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Key date and achievements:

June 94 First performance outside the QEF Development Centre
Sept 96 “The Point” Tour to Isle of Wight
Sept 99 First ‘Play in a Week’ with the Nomad Theatre in Horsley
July 00 ‘Our Town’ Dance Project - The Dome
Nov 00 First corporate presentation
Jun 01 Freewheelers constituted as a mutual society under the umbrella of QEF for fundraising purposes
March 02 ‘Take Away’ - First performance with National Theatre’s Connections programme
March 03 ‘Brokenville’ for NT Connections
March 04 (onwards) ‘The Musicians’ at the Nomad Theatre for NT Connections, Award winner at first Leatherhead Drama Festival, The Albany and the Mole Valley Chairman’s Banquet.
July 04 Dance project with StopGap Dance Company
Sept 04 Filming ‘Inside Out’ for Kingston University Social Work degree course
Jan 05 Celebrity fundraising Gala, The Theatre, Leatherhead
April 05 ‘Samurai’ for NT Connections
June 06 Showcase of ‘The Triumph and The Apollo’, culmination of Arts Council funded ‘Rolling On’ project
Oct 06 Move to The Bridge Centre in Leatherhead
Nov 06 Incorporated as a CIC
Oct 07 "Jack and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamstalk"
May 08 "Earth Rise" for the Leatherhead Drama Festival.
July 08 Dance & Film at Epsom College
May 09 Therfield video project
July 09 Dance & Film at Epsom College

Early Origins
Drama and Music started at The Development Centre of Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation when Andrea Allen and Viv Colvill joined the staff in 1989.

It very soon became apparent that there was much interest in the performing arts and much talent and dedication among the students.

The Centre Management was enthusiastic about our progress and put other artists at our disposal, wanting us to be able to perform outside the Centre. Marionettes and a large and beautiful marionette theatre, were created by staff and students working together, a version of “The Point” by Harry Nilsson was written by the drama group, music was added, a choir of children from Notre Dame in Cobham was invited to join the cast, and we were off to Cobham Village Hall for our first performance outside the Centre.

Audience Support and Artistic Progress
Some years and many schools later, with another marionette production behind us, and our ambitions beginning to grow, we had learnt that audiences enjoyed our performances, that people (young and old) wanted to work with us, above all that we were capable of much more.

New live performances were evolved using large-scale puppets created by students of the Wimbledon School of Arts. Students took external examinations with the London Academy of Dramatic Art, and began also to take part in performances with the Nomad Theatre and other amateur groups locally. We began to evolve technical means of supporting our performers. We needed to raise more funds and a Mutual Society was formed in 2001 to provide a basis for this.

New Scope
Becoming part of the Shell “Connections” programme of the Royal National Theatre late in 2001 was a pivotal point in our development. We could choose, and were permitted to adapt, excellent scripts. We received advice and encouragement, and had the opportunity, over the course of four years, to perform with professional support in theatres such as The Albany in Deptford and The Palace Theatre in Watford. A high-light of this phase was the production of “The Musicians” by Patrick Marber (a play written with us in mind), which not only won the Adjudicator’s Prize at the first Leatherhead Drama Festival, but was featured at the Mole Valley Chairman’s Banquet in 2003 and was the centre piece of a splendid fund-raising Gala held by the Freewheelers at The Theatre in Leatherhead.

New Scale
Now a fully-fledged producing Company, with a membership fully involved in artistic and managerial decisions, and very considerable technical expertise, our journey to self-belief was well on its way. It became clear that we needed to seek a wider audience and move beyond the limitations of our early structure. A meeting at the National Theatre with Anupam Ganguli from the Council of the Arts Council England, led to our making a successful application for development work. This project (Rolling On), took place between November 2005 and June 2006. We had a professional scriptwriter, a professional director, a film maker and an organisational development consultant at our disposal. The result was the beginnings of a great new play “The Triumph and the Apollo”, and a set of recommendations for our future, the most cogent of which was that we should move out of the Centre into the community and offer our services to a wider group of disabled and non-disabled people. We didn’t waste time.

A New Base
The Freewheelers moved out of QEF into The Bridge Centre in North Leatherhead on 30th October 2006 and a Community Interest Company (CIC) was incorporated on 10th November 2006 – this being a straightforward company structure and having the right “feel” of empowering its participants who would be running a Social Enterprise.

In our new home we are already attracting new members (before advertising our presence), and new volunteers. We have been welcomed by the staff of the Centre and the local hostelry!

A New Era
We are experimenting artistically at present, and making our community contacts, prior to continuing with the work, started in “Rolling On”, to evolve a new language of theatre which will allow our performers full autonomy in performance. It will involve wheelchair and voice-box technology, shadow work, animation, film and movement, and will allow the voice of our members to be heard loud and clear, and bring a new understanding and appreciation from our widening audiences. Workshops will start soon in which our current members will teach and encourage others to take part in the performing arts and perhaps to become fully involved in our great journey towards true integration in society.