‘ Just Imagine North West’ and Accrington Town Hall have big plans for the parents and children of Lancashire. From toddlers to teenagers, superheroes to princesses, there is an activity to suit all.

Transported straight away into a different world, arriving at Haworth Art Gallery we sat down to tea with vintage china. The room itself was decorated with hand-painted flowers, 3D butterflies and a little round table holding jars of pink bonbons and various treats.

Speaking to Danielle Smith, Director of Just Imagine North West, and Kerry Smith, Hyndburn Leisure’s Cultural Services Manager in the Just Imagine office, it’s clear to see this venture is something that they are both very excited about. Kerry has always had a role supporting events and the community of Hyndburn.

Kerry and Danielle at Haworth Art Gallery Barn.

“My first job was working on a Saturday at the town hall information services, then I’ve worked at the sports centre, worked here at Haworth and I now work at the town hall full-time as Cultural Services Manager. I sort a range of events for Hyndburn residents and that’s where Danielle comes in as she does so much for families and children. We’ve been working together for twelve months now. ”

Just Imagine North West opened on the 1st September 2016. Reluctantly Danielle tells us the company name was all her husband’s idea. “I should admit the name did come from my husband, he will love that I’ve mentioned him!” but the business itself has been something she’s thought about and worked towards since being a child.

“It’s been in planning for the last 10 years, I studied performing arts and I’ve always wanted to do something that’s giving back to my local area. I’m from Accrington myself and it really is amazing here. There is so much going on, not just what we are doing but throughout Hyndburn. It’s just a case of making sure people are aware of it. ”

All the Just Imagine staff members are from the local area and have a background in creativity. “We currently have 20 members of staff, they are all local people with experience in the performing arts, artists, seamstresses… just a big group of creative people. To be able to give people the opportunity to work in this industry is amazing. It’s such a difficult industry to get into. ”

Just Imagine is an innovative company that offers a range of events and services for children and adults of all ages. High-quality theatre performances alongside interactive characters, workshops, school visits and parties, they focus on engaging people to use their imagination and to build their confidence.

“We do everything, mermaid experiences, parties, shows… we even do magical mail which is hand painted and hand drawn letters for children. These letters are then delivered by characters. Just Imagine caters to such a big age range, it’s not only for the children; adults and babies enjoy the experience too. We even do events for the elderly, like our armchair boogie. It’s for anyone who believes in magic and has an imagination, we always try to make it as affordable as possible to reach as many people as we can. ”

The Mad Hatter and Alice at Haworth Art Gallery

Kerry adds that for the Grinch production last year “there were more adults than children attending. It’s so enjoyable and such good value for money for adults and children, the film club, for example, is £3.50 and it includes a film, character meet, popcorn and juice, tea and coffee. ”

Being a perfectionist, Danielle puts a lot of care into every production they run and is always thinking up new ideas.

“We won’t do something unless we can do it properly. We wouldn’t launch a character or new theme or production until it was right. We want to give all the stories justice and it takes a lot of planning and preparation. ”

Although based in Accrington, the fairies and characters have been making visits further afield.

“In the last six months, we’ve been travelling outside of Hyndburn and even Lancashire. We’ve been to Manchester and Leeds. We cover all the North West. Right now, we are preparing for our half term holiday club, we always have these in the town hall. It’s an incredible building for us because not only do you have the Ballroom, you have the experience of being somewhere special as soon as you arrive at the building. ”

Demand is very high, “99% of the events we do sell out quickly, we have expanded more this year and the big one coming up is the two-and-a-half-hour North Pole Experience for Christmas. It’s an interactive festive experience with food included and suitable for all. It’s the biggest event we have run, it will be out of this world.

Just Imagine School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

We are also always launching new characters, the next one will be Snow White, we’ve just brought out our mermaid experience, we have Halloween coming up with a visit from the Sanderson Sisters too. It’s just out of this world and the costumes are so luxurious. ”

Although primarily aimed at younger children, Kerry feels that Just Imagine is unique in that it offers an essential service to older children in the community too.

“The traditionally difficult age range to engage is the older teenagers. They’ve had a lot taken away from them, youth centres and things. Just Imagine offers an alternative to sports clubs and its perfect for helping them build confidence. ”

On a Tuesday night, they run a class for the older children. Danielle admits they mainly enjoy it for the social aspect but this is just as important as any acting skills they may learn. The graduates have all gone on to do great things too.

“It’s such a positive environment. We have 16 teenagers that come every Tuesday for our performing arts academy, and Thursdays we have the workshop for younger children. It’s a pay weekly basis, the children can come and go as they please, they don’t have to be good at performing arts. A lot of it is social communication and confidence building. It’s hard being a teenager, speaking to people face to face, speaking to the elderly. They bring themselves, it’s an even mix of genders and they really want to be there. ”

Giving something back to the community is important to both Kerry and Danielle. They both agree that the performing arts academy has been a huge success and a pleasure to be part of.

“100% of the graduates have gone on to do performing arts or similar at university. It’s like a feeder, there is progression and they get hands-on experience in the industry. The older ones help with events running, they help with the younger classes, it’s a great way to be hands-on in the industry and ideal when looking for future jobs or applying to courses. Lots of them go on to paid work within the Just Imagine team.

The Mermaid Experience

Being in the Just Imagine office itself was full of surprises, painted fairy doors along the skirting board, artists who use the adjoining rooms popping their heads in to say hello, mums and babies on their way to the Art Garden.

Danielle and Kerry are both full of ideas and enthusiasm, this combined with their dedication to the community can only be a positive thing. As Cultural Services Manager, Kerry has an abundance of praise for the work Danielle is doing and they were quick to churn out ideas at every opportunity during our meeting.

“There are more things in the pipeline for Hyndburn, it’s exciting. Working with Just Imagine is ideal for me and we have a brilliant working relationship. We are both ‘do-ers’, we like to do things effectively. We work quickly, last year I called up Danielle and said we need to do the Grinch, then suddenly here we are a year later planning the next Christmas event. I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store.”

There are some fantastic shows and events happening on the run-up to Christmas.

Visit our website at www.accringtontownhall.co.uk for more details or see our Facebook page @AccringtonTownHall