BBC award winner Naomi Simon to perform at York Community Choir Festival finale

BBC Young Chorister of the Year Award winner Naomi Simon: Singing at the York Community Choir Festival on March 11

NAOMI Simon, 2022 winner of the BBC Young Chorister of the Year Award, has agreed to sing at her home city’s Community Choir Festival on March 11 at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York.

Naomi, 16, was a chorister at York Minster before taking up a scholarship at Rugby School to pursue her love of music. She is the daughter of JoRo Theatre patron Frances Simon, a speech and drama coach in York.

Joining Naomi will be a fellow BBC finalist, soprano-singing Bootham School pupil Sam Brophy. Each will sing solos before they perform a duet together.

From the age of seven, Sam has sung in choirs across the country, and now that his family lives in York, he sings in the York Minster Choir. Last December, he was the soprano soloist for Walking In The Air at the York Minster performance of Carrot Productions’ The Snowman.

York Community Choir Festival was started by JoRo trustee Graham Mitchell seven years ago. From small beginnings, the event has grown to a format of 33 choirs of all ages and singing styles performing in eight concerts over seven days.

“In a little coup for the event, the organising group is absolutely thrilled that Naomi and Sam are able to perform a short set for us on the final Saturday of the week-long festival,” says Graham, the Jo Ro’s community engagement director.

“Naomi’s performance in the BBC live final displayed a wonderful maturity and understanding of the carol that she chose to sing, Mary, Did You Know?, which wowed the three judges.

“Naomi has a busy schedule and we’re extremely fortunate that she can be in York when the festival is on. The festival itself is a celebration of music making regardless of age, ability or genre.

“Any choir based in the York area can apply to join in. This year, in addition to the vast range of adult choirs, we’ll have two primary school choirs performing in different concerts and about 100 pupils from Huntington School will sing in four different choirs run by the school – all on the Thursday night alongside three adult choirs. “

Graham adds: “The variety of song, genre and singing styles is absolutely marvellous and there’ll be no repetition in any concert. To confirm the variety of music on offer, on the night Naomi and Sam will be singing, we’ll have the York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir, ladies’ close harmony group Track 29, the mixed voices of The Celebration Singers and Robert Wilkinson Primary Academy.”

“The whole world of music will be on stage with at least four choirs performing in every concert. Show tunes, pop, folk, world music, classical, gospel, close harmony, blues and jazz will all feature.

“From primary school choirs to young adult choirs, adult choirs to pensioner-only choirs, singing in male, female or mixed voice choirs, the festival is a celebration of how people come together to make music and have fun.

“Pensioners choir The Rolling Tones and York Wellbeing Choir, for example, are both aimed at enjoyment and combating loneliness.” 

Tickets for this fundraising event for the JoRo Theatre’s Raise The Roof appeal are available at £6 to £10 at or on 01904 501935 during opening hours.

“The festival is a celebration of how people come together to make music and have fun,” says organiser Graham Mitchell

Who is singing and when at the York Community Choir Festival

Sunday, March 5, 5pm

  • The Lakesiders Children’s Choir
  • The Rock Choir
  • Community Chorus
  • Singphonia

Monday, March 6, 7.30pm

  • Euphonics
  • Tadcaster Community Choir
  • The Abbey Belles
  • Supersingers

Tuesday, March 7, 7.30pm

  • The Daytones
  • Jubilate    
  • Dunnington Community Choir
  • Main Street Sound

Wednesday, March 8, 7.30pm

  • Sounds Fun Singers
  • In Harmony
  • Garrowby Singers
  • Community Singers with Jessa

Thursday, March 9, 7.30pm

  • Huntington School Choirs
  • Spirit of Harmony
  • Acomb Community Choir
  • York Military Wives Choir

Friday, March 10, 7.30pm

  • Aviva Vivace!
  • York Wellbeing Choir
  • York Phoenix Harmonies
  • Bishopthorpe Community Choir

