Storyhouse, Chester: Young Programmers

Haley Lindley-Thornhill - Young Storyhouse Manager


Storyhouse Young Programmers are a group of fifteen 14–25-year-olds who are passionate about programming.

Young Film Programmers first took place in 2016 – before Storyhouse opened. It was an audience development scheme supported by FAN via Film Hub Northwest Central (now Film Hub North) with the aim of connecting with young audiences and to raise awareness of the new venue. Approximately 20 young people took part and the scheme culminated in a programme of films at St Mary’s Church in Chester.

Storyhouse opened in May 2017. Between 2017 and 2020 the Young Film Programmers scheme operated as a twelve week taught course covering all aspects of film exhibition culminating in a weekend take-over of the Storyhouse Cinema. The annual take overs were varied and reflected the interests of the different cohorts – programmes in this period included Not So Wasted Youth, Love In All Its Forms, Decades, and Unheard Voices.

Meanwhile, Storyhouse were developing building wide projects for young people designed across the theatre, library, and cinema programmes, which are all housed within the Storyhouse venue. In 2018 a Young Trustee was appointed to the Storyhouse Board giving young people a voice at the highest level, and a youth forum was introduced made up of members aged 8-25. Our first Young Trustee was a graduate of Young Film Programmers.

Young Storyhouse consists of activities for young people including: Young Leaders, Young Marketers, Youth Theatre, Young Company, Young Programmers, BFI Film Academy and Young Readers. All these projects focus on developing employability skills – and are largely targeted at groups with a barrier to finding opportunities in the cultural and creative sector.

In 2019 a graduate from the Young Film Programmers put together a group of young people
interested in all aspects of programming and a new group was set up, Young Programmers, with curated visiting speakers, training, development and deliverable projects.

In 2020 the decision was made to amalgamate Young Film Programmers into the Young
Programmers group and to move away from annual seasons and allow the opportunity for year-round interventions from the young programmers group, giving them a stronger influence over the programme at Storyhouse. The group now programme work together across cinema, stage, library, festivals and online.

Do you have specific aims for the group?

Storyhouse Young Programmers mission statement is:

• Create events for all spaces of Storyhouse including digital platforms.

• Bring in new young audiences to Storyhouse.

• Showcase young performers and young talent.

As a member of Young Programmers young people:

· Receive mentoring and training

· Meet industry professionals

· Learn about programming, marketing and event management

· Plan, run, market and host festivals and events in Storyhouse and on Storyhouse digital platforms

· Develop a valuable portfolio of experience

· Have the opportunity to attend film screenings and theatre events

· Collaborate with like-minded young people

· The option to work towards their Arts Award Qualification.

The group bring in new audiences, give young people a positive platform and enhance the
programme at Storyhouse.

Project Headlines

• Young Programmers continued to meet virtually during the lockdowns and ran a digital
takeover with young performers from around the world. Young people reported that
continuing to have a project to work on gave them a positive focus and a greater sense of

• Young Programmers cinema takeovers have influenced how other departments engage with young audiences.

• Young Programmers are regularly consulted by Storyhouse departments on activity relating to young people. They recently influenced the decisions and design of the membership scheme for young people.

The recruitment process and key partnerships

We are committed to improving Industry access through our recruitment processes
for participants in Young Storyhouse. We work with various partners to reach individuals that might otherwise face barriers to taking part in arts based and creative careers. Partners we work with include:

• Bridge Foyer: Offers a safe environment that provides young homeless people leaving with

• Bren project: The Bren Project offers people with learning disabilities and autism the
opportunity to experience supportive work placements.

• South and West Cheshire College: West Cheshire College is a specialist Further Education
College, with Campuses in Ellesmere Port and Chester. They offer learning opportunities,
including Apprenticeships and full-time programmes.

• Cheshire West and Chester Council Youth Service: deliver youth provisions and youth
projects to young people 13 to 19 years (up to 25 years if Special Educational Needs and
Disabilities SEND)

What has worked well

  • Bringing new young audiences together to meet each other.
  • Seeing the young people increase in confidence
  • Supporting young people to create a portfolio of their work
  • The young people programme public facing events
  • The young people develop transferable skills and knowledge of applying them outside of Storyhouse
  • Empowering local 14-25 year olds to take charge of running projects and events within a cultural centre
  • Exposing young people to opportunities for social interaction, social integration, and peer learning
  • Providing young people aged 14-25 with an insight into the Creative Industry and its


What has been difficult

  • Developing opportunities for young people to continue to create meaningful events during the pandemic
  • Ensuring everyone in the group has their voices/ideas represented – this was resolved by working in smaller teams and by extending the programme to run throughout the year so that the group can continuously influence and lead on programming



We have a budget of approx. £2000 a year to cover film related activity for the Young Programmers scheme. This support comes from FAN Film Hub North as part of our award to develop audiences for specialised film content.

The money is used to support speakers and workshop leaders who work with the group and
provides a small pot for the Young People to work with to enhance the events they put on.
The wider Young Storyhouse projects are funded via various schemes both locally and nationally.

The impact of the Young Programmers activity on the young people

The young Programmers set their own mission statement which includes ensuring accessibility and inclusion in their work. This has started many discussions around platforms for voices, ensuring people feel like Storyhouse is an authentic space for them and how we ensure Storyhouse is an authentic and safe space. This has enabled young people to further connect with other groups and organisations in Chester working with underrepresented communities. Members have also commented that the group is a great focus for them each week and during the lockdowns gave them a positive motivation and a consistency and that it helped them make new friends. 2 members of the group found a connection through their love of Blackpink and together they worked to programme 2 cinema screenings and a pre-screening meet up for more people to connect and make

How important is the activity to Storyhouse as an organisation?

The young programmers get to work with a variety of industry professionals and artists. Their voices are important and integral – they are consulted, and they are part of the core Storyhouse programming team. This empowers the young people and raises their aspirations, as they discover careers that they are interested in.

Inspiring and helping young people reach their potential is one of the key aims of the Storyhouse Youth Projects, as is improving skills that will help young people make the next step in training, education or employment.

Many young people we have worked with have used their experience to move on to further
education or employment, some within Storyhouse itself:

• Our current Cinema Marketing Assistant is a former Young Film Programmer.

• The Young Programmers Coordinator (paid role) is a former Young Film Programmer

• Storyhouse Literature Festival Event Programme Coordinator is a former Young

• Our Marketing Trainee is a Young Programmer

What impact has the group had on the organisation as a business?

Through the Online Young Takeover the Young Programmers worked to raise the profile of young talent, and Storyhouse reaching audiences in the US, Germany, Holland and Bethlehem.

Young Programmers is designed to build employability skills, the young people are encouraged to network and connect with industry professionals and are supported to create a CV and a detailed portfolio of their work.

The Storyhouse Youth Projects team have led on the development of the Young Storyhouse Card for 16 to 25 year olds. The card is designed to encourage young people to attend arts and cultural events independently. It enables access to discounted tickets in both the theatre and cinema (cinema tickets are £5.00) and money off food & drink.

The scheme launched in September 2021 – following a pilot which gave Young Storyhouse
Participants and Partners access to reduced cinema tickets.

You can read a Q&A on Storyhouse Young Programmers with workshop Llader, Esther Lisk-Carew, here.