FOR more than 30 years, Prime Theatre has been using theatre to improve the lives of young people and help create a better world.

Now Prime is hoping to create a sense of pride and belonging to Swindon. With the help of a £27,000 Young Roots Heritage Lottery Fund, the recent Prime youth production of the play This Is Our Town marked the beginning of a project to build young people’s knowledge of Swindon’s history and the sense of being a part of its unfolding story.

Aiming to be inclusive and accessible, Prime has introduced generations of youngsters to the power of drama, helping them develop skills, gain confidence and learn more about their own lives and the lives of others. It works with aspiring young actors, writers, directors and technicians, aged from five to 25. It is also a professional theatre company, with professional actors making touring productions that can be seen all over the UK, with new work from writers such as Terry Deary of Horrible Histories fame.

The HLF Young Roots fund offers grants of between £10,000 and £50,000 for projects which help young people aged eleven to 25 explore their heritage – whether that is green spaces, museums, and historic sites, or language, local memories and youth culture. The Swindon project will help youngsters develop new skills and interests, connect with their communities and deliver their own heritage project.

This is Our Town was written by Prime’s young playwrights and inspired by a play called Our Town by Thornton Wilder, which tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover's Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.

“They have taken some aspects of that and written a play around Swindon in the same time period,” explained Emma Barr, director of the play, and Prime’s associate director. “It has three acts set in three different years, 1901, 1904 and 1913.”

The play was written by Prime’s young writers, enabled by the writing group leader and Prime associate director Marnie Forbes Eldridge and supported by Swindon Local Studies.

“About a year ago they looked at the script of Our Town, and picked out ways it was similar to Swindon,” Emma said. “Then they researched people and places and interesting events they could use and collated it all into one piece.”

The young writers asked all sorts of interesting questions – such as who owned the first car in Swindon, or where you would have bought a gravestone – and wove these real details into the story. One of the main characters is William Morris, son of the William Morris who established the Swindon Advertiser. Once the script was written, Prime had a round table discussion with other creative and heritage partners such as Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, the Steam museum, Local Studies, the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and Create Studios, to discuss the funding bid to develop the project.

“Everyone was interested, in helping a more positive perspective of Swindon and a pride in where you come from,” Emma said. “Swindon is a remarkable place, it’s growing rapidly, and it has lots of opportunities.”

The play was performed in the Great Western Hall at Steam in the last week of July, with a map of Swindon on the stage and projected pictures of local places. Now a six-month follow-up project is underway, using the play as an inspiration and springboard.

“This might mean investigating the characters in further detail, with opportunity for young writers, directors and actors to create scenes and monologues,” Emma explained.

One young person is planning a story looking at the Swindon tram crash, while another is researching the story of the dog that raised money for the town’s medical fund. Prime is eager to recruit other new young actors, producers, researchers, writers and directors who would like to get involved the with HLF This is Our Town project.

In the meantime, members of Prime are also preparing to play a part in another Swindon heritage production - the collaborative project Uncelebrated Journey, initiated by the High Sheriff of Wiltshire, Nicky Alberry. Prime members will be providing the narration for the one-off spectacular performance

Uncelebrated Journey mixes dance, music and film, and tells the story of Swindon and its people through the eyes of the Hammerman Poet, Alfred Wiliams, who was born in 1877 and worked in the harsh conditions of the Great Western Railway works, later serving in World War I and visiting India. Uncelebrated Journey, on October 6 at the Wyvern Theatre, explores his life from its earliest days to a grand celebration of the diverse modern town of today.

Contributors include Rachael Gillespie and Ashley Dixon of Northern Ballet Theatre, Paul Turner and Caroline Dale, Ten in a Bar’, the Janice Thompson Singers, Wessex Male Voice Choir, Swindon Choral Society, Swindon Dance Centre for Advanced Training, Judith Hockaday School of Dance, SAPAC of Swindon and the Commonweal School Choir.

“Members of Prime will be telling Alfred’s story, linking everything together,” Emma said. “The different groups are responding to different elements of his life, taking us up to the modern day. It’s all about developing pride in where you come from.”

Previously called Sixth Sense Theatre, Prime was founded in 1986 by Ben Eccles and Julia Davis with funding from Swindon Borough Council. Initially it was based at Burkhardt Hall, then Swindon Arts Centre, before moving to its current base at the Wyvern Theatre. When Julia Davis moved on, it was run by Ben until Mark Powell took over as artistic director four years ago.

Prime produces at least one professional touring production a year, which this autumn includes 11th Hour, a play by Terry Deary about World War I, for pupils in years five and six, and The Green Game, a science-based production for year four that will tour in December. This will look at science in everyday life with a focus on environmental issues.

It has ten youth groups, across the five to 25 age range, and currently has around 130 young members.

New members are welcome, and anyone interested can come for a taster session.

“We want everyone to have an experience of theatre, and we are the most affordable youth theatre run by professionals in Swindon,” Emma said.

For more information about Prime visit and to book tickets for Uncelebrated Journey, call 01793 524481 or visit