1974: The Beginning
In 1974, musician and composer Jo Collins met teacher and director Mary Ward.
They both shared the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to perform and create, leading them to establish a theatre company.
Initially operating out of local church halls, they approached Lady Elizabeth Byng, a local benefactor and landowner (and a fan of their work), to inquire if there might be a vacant space on her land that the company could use as its base.
History was made when she generously offered them the use of a disused chicken shed!
1980s: True Inclusion
In the early 1980s, a young boy with cerebral palsy took part in a Chickenshed production.
“If we’re open to everyone,” asked Chickenshed’s teenage members, “then why is there no-one else like him?”
Mary and Jo saw that the way forward for Chickenshed must be one of true inclusion, and by embracing this ethos wholeheartedly the next phase of Chickenshed’s development began. They were joined by John Bull, who became Chickenshed’s first Managing Director, and whose pioneering work on integration took Chickenshed to the next level.
Jo, Mary and John had created the world’s first truly inclusive theatre company.
Chickenshed was going from strength to strength with record contracts, CDs, West End shows, TV spots, high-profile trustees such as Judi Dench and Trevor Nunn. But more – so much more – was yet to come.
In the late eighties, Chickenshed was lucky enough to meet Lord and Lady Rayne– and Lady Rayne became president of the company. And it was thanks to her that Chickenshed got a very special patron indeed: Princess Diana, whose zest for Chickenshed’s message of hope shone through in spectacular fashion
1990s: A Place of Our Own
The next significant milestone occurred in the early nineties, as Lord and Lady Rayne persistently labored to establish a permanent home for the company.
Finally, in 1994, Chickenshed succeeded in relocating to its own purpose-built theatre in Southgate, North London.
Soon Chickenshed embarked national tours, which delighted audiences of over 5000. We were showing the nation what it meant to be inclusive. Soon we would be working on a global scale.
2000's to now:
In the 21st century, Chickenshed's message has spread far and wide.
In 2000 ShedLink was established, and it has successfully facilitated the creation of 14 'Sheds' in the UK. In 2011, Chickenshed launched a new branch in Kensington and Chelsea to expand the company’s ability to offer the same life-changing opportunities in an area of London with the widest disparity between life chances and choices. In 2017 ShedHelsinki was established, and a fantastic new 'Shed' popped up in Finland. In 2019 Chickenshed NYC opened it's doors and our ethos of inclusion raced over the Atlantic.
Then after our Golden Buzzer performance on Britain's Got Talent in 2023, Chickenshed's message of inclusion spread to millions of people around the world. The power of inclusion made it's way into people's homes and we were flooded with interest, support and excitement.
Impact for Everyone
Mary and Jo have garnered considerable recognition for their efforts in establishing Chickenshed, including two MBEs, appearances on "This Is Your Life," Creative Briton Awards, Snowdon Awards, and Honorary Doctorates. However, the most significant reward lies in witnessing the transformation of Chickenshed.
Now a prominent catalyst for change, Chickenshed continues its expansion. Many of the early Chickenshed pioneers remain part of our journey, while others have moved on, leaving behind a remarkable legacy. They all carry with them a firm belief in the transformative power of inclusion to make the world a better place.
And, of course, many more have joined us along the way, whether as members, supporters, performers, or friends. Each and every one of them stands as a testament to Chickenshed's profound impact on both the artistic and social fronts. Lives have already changed, and more lives will continue to do so.
Our commitment remains unwavering: to keep spotlighting what truly matters – everyone.