnership chief executive Conor Shields said: “The panel believed that Kate Guelke displayed in her application an exemplary blend of personal leadership and management development through accessing high-quality mentoring.

“She also plans to develop longer term impacts within her personal practice through the award, whilst also developing learning for others in the field of socially engaged practice here, which all the panellists felt very positive to support.

“Kate has an excellent track record and connects so many practices across so many organisations in her project management.”

Lizzie Devlin, from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “Anne contributed a huge amount to the life and legacy of the arts in Northern Ireland and we are delighted to make this award available in her memory to an artist in support of their career, thanks to the National Lottery players.

“This funding is a game-changer in enabling Kate to train with leading arts organisations to develop essential skills in using the arts as a tool to engage with vulnerable people, helping to improve their lives.”

The career development award is presented in memory of Ms O’Donoghue, who was a director of Play Resource Warehouse in north Belfast, who died in 2014.

The Anne O’Donoghue Award was established by the Arts Council to support an individual working in community arts by building their professional capacity through continuing professional development.