Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

In the historic town of Wingham, in the Manning River Valley on the NSW Mid-North Coast, Circatus offers classes in general circus skills, stilts and aerial skills. It might sound very niche for a rural town, but the program actually fills an important gap –the need for non-competitive and expressive arts opportunities for the community to engage with.

Circatus gives the community – mostly young people – access to diverse and vibrant circus and creative arts in an inclusive and nurturing environment. Since 2009 just one trainer, founder Jill Watkins ran the show, averaging 90 students and 17 classes a week. Local catchment communities include Hallidays Point, Bobin, Elands, Mount George, Taree and Landsdowne, all within 20-50 minutes drive, however there were some families who would travel from as far as 75kms away to attend.

Rethinking the model for sustainability

Originally operating as a sole trader business, by the end of a decade of operation it became clear that the organisations’ structure needed to be rethought. Circatus had built quite a little community through classes at its Wingham space, performance projects at community events, delivery of circus as a sports elective at Wingham High School, weekly scheduled classes for a third of the 100 families in the Manning Valley Community who home school their children, and wellbeing workshops for teenagers with disability, Aboriginal youth and children in out-of-home care. One supporter wrote that “While training students in the physical circus arts, [Jill] also facilitates life skills such as confidence building and teamwork.”

Jill brought together a passionate group of five committee members and 18 volunteers and Circatus entered a new model of operation as a NFP, opening the doors for the beginning of Term 3 2020 and operating five classes a week. But building capacity to deliver more classes was a priority. Circatus needed a group of trainers to make the program sustainable into the future. Most performing arts work is in metropolitan areas, so regional circus programs find it very difficult to attract circus artists to teach.

A grant to build capacity

The group successfully applied to the Small & Vital stream of Strengthening Rural Communities to help fund a ‘Train the Trainer’ program. This would provide weekly mentoring and coaching for ten volunteer trainers, supported by a weekend intensive session for aerial skills. The funding will also cover documentation of a teaching manual, supported by videography to be utilised by these 10 future Circatus teachers. As of February 2021, the project is underway and  there are six new trainers teaching a variety of circus skills to locals aged four years to adult.

What a win-win outcome! Trainer participants are supported to develop their leadership skills and an employment pathway, AND the general community has the opportunity to continue enjoying a vibrant and culturally enhancing experience, right on their doorstep. This circus can stay in town – watch this space for more great outcomes from this project!