Saturday, March 11, 2.30pm

  • Headlands School Choir
  • The Elysian Singers
  • Eboraca    
  • The Rolling Tones    

Saturday, March 11, 7.30pm

  • York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir
  • Track 29 
  • The Celebration Singers
  • Robert Wilkinson Primary Academy
  • Guest soloists Naomi Simon and Sam Brophy

Yorkshire’s Got Talent returns for second online event for Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s Raise The Roof appeal. Entrants sought

The City of York civic party and performers at last September’s Yorkshire’s Got Talent showcase at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

YORKSHIRE’S Got Talent is offering an open invitation for performers to take part in the online event’s second year.

The competition is the brainchild of Hannah Wakelam, Young Ambassador for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York, who organised last year’s contest across Yorkshire. Once more, the event will support the JoRo’s “Raise The Roof” fundraising appeal.

2022 entrants are invited to submit their audition tapes by Saturday, January 22 to be considered for the following round.  The ten most successful performers, as decided by a public vote, will be joined by three wildcards of the judges’ choosing.

Those judges will be three West End professional performers, Laura Pick and Nathan Lodge, from last year’s panel, joined by May Tether, fresh from appearing in the national tour of Heathers The Musical. 

Last year’s winner, Ed Atkin, was the headline act when the finalists’ held a showcase at the JoRo last September and has embarked on a course of vocational music study. 

Organiser Hannah Wakelam

Organiser Hannah says: “Last year’s competition was really popular and gave performers from all across our region the chance to compete for a £250 cash prize and to perform on the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s stage. 

“We had to wait a while until we were able to put the showcase on, because of Covid restrictions, but the finalists’ show was well worth the wait. The feedback from all the audience was amazing!  One of the highlights was when the performers had the chance to meet the City of York civic party backstage once the curtain had come down.”

To enter this year’s contest, send an audition tape to  and make a minimum donation of £5 to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s Just Giving page via: “Please add your name, age and a little bit about yourself,” requests Hannah.

Three further rounds of the competition will follow, each judged by Laura, Nathan and May. “For the final round, you will have the amazing opportunity of being mentored by one of the judges,” says Hannah. “Following the initial audition submission, each round will be based on a theme, to be announced at the beginning of each round.”

Dan Shrimpton, chair of the JoRo charity’s trustees, says: “What makes this competition exciting to us, being a hub for community theatre across the whole of the Yorkshire region, is that, as the competition gets better known, we can see what talent the wider region has to offer.”

The Judges

Laura Pick: Returnee judge

Laura Pick

Now playing Elphaba in Wicked in the West End.

Theatre: Dr Osgood and featured ensemble in Anyone Can Whistle (Union Theatre) and understudy for Maria in The Sound of Music (Regent’s Park).

Other work: Lead vocalist for Belinda King Creative Productions; So This is Christmas (UK tour) and chorus for The Songs Of My Life: An Evening With Peter Polycarpou (Garrick).

Training:  Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

Originally hailing from Wakefield, Laura is looking forward to seeing all the new and fresh talent Yorkshire has to offer.

Nathan Lodge: Fellow returnee judge

Nathan Lodge

Vocal vocal captain on M/S Color Fantasy; Queen by Candlelight, the Monastery, Manchester; theatre roles in Aladdin (Brick Lane Music Hall); The World Of Musicals (China Tour); Equally: A New Musical (Cockpit Theatre); Christmas In New York (Palace Theatre, West End); The 8th Fold (Duchess Theatre, West End).

TV credits: The Paul O’Grady Show (ITV); The One Show (BBC)

Training: York College and Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts.

Originally from York.

May Tether: new judge for 2022

May Tether

In 2021, she understudied Veronica Sawyer and played the drama club drama queen in Heathers The Musical on tour. Played Lily/Elijah/Pip in John Godber Company’s Moby Dick, directed by John Godber at Stage@The Dock, Hull, in June.

