State-of-the-art theatre for disabled performers planned for 1850s village church in Stroud

An inclusive Gloucestershire theatre group for d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists has bought an old methodist church in Eastington village near Stroud, with big plans to transform it into a state-of-the-art accessible performance venue.

By Sarah Kent  |  Published

A methodist church in Eastington dating back to 1850 is set to become an inclusive new performance venue for TwoCan Inclusive Theatre Company, a creative arts group for d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people.

After many years of struggling to find suitable venues for its wheelchair-using performers and audiences, TwoCan bought Eastington Methodist church last year after securing funds from a generous bequest.

Listed as a development plot, the ecclesiastical property went up for sale in 2023 — and TwoCan's offer of £246,000 was accepted. After instructing an architect, the theatre company submitted plans to Stroud District Council to change the use of the church, on the proviso that the congregation would still be able to use the new facility for worship.

The theatre group currently makes use of the church for rehearsals and performances in its present state, while it awaits the planning decision from Stroud District Council.

If planning permission is approved, the company will spend up to £500,000 on redeveloping the site into an educational provision with display areas, rehearsal rooms and a new performance space, as well as disabled access ramps and an additional outbuilding.

As a registered charity, TwoCan is seeking funding and donations to help with the redevelopment to make the building fully accessible for its users, including creating a sensory garden, music studio, new kitchen, toilets and changing facilities with adjustable appliances and overhead hoists.

Founded by three female directors in 2009, Rebecca Andrews, Nicola Miles-Wildin and Louise Partridge set up TwoCan to bring about positive change in the performing arts industry for disabled artists, with the hope that it would create a more inclusive environment for wheelchair users, both on stage and in the audience, at shows throughout Gloucestershire.

The charity also offers creative opportunities for all ages, with a large youth theatre, skills development classes, social evenings and 'journey to independence' programme where people use creative activities to support them in developing effective communication skills, relationships, work skills, recreation activities and overall wellbeing.

Louise Partridge, one of TwoCan's founders and executive producer, said: 'We are thrilled to finally be able to put down roots and expand our offer for those who want to be creative.

'Eastington is a fantastic area for our base, just off the motorway at Junction 13. We are now looking for anyone that can support the redevelopment of the site, either by funding elements of the project or offering building skills and materials.

'Our inclusive theatre company was named 'TwoCan', not because of a love for the tropical bird, but because we believe that with two of you, you can achieve anything and we very much hope that there is someone who will be interested in helping us achieve our dream of a creating a fully accessible arts centre in Gloucestershire, becoming a hub for deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists, participants and audiences.'

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