Darlington Building Society Director Of Products And Marketing Caroline Darnbrook, Hippodrome Director Lynda Winstanley, And Latimer Hinks' Marketing Executive Andrea Tobin

Darlington businesses have worked together to boost accessibility and inclusion at the town’s 112-year-old theatre to provide support for those with sensory impairments.

Reopening in 2017 following a £13.7 million restoration, Darlington Hippodrome wanted to make the venue as accessible as possible for the blind and partially sighted and reimagined the space for a new generation of theatre-goers by installing a state-of-the-art audio description facility.

Research by Arts Council England has shown that arts engagement reduces with age, so the theatre enlisted the help of Darlington Building Society, Latimer Hinks Solicitors and the County Durham Community Foundation to ensure that all generations are able to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of cultural participation.

Theatre Director Lynda Winstanley said: “This project was so important to ensuring the theatre is accessible to all.

“The funding has allowed us to introduce an increased number of audio description performances, as well as introducing other services such as a meet and greet buddy system, guide dog sitting and touch tours before performances, where visually impaired audience members can explore the stage and props, enhancing their understanding and appreciation of the production.”

Caroline Darnbrook, Director – Products and Marketing at Darlington Building Society, said: “As a Society, we are committed to sharing with our community and this opportunity was perfect to fit with our desire to improve the lives of people within our communities.

“The Hippodrome is such an important part of Darlington’s culture and heritage, and through this initiative, and the Speakeasy events held monthly, we want to help tackle social isolation in the town.”

Anne Elliott, chief executive of Latimer Hinks Solicitors, said: “As a business that is firmly rooted in Darlington’s heritage, Latimer Hinks has a duty to support aspects of the town’s history, and promote accessibility to residents and visitors.

“We’re delighted to be working with another local institution, Darlington Building Society, to help provide improved services to audience members with sensory difficulties. Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic shows the theatre has to offer in the coming months.”

Audiences are already benefiting from the initiative with all audio-described performances and touch tours labelled in the print brochure with ‘AD’ and ‘TT’ respectively. Blind and partially-sighted customers can also use the Hippodrome website on e-readers which turn text into speech.