Performed for York Stage Musicals for many years, appearing at the Grand Opera House in Hairspray, 9 To 5 The Musical, Legally Blonde and Sister Act. Also appeared as Jill in York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, in December 2020.

Training: Trinity Laban Conservatoire.

Originally from Goole, May is thrilled to be a judge in this year’s Yorkshire’s Got Talent.

Happy 85th birthday to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre today…

The logo for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s 85th anniversary in York

TODAY is the 85th anniversary of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York, aptly on #LoveTheatreDay.

The theatre was opened on Monday, November 18 1935 by Mr Seebohm Rowntree, then chairman of  Rowntree & Co Limited, with the aim of “providing a hall which may be a fitting centre for those recreational and educational activities that make for a full and happy life”.

Under Lockdown 2 restrictions, the Haxby Road community theatre cannot hold an actual birthday party, but its social media channels will be full of stories, anecdotes and photographs.

The cutting from the Yorkshire Herald, reporting on the opening of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, or Joseph Rowntree Hall as it was first called. Founder Mr Seebohm Rowntree is second from the left in the line-up

Supporters and volunteers have come together to share their memories and their hopes for the future of the Art Deco venue.

Those wanting to join in the conversations should email any memories to or contribute via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

In addition to the birthday celebrations, the JoRo is highlighting the support and encouragement of its three patrons: David Bradley, Ian Kelsey and Frances Simon.

“The Joseph Rowntree Theatre has been a vital part of the city for so many years,” says patron David Bradley

Bradley, known to many older York residents from his time with the Rowntree Youth Theatre and from playing Jesus in the 1976 York Mystery Plays, has become a familiar face nationwide from his vast number of stage, film and television appearances over many decades. Latterly, those credits take in the Harry Potter franchise, Game Of Thrones and Broadchurch.

Although David, 78, has been a patron of the JoRo for “some time”, the 85th anniversary is the first time that the theatre has announced his patronage formally and celebrated his backing.

In support of the theatre’s Raise The Roof fundraising campaign, David said: “The Joseph Rowntree Theatre has been a vital part of the city for so many years. I know from personal experience that it has provided opportunities for so many young people, and I will always be grateful for that. I fully support the theatre’s appeal and wish it all the best.”

Ian Kelsey: New patron of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

The second, newly appointed patron is York-born actor Ian Kelsey, who honed his skills in many shows produced by Rowntree Youth Theatre. After a stint as an apprentice coach builder at the York railway carriage works, the acting bug drove him to follow his dreams by studying at Guildford School of Acting.

He has since been a regular on the nation’s TV screens in multiple drama series, from Blue Murder and Coronation Street to Doctors, Casualty and Emmerdale.

The third patron is actress and drama teacher Frances Simon, who moved to York with her family from London 14 years ago. She studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, and played the Angel Gabriel in the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens.

Frances Simon: Actress, teacher and new patron of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre

Frances has been a great supporter of the JoRo, attending many shows and teaching many youngsters who have appeared on the theatre’s stage.

A passionate advocate of the benefits of theatre to young people, she is the director of Frances Simon Speech and Drama Coaching; teaches speech and drama at St Peter’s School, York, and is a LAMDA coach at York Theatre Royal and Stagecoach Performing Arts.

While the JoRo is looking back and toasting the successes of the past 85 years today, it must look to the future too. Hence the launch of the Raise The Roof campaign to raise £90,000 to fund the shortfall in savings available to meet the costs of repairing the roofs after more than eight  decades without needing any such major repairs.

Hannah Wakelam: Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s first Young Ambassador

During the course of this campaign, new volunteer Hannah Wakelam has taken on the role of the JoRo’s first Young Ambassador.

Musical theatre performer Hannah, 20, so far has helped to raise hundreds of pounds by initiating fundraising projects, most notably organising this autumn’s online contest, Yorkshire’s Got Talent, won by York College actor-musician Ed Atkin, 17, in October. Now she is in the process of selling tickets for a grand Christmas raffle.

