Circus transforms mining community

We have received some unusual loan requests over the last 40 years, but never before has we funded equipment for aerial performance artists.

Our loan was used to buy a new aerial rig for Organised Kaos Youth Circus, an extraordinary social enterprise based in a former mining village in south Wales. Operating from the old church hall, that was disused and derelict, Organised Kaos has helped to revive the local community by teaching circus skills to children and young adults.

Over the last seven years the company has built a national reputation for excellence and has staged high profile performances for major events including the 2012 Olympics.

Organised Kaos was started in 2008 by Nicola Hemsley and incorporated as a company limited by guarantee in 2010. Nicola, who is now the managing director, said: “We are a social enterprise, not a charity, and that’s very important. Circus is a serious business, we charge for our services and reinvest the surplus to help achieve our social aims.”

Those aims include encouraging young people and adults to get involved in their community, participate in the arts and realise their potential.

Nicola was brought up in Gwaun Cae Gurwen and when she returned to the village after many years she was dismayed to see the church hall, that had once been the centre of social activity, standing empty and the young people facing a future with limited prospects. So she decided to do something about it.

Organised Kaos has taken a 25-year lease on the building and is gradually improving it (“our surveyor said it couldn’t be much worse” said Nicola). Now it is open six days a week running circus skills training and development sessions for a range of abilities and ages. Between 150 and 200 people aged 8 to 25 participate every week. The organisation has over 1,000 members who pay an annual £5 subscription.

“We are planning to extend the age range and provide sessions for toddlers next year,” said Nicola. “We’ve just received a grant that will allow us to install new heaters and do other works to make the building more suitable for younger children.”

The building may be in need of renovation but the equipment and health and safety features are excellent. The new aerial rig bought with our loan can support up to 10 people safely suspended from hoops, silks or trapezes.

11760263_830945603669092_3134860151910716755_nThe social enterprise derives most of its income from putting on performances. These include parades and community events, private parties, festivals and commercial events. Organised Kaos has done special performances for Google and the Chinese government. They have performed at the O2 Arena in London and at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (this was together with a circus group from South Africa during the 2012 Olympics).

At first many people were sceptical, then surprised and then delighted by the success and popularity of Organised Kaos. Now it is seen as a shining example of the power of community-based social enterprise to engage and improve.

And the name? It stands for Keeping Adolescents Off the Streets.

Ian Taylor from Co-operative & Community Finance said: “This young and exciting group is going from strength to strength and we’re delighted to help them grow.”