Clapham’s Culture in Common
Clapham’s Culture in Common
What can a local relationship bank and a community theatre possibly have in common?
The one quietly and diligently helping clients to manage their finances through long-term, trusted, one-to-one relationships; the other bringing culture and performance to as wide a population as possible in a multi-coloured explosion of drama, music, story-telling and graphic art?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. Sitting in the sunny cafe bar at Omnibus Theatre on Clapham Common North Side, a few metres from the Clapham branch of Handelsbanken, branch manager Michelle and Artistic Director Marie laugh and then grow thoughtful as they talk about the common threads underpinning their daily routines. It starts, of course, with the deep-rooted culture they share of serving the local community.
“In terms of how we approach our business, there are lots of similarities,” says Marie. “Because we are local, because we are community-based, I can literally cross the road and come across a large proportion of my audience who come in here. And personal relationships are very important in a similar way to Handelsbanken’s approach, so we do share values – which I feel is really interesting given we operate is such contrasting industries.’”
Omnibus Theatre is based in Clapham’s Old Library, an historic building dating from 1889 that was saved from property developers by a seven-year community campaign. The theatre opened in 2013 – as, coincidentally, did Handelsbanken Clapham. Like all the 150-year-old Swedish bank’s branches, it is embedded in local life, with unusual autonomy to work with clients who align with the bank’s prudent and responsible ethos.
Michelle agrees: “The vast majority of our customers live locally here in the community, which is really important to us because we are then better able to understand their needs and their businesses. At the moment, as times are becoming more challenging our customers need to know that we are here, we’re local and they can call or meet us in the branch when they need our support. Each customer has a dedicated account manager, we all have direct contact numbers and due to our decentralised approach our customers benefit from speaking directly to the decision-maker. We are able to provide our customers with a high degree of personal service.”
The two women have come together because Michelle has re-started the generous support that Handelsbanken Clapham provided to Omnibus before the pandemic. In April the branch’s backing helped fund the world premiere of a new play by leading Swedish writer Lena Langseth, author of the hit Netflix comedy series Love & Anarchy. Based on the Greek myth of Daphne, The Woman Who Turned Into A Tree explores the pressures on young people from their peers and via social media, with themes of mental health and isolation. Handelsbanken funding has underpinned the show’s marketing and publicity, and the bank also co-sponsored a gala performance. The fact that both Langseth and Handelsbanken are Swedish is a coincidence, but as Michelle notes, it’s a serendipitous one.
And it’s not just financial aid that the bank is providing. Branch colleagues have rolled up their sleeves to help repaint the theatre; and there are other practical types of support.
“I thought I recognised those stools!” exclaims Michelle, surveying the bar. When Handelsbanken Clapham recently began a refurbishment, it donated it’s good quality furniture to the theatre where it would have a second lease of life. That also aligns with the bank’s commitment to working and living more sustainably, something the theatre shares.
‘As Handelsbanken kindly gifted their furniture to us, we were able to put the saved cost towards the free arts activities that we provide to people locally, they are a really important source of support for us,” explains Marie. The theatre’s ‘Roots’ programme provides six weeks of holiday drama activities to children on free school meals in the area’s 12 primary schools, feeding them breakfast and lunch to ease the pressure on their parents’ purses. With Age UK Clapham MYsocial the theatre runs a creative writing club for isolated elders that continued through the pandemic, providing a vital source of social contact. Fundraising is a constant struggle as Omnibus has no Arts Council or local authority funding.
“For Handelsbanken it’s about trying to help the local community to flourish, which is why we are always trying to give something back.” Says Michelle.
“We are proud to support our neighbours, the theatre. The Omnibus has such a positive influence in the area, providing local people with opportunities to enjoy the arts which is particularly important right now when the cost of living crisis is affecting so many.
- Award-winning Omnibus theatre has been shortlisted as Fringe Theatre of the Year in The Stage Awards 2023
- Omnibus’s patrons include Dame Judi Dench, Sir Michael Gambon and Lord Michael Cashman; Bill Nighy cut the birthday cake at Omnibus’s fifth birthday and Dame Miriam Gargoyles has supported many fundraising activities
- “Our patrons recognise what we’re trying to do, they have started their own careers in small local theatres and realise their importance as training grounds,” says Artistic Director Marie
- Omnibus provides more than 3,000 free arts opportunities each year to under 11s, elders and newly arrived people.
- The many groups that use the theatre for meetings, rehearsals, performances and parties, range from faith schools, acting colleges and community choirs to the Clapham Society
- For more, visit www.omnibus-clapham.org and www.handelsbanken.co.uk/clapham