Thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Oundle community, the Stahl Theatre on West Street will soon have a namesake in Kenya.
In October 2015, Oundle’s Stahl Theatre Director, Naomi Jones visited Kenya with a group of pupils, spending time with the children at Ngecho School in Gilgil. Ngecho was founded in 2006 by Harambee Schools Kenya (HSK) to provide children with affordable secondary education. Over the past decade, Ngecho has grown rapidly to 350 students and is considered one of the best schools in the Naivasha District. Classrooms, science labs, and toilet blocks had all been constructed, but one project remained incomplete: the construction of an assembly hall. When the group visited, funds had been secured to start work on a twenty five metre hall where assemblies, exams and dining could take place and building started at the end of January 2016.
Oundle School has now raised £39,405 to build a stage at the far end of the hall complete with backstage facilities, comprising of two dressing rooms, two toilets and a storage space above.
Beyond the cultural and artistic benefits of such a project, sustainability remains a key dilemma in any charitable venture. Once operational, Ngecho School will also be able to hire out the hall and stage for local and national events, thereby providing the school with an income stream.
Naomi commented, “When Rodolphe Stahl donated funds for the Stahl Theatre in 1980, little could he have known that his gift would take root in Africa. What’s amazing about Kenya is that everywhere you go, they give you a welcoming performance. When we have visitors in the UK, we sit down and drink tea, but everywhere we went in Kenya they performed for us. They have performance within their culture, and witnessing that first-hand gave me a renewed enthusiasm for the fundraising project. Storytelling is a very important human need which makes us feel secure and bonded. It is how we identify with each other as a community, so giving that community a place to perform seems a worthy endeavour.”
Over the course of last year, £38,000 was raised from bake sales, costume sales, a buy-a- brick incentive, a Stahl open day and donations from foundation grants and Oundle School. In early 2017, donations came from audiences at Les Miserables and from General Sir Richard Shirreff, who was born in Kenya and attended Oundle School, as well as a large donation from the Donald Forrester Trust, enabling them to meet their target.
The theatre is yet to open, but the building is up, the roof is on and it is watertight. The footprint for the stage has been created, with access through to the backstage area.
The theatre is being built by a Kenyan company and overseen by Harambee Schools Kenya. It is hoped that the project will be completely finished in the next couple of months and Oundle School pupils plan to take a production out to Kenya to perform in the new theatre in February 2018.