Circus can still surprise after 250 years

The world’s first circus performance is thought to have taken place in London in 1768. Today, in this 250th anniversary year, one of the champions of the transformative power of circus is an extraordinary social enterprise based in a former mining village in south Wales.

Operating from the old church hall in Gwaun Cae Gurwen, that was disused and derelict, Organised Kaos Youth Circus has helped to revive the local community by teaching circus skills to children and young adults.

Over the last 10 years the company has built a national reputation for excellence and has staged high profile performances at major venues including the O2 Arena in London and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Organised Kaos was started in 2008 by Nicola Hemsley who was brought up in Gwaun Cae Gurwen. 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. She decided to do something about it.

She set up Organised Kaos (which stands for ‘Keeping Adolescents Off the Streets’), started to renovate the church hall and began running circus skills training sessions. Ten years later, the formerly derelict building is safe, dry, warm and bursting with activity. It is open six days a week for training sessions for a range of abilities and ages. Sometimes as many as 250 people attend each week, some of them travelling over 50 miles.

The organisation has over 1,000 members who pay an annual £5 subscription and has a board elected from the local community. It is run by managing director Nicola Hemsley and three part-time staff and a team of 29 freelance trainers. “I’m pleased to say that now all our trainers are Welsh which wasn’t the case until recently,” said Nicola. “That shows the impact we are having on increasing circus skills and opportunities.”

Nicola is also pleased that all the major renovation work has been completed. “This means we can concentrate entirely on building the business,” she said. “We are a social enterprise, not a charity, and 90% of our income comes from trading. 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.

Organised Kaos was commissioned by Arts & Business Cymru to do a unique performance at Cardiff Airport

Much of the income comes from putting on performances. These include parades and community events, private parties, festivals and an increasing number of corporate events. Organised Kaos has done special performances for Google, the Chinese government, and Cruise Nation.

“Doing big corporate events is good for our reputation and income but we struggle with the cash flow,” said Nicola. “The loan from Co-operative & Community Finance has really helped smooth things out.”

Ian Rothwell, Investment Manager at Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “This is a brilliant organisation. Totally inspiring. It started small with what might have seemed an impossible dream and it has grown into a successful and highly-respected enterprise that is making a real difference to young people in a deprived community.”