International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women globally and calls for gender equality. Every woman is an inspiration in their own right and we know that Harlow is home to many ladies who go out each day and do something great in our community; most often going unnoticed. We sat down with whom we believe to be just one of Harlow’s inspirational women ahead of International Women’s Day.
Meet Annette Lidster, the Artistic Director at Razed Roof.
For those who don’t know, Annette and the incredible work she does at Razed Roof, you’ll be amazed at her story, just as we were when we met this inspirational lady.
Spanning a long career in performing arts and helping those with learning difficulties and disabilities, it’s interesting to learn where it all began and how Annette got to where she is today.
Annette, in some way fell into dance whilst she was teaching English and Sociology at Harlow College, when the Head of Learning and Difficulties was in desperate need of a dance teacher for a class where the teacher had dropped out last-minute. Annette stepped in “I hadn’t the foggiest what I was doing, and said that I would only do it for a few weeks until a replacement teacher was found”. Well, all these years later we can see that Annette never looked back. So, how did Annette come to being Artistic Director at Razed Roof? Well, from that first class at Harlow College she went on to run a creative movement class for Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) students at Harlow Fields in the 1980’s. It was here where she had her revelation and saw a way of working that she hadn’t seen before, when she was asked to teach a girl named Julie who had very severe disabilities, to perform on stage. It’s inspiring to hear Annette tell this story of a challenge that she faced, but would not let social norms or physical abilities get in the way of fulfilling Julie’s wishes.
With the help of Health and Social students, Annette set up an artistic residency which was a week-long workshop of dance and performing for A-level students intermixed with PMLD students, where everyone collaborated and contributed in their own way. This collaboration was a shift of the times and she saw attitudes start to change and friendships start to form between the two sets of students. From this shift, Annette found a passion and wanted to continue this movement and so she set up the Community Arts Group which today is known as Razed Roof.
Julie, the girl who’s wish to perform on stage despite her severe disabilities, joined the group and went on to perform at the Olivier stage at the National Theatre. This highlights that anything is possible when you have someone like Annette who will go against the norms of society.
Annette told us the story of how Razed Roof ended up taking its students to perform at the National Theatre. Once again it showed us her resilience and strength to breaking boundaries. Meeting Annette, we learnt that she is a game changer when she told us about how Razed Roof came to performing at the National Theatre through the Connections 500 programme – a unique opportunity for youth theatres and school theatre groups to stage new plays written for young people by some of theatre’s most exciting playwrights – and to perform in leading theatres across the UK. Annette heard about this programme and although it wasn’t expected for a group of youths with learning difficulties to gain a place on this programme, she thought why not? That mindset gave Razed Roof and its amazing performers like Julie the opportunity to perform at the prominent National Theatre.
Speaking to Annette, she’s humble and says that she’s so fortunate to work with incredible people. When asked what has been a defining moment at Razed Roof, she said “Everyday, there is always a ‘wow’… There’s always something to be in awe of, whether it’s something that happened or if somebody says something profound unexpectedly.” Annette used the phrase “a gold thread in life’s rich tapestry” whilst talking about her good friend Jan who sadly passed away. Jan and Annette worked together from the early days when the Community Arts Project began and Jan was a trustee for the not-for-profit organisation. That phrase really rang true, and we think Annette is also a gold thread in life’s rich tapestry for the inspirational work she does within our Harlow community.
For International Women’s Day we want you to let us know who you believe to be an inspiring woman in our community! Let us know on our Facebook or Twitter page; you never know we may interview them for International Women’s Day 2018.
We also know that it isn’t just a woman’s world, and that gender equality works both ways. International Men’s Day takes place on November 19, where we will look at the inspiring men in Harlow.
Get in touch if you know one.