The JoRo trustees hope more young people will follow Hannah’s lead by coming forward to play their part, inspired by the opportunities that the theatre gives them, both on and off the stage.

Happy birthday: The Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s 85th anniversary teddy bear and York illustrator Elliot Harrison’s new retro card in the style of vintage railway posters

After talent contest, Rowntree Theatre appoints Hannah as Young Ambassador

Hannah Wakelam: The Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s inaugural Young Ambassador

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, has appointed Hannah Wakelam as its first Young Ambassador.

Musical theatre performer Hannah, 19, was responsible for setting up and running the online Yorkshire’s Got Talent contest reached its final last weekend, won by York performer and composer Ed Atkin.

Through this virtual contest and other online competitions, Hannah raised more than £1,200 for the Haxby Road theatre’s £90,000 Raise Tthe Roof appeal and boosted the theatre’s youth following.

She approached the JoRo theatre early on in its campaign to suggest ways she could help in raising funds for the roof appeal for the Art Deco building.  The Yorkshire’s Got Talent online contest quickly attracted entrants and followers and membership of its Facebook group surged to almost 4,000. 

Graham Mitchell, the JoRo’s events and fundraising director, says: “Hannah’s enthusiasm and support for our cause are infectious. She’s achieved huge things in a short space of time and has brought the theatre’s Raise The Roof appeal to the attention of thousands of people.”

In recognition of those achievements, the theatre has decided to name Hannah as its first Young Ambassador. “This new role will see Hannah supported by the board of trustees as she continues to raise awareness of the theatre among younger theatregoers,” says Graham.

A delighted Hannah says: “The support for the Yorkshire’s Got Talent competition and the money it raised blew me away!  I absolutely love this theatre, I’ve performed in it so many times and we need it to survive so that it can exist as a training ground for young people, both on and off stage.”

Although Yorkshire’s Got Talent may be over, Hannah continues to work with the theatre’s fundraising and marketing teams, creating online content for Facebook and Instagram.

Video tours of the JoRo will be available to view soon, seen through Hannah’s eyes and in her words, and soon too she will be launching a huge raffle for the appeal. Already she is on the lookout for prize donations.

Highlighting the opportunities that the JoRo offers to young people, only last week York-born actor David Bradley lent his support to the roof appeal.

“The Joseph Rowntree Theatre has been a vital part of the city for many years,” says the Harry Potter and Game Of Thrones star.  “I know from personal experience that it has provided opportunities for so many young people and I will always be grateful for that. I fully support the Raise The Roof appeal and wish it every success.”

Last Sunday’s Yorkshire’s Got Talent final was decided by a public poll, the contest judges and six other West End and Broadway industry professionals. Ed Atkin emerged as the winner, beating Fladam (silly-song duo Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter) and Jordan Wright.

The judges were Wakefield performer Laura Pick, who was playing Elphaba in Wicked in the West End until lockdown, West End regular and cruise ship vocal captain Nathan Lodge and Ripon vocal coach Amelia Urukalo.

Industry professionals involved in judging were Rachel Tucker, Kerry Ellis, Natalie Paris, Matthew Croke, Nicholas McClean and Paul Taylor-Mills.

For the Raise The Roof campaign, the JoRo has set up a Just Giving page and is encouraging donations of “even just the amount of a takeaway coffee” at:

Ed and shoulders above the rest as Atkin wins Yorkshire’s Got Talent competition

ED Atkin has won Yorkshire’s Got Talent, the online contest organised by York teenage musical actor Hannah Wakelam in aid of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s £90,000 Raise The Roof appeal.

After weeks of searching for “the best talent that Yorkshire can offer”, the judges combined yesterday with guest panellists and the public to vote for the winner from a final three of Atkin, Jordan Wright and Fladam (the silly-song double act of Florence Poskitt and pianist Adam Sowter).

