News Story

A bearded male wheelchair user, accompanied by a woman wearing a pink scarf, smile as they receive a ticket from a cheerful Box Office assistant

CFT Buddies, our volunteer companion scheme, was introduced in 2017 and has become an indispensable part of our community programme – helping to make theatregoing easier for people who may need a little extra help, or just value a cuppa and a natter. We work with Chichester District Council’s Social Prescribing Team too.

This year we are excited to have welcomed a new corporate sponsor for the scheme, Home Instead Chichester & Bognor Regis. We asked some Buddies and users of the scheme to tell us why they got involved and what it means for them.

‘I don’t know a lot of people in Chichester which can feel quite isolating at times’, 70 year-old Avril says. ‘My daughter, who lives an hour from Chichester, suggested the scheme and I said I would give it a go. I haven’t looked back. It’s brilliant!

‘Having a Buddy for me is a lifeline; they meet me outside the Theatre and we chat and get to know each other, they will support me to get my ticket and take me to my seat. The most important support a Buddy gives me is company. It’s also lovely to be able to talk to someone about the show and share our experience.’

Avril’s enthusiasm is echoed by Wanda, who describes the scheme as ‘a wonderful idea. As a wheelchair user I would not come to the theatre without a Buddy.’

Wanda had a career as a Personal Assistant to Company Directors and after having a family, as PA to a Headteacher of a Secondary School. Since retiring she has volunteered as a Parish Councillor, School Governor and a CFT Volunteer. ‘Now, as a wheelchair user, CFT Buddies help me use the lift and find my seat in the balcony. Not only does it enable me to enjoy the theatre, but I also meet very friendly and helpful people; which helps me come to terms with not being mobile and feeling "disabled".’

The Buddies themselves find the experience rewarding, too. Stevie, who is semi-retired and works part-time in retail, saw an interview in the Chichester Observer with Louise Rigglesford, CFT’s Senior Community & Outreach Manager ‘and immediately knew I wanted to become involved with this amazing scheme. I enjoy meeting people. If we can chat about what we’ve seen at CFT, so much the better!

‘We are so lucky having such a wonderful theatre in Chichester. I love the fact that the Buddy scheme is inclusive for everyone to have the chance to attend.’ She adds, ‘Part of the Buddy training has certainly given me a greater understanding of people living with dementia.’

Sue was just reaching retirement after a career in psychiatric nursing and social work, as well as working in the voluntary sector. ‘I was at Sage House [the local charity for people living with dementia] and Louise told the meeting I was attending about the Buddies and I thought it was something I would enjoy doing.

‘I also saw being a Buddy as an opportunity to be able to attend shows at the Theatre and have some company. It is always interesting talking and getting to know the person you’re helping. I really enjoyed helping at the Dementia Friendly performances and it’s a joy to see everyone having a lovely time. I always encourage people to ask about this scheme as it’s a relaxed friendly service and well organised.’

Simon McGee, owner of the local Home Instead franchise, says ‘I’m really proud that Home Instead is able to support the Buddy Scheme at the Festival Theatre. We recognise that friendship, culture and sensory stimulation are all vital ingredients for a long and happy life and the CFT Buddy Scheme truly embodies our values and our mission at Home Instead.’

If you, or someone you know, would like to chat about how we can support you on your visit, offer a listening ear over coffee or even just provide a friendly face to meet you and make sure you get that all-important interval ice-cream, please get in touch. CFT Buddies is free and we’re here to help.