Make the Sunshine is illuminating Shepton Mallet’s arts scene

A not-for-profit community interest organisation is making waves across Shepton Mallet's arts scene. Make the Sunshine, led by Louise Lappin-Cook, is dedicated to ensuring that every young person in Shepton Mallet and surrounding rural areas has access to high-quality arts provision. Over the past year, the organisation has seen an impressive 10,000 attendances across their events.

“The catalyst for starting was a survey for families and young people across the schools in Shepton to see how much people valued arts provision, how much benefit they thought it brought and how little engagement there was,” Lappin-Cook explained.

Despite being the closest town to the world’s most prominent performing arts festival, Shepton Mallet faced challenges in arts access.

Louise said, “We conducted a survey that showed some stark things, including a shut-down theatre in the centre of town, sending a message to children and young people about the value of the arts. There is a real challenge around access, transport, and financial challenges around why people wouldn’t be accessing that provision.”

The organisation’s core mission is to tackle these issues head-on. “Our aim since starting is ensuring that every young person has access to quality arts provision,” Lappin-Cook stated.

She said the impact of arts and culture on a community is enormous. “There’s a figure that says for every £1 you invest in the salary in arts and culture, £2.01 is generated to the wider economy,” Lappin-Cook shared.

She added that young people from economically deprived backgrounds with access to arts and culture are three times more likely to attend university.

Make the Sunshine creates performances that unite communities, fostering social cohesion and forming relationships. They also run a program for older adults to reduce isolation and offer a chance to try something new.

The organisation doesn’t work in traditional theatre spaces; instead, it opts for car parks, disused shops, village halls, playgrounds, town centre spaces, and community centres. “In the last year alone, we worked in 21 different venues and spaces across Mendip,” Lappin-Cook said.

They’re currently working with ten different schools across Mendip, running a series of residencies that ensure young people get to decide what they want to see. They also run a programme called Arts Ambassadors, where young people receive training in programming and running events and can gain a professional qualification through a program run by Trinity College in London.

Make the Sunshine is part of the creative national development framework Without Walls, the country's most prominent outdoor performing arts organisation. They’re working with partners across the UK to build what they do.

“A big part of our programme is running the annual festival,” Louise explained. “ We run a smaller one in Frome, and our Playground Festival, which is based in Shepton Mallet, will be the fifth year of the festival's running.

“It is programmed entirely by young people who choose every single act that takes place there. This year’s acts include a 20m long sperm whale with a theatre inside it to raise awareness of the environment and ocean pollution, and we have some amazing international circus and street performers, as well as window cleaners who create a show using soap suds on a window. This year’s event, which we hope will unite the community, takes place on July 13 and 14.”

Despite having no core funding and being a small team, they’re looking to expand their work with young people, develop national partnerships, and increase what they can offer their local community regarding festivals. For more information, visit .