Donations and entry fees saw this fundraiser reach its £1,000 target, and if you have not donated yet, you can still do so by visiting:

Judging the competition from the start were Wicked star in the West End, Laura Pick, cruise-ship vocal captain Nathan Lodge and vocal coach Amelia Urukalo.

Ed Atkin last appeared on a York stage in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Covid-curtailed production of Tom Midnight’s Garden at Theatre @41 Monkgate in March, playing Peter and composing the score too.

Who will win Yorkshire’s Got Talent? Find out at 8pm tonight after votes close at 7pm

Glittering prize: Today is judgement day for Yorkshire’s Got Talent

WHO will win Yorkshire’s Got Talent, the contest organised by York teenage musical actor Hannah Wakelam in aid of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s £90,000 Raise The Roof appeal.

Today is the final of this online competition, and the choice lies between Fladam (the silly-song double act of Florence Poskitt and pianist Adam Sowter), Ed Atkin and Jordan Wright.

Hannah has created a poll for public votes that will be combined with the judges’ votes (each one classed as 25 votes) and guest panel votes (each worth 20 votes).

Judging the competition from the start have been Wicked star Laura Pick, cruise-ship vocal captain Nathan Lodge and vocal coach Amelia Urukalo

Voting closes today at 7pm and the winner will be announced at 8pm. To vote, go to:

Joseph Rowntree Theatre sets £10,000 target for #SaveOurTheatres crowdfunding

Red alert: The Joseph Rowntree Theatre on the night of #LightItInRed, highlighting the plight of theatres, forced to shut down in March under Covid-19 restrictions

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre, in York, is joining the national #SaveOurTheatres crowdfunding campaign with a fundraising target of £10,000.

The Haxby Road community theatre is one of the first to sign up for the national scheme launched by the Theatres Trust to support theatres throughout the country. 

The scheme is backed by high- profile names such as actor Jude Law, who is a Theatres Trust ambassador. “Coronavirus has simply devastated our theatre sector,” he says. “Communities across the UK are in real danger of losing their theatres forever and we risk losing a precious part of our culture and heritage.

“Theatres are a vital community hub that bring joy to millions of people each year and we must try to save these theatres for generations to come.”

The JoRo prides itself on being “a strong community hub, a venue run for the community, by the community”. Although unable to play host to live shows since March, trustees and volunteers have been working hard behind the scenes on fundraising, for the £90,000 Raise The Roof appeal, and events planning. 

However, the ongoing closure has necessitated spending savings to keep the theatre going, when these monies originally were earmarked to carry out essential repairs.

Dan Shrimpton, chair of the board of trustees, says: “We are in a stronger position than many theatres. However, our income has been affected significantly by the Covid-19 crisis and we are having to divert funds intended for essential repairs to cover the lost income.

“The crowdfunder campaign is to help support the theatre’s finances until it can reopen fully.”

The crowdfunding page is live at, where various levels of donation are outlined with specified rewards at each level, ranging from a certificate of thanks to a champagne afternoon tea. Tote bags, theatre teddy bears and seat sponsorship are on offer too.

“The comments by supporters already on the page show the high level of esteem in which the community gem is held,” says Dan.

“Lucky 13” picked for second round of Yorkshire’s Got Talent for JoRo’s roof appeal

Sam Rippon: One of the “lucky 13” to make it through to the next round of the Yorkshire’s Got Talent virtual contest

THE Yorkshire’s Got Talent virtual contest, in York, enters its second phase with 13 contestants still standing.

The online competition was launched last month to provide funds for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s £90,000 Raise The Roof appeal.

From dozens of entries, the ten acts that collected the most votes proceeded straight through to the next round. The following day, three more acts were “saved”, as each of the three judges picked a wildcard entry.

