Joseph Rowntree Theatre is Up On The Roof to launch fundraising campaign

Singers and musicians recording Up On The Roof remotely for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s Raise The Roof campaign

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre, in York, is launching a song on You Tube to help raise £5,000 towards vital roof repairs.

At a time when the future is looking bleak for many theatres in the Coronavirus crisis, York’s community theatre in Haxby Road is determined to buck the trend of depressing news by using lockdown as a chance to further its expansion plans.

Launching the online video this week kick-starts Raise The Roof, the JoRo’s fundraising campaign with a £90,000 target.

Aptly, the choice of song is a cover of The Drifters’ hit Up On The Roof, written in 1962 by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.

Jess Douglas: Arranger, pianist, co-organiser

The video has been produced, arranged and performed by York performers who call the Art Deco building their theatrical home, many of them also counting themselves among the JoRo’s army of volunteers.  Put together during lockdown via socially distanced media, it can be viewed at

Stage manager Ollie Nash and Jessica Douglas, a regular musical director of shows at the JoRo, have brought together a team of singers and musicians to create the video. “It’s been a real challenge under lockdown conditions,” says Ollie. “In the week leading up to its release, I spent 30 hours pulling all the bits together for the final edit.”

Arranged by Jessica and mixed and edited by Ollie, Up On The Roof is performed by Abigail Atkinson, Chris Gibson, Helen Singhateh, Jennie Wogan, Nick Sephton, Paul Blenkiron, Ruth McCartney, Sandy Nicholson and Susan Blenkiron. Backing them in the recording are Jessica Douglas, piano, Clark Howard, drums, Georgia Johnson, bass, Damien Sweeting, guitar, and Emily Jones and Tom Marlow, violin.

Graham Mitchell, the JoRo’s fundraising and events director, says: “We’ve had great fun putting this video together.  The fact that so many of our performing and volunteering community came together ‘virtually’ to produce it shows just how much the future success of the theatre means to them.”

Ollie Nash: Spent 30 hours “pulling all the bits together for the final video edit”

Against a backdrop of growing fears over the future for many arts venues across the country, the Joseph Rowntree Theatre believes it is in a “particularly strong position”.

How come? Because the charity that runs it owns the building and the theatre is operated entirely by more than 170 unpaid volunteers.

Dan Shrimpton, chair of the board of trustees, says: “We’re using this period of enforced closure to look after and improve the fabric of the building.  The roof repairs need to be completed before we can move on with our major plans to expand the building. 

“The new insulation and solar panels will significantly reduce our operating costs and also the impact we have on the environment. The expansion plans will make our venue even greener and more accessible.”

A peck on the cheek of a teenage Judi Dench from a cheeky young chap at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre is a favourite anecdote among theatre volunteers

The roof has stood the test of time, not needing any major work since the theatre was built 85 years ago.  The Raise The Roof appeal is not the first time it has appeared in a news article, however. In 2012, the Daily Telegraph published the story of a teenage Judi Dench coming down from the roof after watching the sunset with a group of friends. 

One brave young man took the opportunity to sneak a quick kiss on the way down the ladder!  Dame Judi does not remember the name of the cheeky chap, but it is a favourite anecdote among the theatre’s volunteers.

To launch the Raise the Roof campaign, the JoRo has set up a Just Giving page and is encouraging people to donate “even just the amount of a takeaway coffee”.  Go to:

The Joseph Rowntree Theatre, in Haxby Road, York

Did you know?

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre was built by the Joseph Rowntree Village Trustees as a place for recreation and education for the benefit of Rowntree employees and the York community. 

Seebohm Rowntree opened the Haxby Road theatre in 1935. It remains a vital community asset, run entirely by volunteers for the people of York. A board of 13 trustees and 170 volunteers give 17,000 hours of volunteering time every year. 

Last year, the JoRo put on more than 135 performances, staged by 35 York groups and several professional touring companies.