As artistic director of one of the UK’s most innovative theatre companies, Alan Lane is used to coming up with imaginative solutions.
But they normally involve finding ways to stage epic community theatre shows, not making sure hundreds of people have the food and medicines they need in a lockdown.
“Today we find ourselves with a Transit van full of crisps,” he says on the phone from Leeds. “Which is amazing.
“But yesterday we didn’t have any vegetables. And tomorrow we’re not going to have any eggs.
“So constantly I’m on the phone doing deals. The other day, I swapped a load of tote bags that I got from the university for some face masks, which I split in half and swapped the other half for a lot of cream.
“It’s constant creative thinking, constant problem solving.”
Six weeks ago, Lane and his company Slung Low were asked by Leeds City Council to co-ordinate the community response in Holbeck and Beeston, meaning any requests for help from the 10,000 households in the area have been passed to them.
They are mainly from people needing food, but prescriptions need dropping off too, and they are often asked to just phone lonely people for a chat.
Lane is in charge of around 90 volunteers, including some from the region’s other arts organisations – from Opera North and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to theatre company Red Ladder. Bafta-winning TV writer and producer Mark Catley is driving a van two days a week.
Managing them is not the only new role Lane has taken on during the pandemic. When not scrounging and delivering food, he has become a game show host, and a very entertaining one at that – appearing online every fortnight from Slung Low’s HQ to keep locals’ spirits up.
He says that makes Slung Low the only people in the UK to be putting on regular live performances from a theatre stage during the lockdown.