Hannah Wakelam: Organiser of Yorkshire Got’s Talent

Entries closed at midnight last Saturday, whereupon organiser Hannah Wakelam, 19,  announced the results live on Facebook on Sunday evening. The ten acts going through, in no particular order, are Sam Rippon; Richard Bayton; Flo Taylor; Jess Baxter; Harvey Stevens; Florence Poskitt & Adam Sowter, Nancy Mae and Ayda Mooney; Daisy Winbolt -Robertson; Roxy Hurst and Evan Watkinson.

Taking the total to 13, lucky for them, were the wildcards chosen by judges Nathan Lodge, Amelia Urukalo and Wicked star Laura Pick. Nathan saved Ed Atkin, Amelia rescued Abbi Watkinson and Laura’s pick was Jordan Wright.

Graham Mitchell, the Jo Ro’s events and fundraising director, says: “We’ve entered a really exciting part of the contest as each week from now on the finalists will have to fight to keep their places.

Wright choice: Laura Pick picked Jordan Wright as her wildcard choice

“Whereas when the acts first entered, it was up to them what they submitted, from now on we’ll be giving them a theme to work with.  The first theme is Disney, so we’re looking forward to seeing what our performers choose to come up with.”

The latest round will close on August 19, when it will be up to the judges to decide who progresses.

Dan Shrimpton, the JoRo charity’s chair of trustees, says: “We recognise many of the acts as they’ve already performed on our stage.  What makes this competition exciting to us as a hub for community theatre across the whole of the Yorkshire region is that we’ve seen interest from farther afield than York city centre and also from a wide range of different types of acts.”

The logo for Yorkshire’s Got Talent

The talent contest is the latest in a series of fundraising events for the Haxby Road theatre, in the wake of an online fitness video, a small yard sale, the ongoing sale of Barbara Boyce-designed face masks and the Up On The Roof virtual video, filmed at the beginning of lockdown.

To launch the Raise The Roof campaign, the JoRo has set up a Just Giving page, encouraging donations of “even just the amount of a takeaway coffee” at

Yorkshire’s Got Talent contest video entry deadline extended by a week for Joseph Rowntree Theatre roof appeal fundraiser

“We don’t want anyone to miss out on the chance of becoming a finalist in Yorkshire’s Got Talent,” says organiser Hannah Wakelam

THE deadline for performers to upload video entries for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s online contest, Yorkshire’s Got Talent, is being extended by a week.

Organiser Hannah Wakelam and the judges, Wicked star Laura Pick, cruise-ship vocal captain Nathan Lodge and vocal coach Amelia Urukalo, have set a new cut-off point of midnight on August 8.

Hannah has set up the virtual competition as a fundraiser for the JoRo’s £90,000 Raise The Roof appeal.

“We still have lots of entries coming in, as word of the contest reaches further afield,” says the 19-year-old York performer. “We don’t want anyone to miss out on the chance of becoming a finalist in Yorkshire’s Got Talent, and so the judges and I are extending the entry deadline to next weekend.

“All types of performers are encouraged to enter and to show off what they can do, whether it’s singing, dancing, playing a musical instrument, performing a circus act, the list is endless.”

The cost of entry is a minimum donation of £5 to the Raise the Roof appeal for the Art Deco building, in Haxby Road, and no age restrictions apply.

To comply with lockdown rules, entrants are asked to submit a short video of themselves performing their acts. The contest winner will receive £100.

Full rules and details of how to enter can be found at:



Graham Mitchell, the JoRo’s events and fundraising director, says: “There’s a real buzz around this contest now. Having a West End star [Laura Pick] among our judging panel has certainly got people talking and we are seeing a rush of last-minute entries.  By extending the deadline, we’ll be able to accommodate more acts at the same time as raising more money for our fundraising appeal.”

The online contest is the latest in a string of fundraisers for the Rowntree Theatre’s  roof appeal, following on from a virtual video, a Zoom fitness class and the ongoing sale of jazzy face masks made by theatre volunteer Barbara Boyce.

To launch the Raise the Roof campaign, the JoRo has set up a Just Giving page and is encouraging donations of “even just the amount of a takeaway coffee” at