Sister act

There’s a scaffolding tower outside The Edge when I walk back in, back to base. Angela’s husband Jeff is erecting the large wooden Y-E-S letters he has made in the workshop, one YES on either side of the doorway.

My final interview for today is with two sisters whose theatre workshop for young people is one of the six Neighbourhood Challenge winners. They both work during the day and so Angela has arranged for us to have a chat at 7 o’clock and Mara, getting a measure of my larger than average appetite, has prepared two enchiladas as my evening meal.

I mention to Angela how busy the place is, even at this time in the early evening. “Everyone’s preparing for the Brix Awards tomorrow,” she says. And so they are. I’m introduced to Harry, another of the Young Volunteers who is pouring over his laptop preparing a PowerPoint presentation. Chris is sitting next to him, clutching the running order.

“So, with less than 24 hours to go, how confident are you that everything will go well?” I ask Harry, mischievously.

“About 70%,” he says, “because not everyone has given me what they are supposed to have given me. It’ll be ready though. I’ll make sure it’s ready.”

“Victoria and Jade are here,” calls Angela, leading me outside where she introduces me to the older of the two sisters, Victoria, rolling a cigarette. Just to be friendly, I ask if she can roll me one too and, as Angela is called back inside, I start to tell her about what I’m doing.

It’s properly dark now and Jeff is still up the scaffold securing the second ‘E’ in the second ‘YES’. Jade joins us and says hello. “I’m going to make a coffee,” she says. “Do you want one? There’s only instant left.”

With our mugs we position ourselves on the sofas in the main space where, moments earlier, some of the young woman had been practicing their pieces, imagining Simon Cowell had just walked into The Edge.

I start by asking about Brixham. Were they born here?

“We moved here first when I was 16,” says Victoria.

“I was just seven,” says Jade. “Do you remember I had my birthday at Paignton Zoo?”

“You weren’t very happy about coming down here, were you?”

They talk almost as one, knowing what the other is about to say, intertwined.

Jade: “Dad had retired early from teaching. He’d had enough. He was a frustrated rock star really, he wanted to open a new business. He was passionate…”

Victoria: “… but depressive…”

“… he was really unsettled…”

“… he moved us all over the place.”

“When I was nine we moved to Edinburgh for six months, when I was 12 we moved to Canada for two years,” says Jade.

Angela comes by and positions an industrial-sized bar heater next to us as we’re talking, similar to the one upstairs keeping Carl warm in his tiny space. When she plugs it in it sends an appropriately-theatrical bright red light across both their faces. Perfect for a photograph. “Is that too much?” she asks before she disappears again.

“How did you feel about moving around the whole time?”

“I loved it,” says Victoria.

“When you move a lot I don’t think you learn how to deal with conflict,” adds Jade. “Do you know what I mean? If you fall out with a friend you don’t bother trying to sort it out because you think it doesn’t matter, you’ll be moving again soon. I found it hard with relationships when I was a teenager.”

“So what happened after Canada?”

“Mum just put her foot down. She’d had enough,” continues Jade. “So we moved back to Brixham and Dad died of a heart attack a few years later. That was 12 years ago now.”

Since they’ve settled down Victoria says she has worked in catering, at festivals, in pubs and has brought up her family. She now runs a Fair Trade ‘hippy shop’ up near the harbour. She explains where and I say I must have walked past it already as it’s on the way to my fisherman’s cottage. “It’s got a nice vibe,” she says.

Jade did a degree in theatre at Dartington College of Arts and got pregnant with the first of her two children at the age of 20. She got into youth work, co-ran her own youth club in Kingsbridge for a while which she found ‘all consuming’ and then ran theatre workshops as a freelancer. For the past three months she’s been enjoying a new job as a teaching assistant.

There’s a clattering of metal poles as Jeff and Ross bring in sections of the scaffold tower from outside. The final ‘S’ will have to wait until tomorrow.

The sisters’ Neighbourhood Challenge project started before the competition was launched. They were already keen to do something for their community. “There wasn’t much to do in Brixham when we were kids,” says Jade, “and there still isn’t.”

“As a young person you get bored and you start dabbling,” says Victoria. I’ve been hearing a lot about ‘dabbling’ these last two days: the no-so-underground drug scene in Brixham which feels at odds with the idyllic seaside town image.

Jade: “I’ve been wanting to do a workshop in improvised theatre for a while…”

Victoria: “… but we didn’t have a space…”

“… and so we talked to Chris who showed us the upstairs space…”

“… and said we could use it for free…”

“… and that’s how it started.”

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