Underground Lights Artistic Director Emma Ormerod explains how theatre has changed her life

As founder and artistic director of our Springboard company Underground Lights, Emma Ormerod uses theatre to change the lives of people with experience of homelessness and mental ill health in Coventry. Ever since it changed her own life as a young woman, the power of performing arts is something she has carried with her throughout her career. Now, with the sector under serious threat, she makes the case for why protecting regional theatre is so important. 

One of the clearest memories I have is of being sixteen and sitting outside the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, crying. I had joined the community chorus for Great Expectations in the hope of some escape and respite from the PTSD I had (and still live with). As a member of the community chorus we worked with the professional company on the play. Most of the time outside of sessions I felt lonely and terrified, but the hours that I spent in the rehearsal room took me away from all of that, even if it was just for a short while.

I didn’t know then that the weeks I spent working on that play would shape so many of my future decisions and would eventually lead to setting up Underground Lights. Working with other people who have also experienced a lot of pain, fear and sadness in their lives and who, like me, understand the power of theatre is a incredible experience. As a Springboard Company at the Belgrade we are incredibly fortunate to have the support of a theatre that values the work that we do and understands our ethos.

Over the coming months, many of our regional theatres will be struggling to survive following the recent pandemic. Some will be forced to make redundancies and some will be forced to close. This is a bleak time for people working in the arts. But our local theatres need to be supported in order to continue. Without the Northcott Theatre being the glue that held my pieces together during my teens, I’m not sure that Underground Lights would exist today.

I made some wonderful friends there and met people who inspired me. The young director of the community chorus, Tim Carroll, was just starting his career at the time, but in 2012 would direct Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night at the Globe Theatre. I learnt so much from him. But looking back I now see that he was learning too. Regional theatres can nurture young artists and directors. They can give people a lifelong love of theatre and they can work with communities to educate and to inspire.

When Underground Lights first started, I imagined that it would probably be a handful of people (and maybe a dog) meeting in a musty church hall. Being a Springboard company means that we are now a thriving charity. And thanks to the Belgrade our work is visible and our members are seen and valued for their many gifts and skills.


The Belgrade Theatre is a registered charity, which means that all of the money we earn or receive is not distributed as profit, but is kept and reinvested in our work. With lockdown restrictions resulting in the loss of over 70% of our income overnight, we are now facing the greatest crisis our industry has seen in a lifetime. 

With no way of earning a substantial income, we are currently relying on diminishing reserves and the generosity of donors and supporters to continue with vital work such as our Springboard programme. To help ensure that we can continue to support companies like Underground Lights in the future, please consider making a donation to us online.

Underground Lights also depends on funding from trusts, grants and donors for its work supporting people who have experienced homelessness and mental ill health. For more information or to make a donation, please visit their website