How Ignite Started

Founded in 2010 by writer/director Aileen Ritchie and an original group of young Asylum Seekers and Refugees, Ignite Theatre is an award winning Glasgow based charity which engages with a diverse range of children and young people who face multiple challenges in life.

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The origins of Ignite Theatre began in 2006 when Aileen Ritchie was Writer in Residence for Glasgow City Council. There she met Euan Girvan, a local teacher (who has since been made famous as a character in The Glasgow Girls musical). Euan was running a unit in Drumchapel High  School, helping newly arrived Asylum Seekers and Refugees settle into their new life in Scotland.

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It was clear that many of the young people had no social outlet and that parents were worried to let their children out at night. There was still a lot of hostility, ignorance and fear in the areas where many of the young people were living. Dawn raids were at their height and there was an atmosphere of tension. The young people were often acting as the translators for the family; they were taking on huge responsibilities and seemed to lack any opportunity to relax, socialise or explore their creative potential.

The company began with 6 drama workshops in the Kingsway Health & Wellbeing Centre. It was a small space but safe, occupying the ground floor of a high rise block, close to where people were living; other young people were chaperoned over from the high rises at Lincoln Avenue. As the weeks went by, numbers grew and soon we were working with young people from Rwanda, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Congo, Algeria, Zambia and Afghanistan.

We needed an identity, and with the support of Artists In Exile we set up as Artsfactory. We quickly outgrew the space and moved into a bigger hall in a local church. Our first play, The Circle of the Asylum Seeker was a huge hit and we toured it to venues and groups. This project allowed us to have a conversation with the community about their perception of refugees and the life they were living.

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Devised and performed by four African girls, The Circle of The Asylum Seeker was a short drama charting a family’s arrival into Glasgow, the language barrier and the low level racism they encountered. As the girls play both the local Glaswegians as well as the Asylum Seekers, there is huge comedy in the piece; as they change from quiet African girls to loud Glasgow neds, brimming with attitude. The play hits home when a new girl has to present a speech in school about her life and her classmates are shocked and shamed by the reality of what they have subjected her to.

The company grew, changing name to Knightswood Youth Theatre. As Knightswood Youth Theatre, we were nominated and won 2 awards in 2008: the Scottish Minority Ethnic Award for the Arts was presented to us at the Scottish Parliament; and The Philip Lawrence Award was presented to us in London for our citizenship and service to the local community. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, presented this to the group and we met many celebrities and politicians, including Sir Trevor MacDonald. On our return to Scotland, we had a reception at the Scottish Parliament.

In 2010, the young people who had originated the group were now old enough to forge a new company based on a partnership and Ignite Theatre was born with many of the founding members on the board of management. At that point we expanded the company to include a wider age range, starting a junior drama group which proved very popular.

After the launch of Ignite Theatre, we began to attract more young people from across the local Glasgow community creating a truly integrated company. Now we are one of the most diverse youth theatres in Scotland attracting members from Africa, Asia, Scotland and new migrants from Europe. We also have members who live in care and members with additional needs.

Ignite Theatre is truly open to all, offering free drama and opportunity to young people aged 6-24.

Ignite Theatre is living proof of how Asylum Seekers and Refugees can enrich a community; hundreds of young people of all backgrounds have benefited from membership over the past ten years, sharing their stories with thousands of people.