In 2019 Polka celebrated its 40th anniversary. In the same year it closed for a major redevelopment, reopening again in summer 2021. In celebration of this milestone, we launched Polka40, a programme of activities deepening our engagement with our community, children and families across the Borough of Merton during closure, and to celebrate our rich and varied past.
This recent National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project has been made possible with help from Polka staff and a wonderful team of dedicated volunteers, who have contributed to every aspect of the project’s conception and delivery.
With this project we have developed and shared Polka’s archive: a history of the UK’s first dedicated children’s theatre and its significant contribution to cultural practices. This offers a valuable collection for theatre practitioners, researchers and interested public alike. Polka Theatre’s archive is a record of the history of this unique theatre and its significant contribution to children’s theatre over the last 40 years.
During 2019, and through Polka40, we also delivered a schools, community and performance project that all focused around the 40-year history of Polka and children’s theatre. This engagement programme involved 14 local primary schools and four SEND schools.
A highlight of Polka40 included a child-centric exhibition at Morden Hall Park in London which then toured to four local libraries. This exhibition offered children, parents and grandparents the chance to explore and interact with props, costumes and other gems from our archive, learning more about theatre and Polka’s rich and creative past.
Overall the exhibition hosted around 1,842 visitors at the full exhibition and 4,132 visitors during the library tour that ran from August 2019 – March 2020: A huge 5,974 visitors in total!
The project also delivered a permanent exhibition in Polka’s new building, a digital exhibition of Polka40 archive materials/living history and oral histories on Polka’s website. Four intergenerational community choirs were established to celebrate Polka’s 40th birthday and Re:Sound continues today as one joint Polka choir.
During the project Polka worked with 30+ volunteers, an Archive Researcher, Heritage Project Manager and project partners to gain skills and ensure our heritage (Polka memories, objects and stories) is better looked after, managed, understood and shared into the future.