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Cycle Song celebrates Scunthorpe's Olympic hero in the run up to the Games

  • Date: 19 November 2012
  • Artform: Music, Theatre
  • Area: North
Illuminated outdoor sculpture with audience at dusk Cycle Song, Rhys Jarman

Cycle Song, a spectacular large-scale community opera in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, celebrated the life and achievements of local Olympic hero, cyclist Albert 'Lal' White, as part of the London 2012 Festival.

Grants for the arts funded project case study

This project was supported using public funding through the Arts Council's Grants for the arts Lottery funding programme. For more information on the programme and details on how to apply visit our funding pages.


Cycle Song was the largest participatory performing arts event to have taken place in North Lincolnshire. Over the course of four months from April to July 2012, 1,465 local residents took part in hundreds of workshops, training sessions and rehearsals in schools and community venues across North Lincolnshire and Humberside, with 1,221 performing in the final outdoor performances on 14 and 15 July. 

Written by Ian McMillan and composed by Tim Sutton, Cycle Song was a co-production by Proper Job Theatre Company and Scunthorpe Cooperative Junior Choir and was commissioned by imove, Legacy Trust UK's regional Cultural Olympiad programme for Yourkshire and Humber.


Undoubtedly the biggest challenge for Cycle Song was engaging such large numbers of local residents. Scunthorpe Cooperative Junior Choir‘s Musical Director Sue Hollingworth played a key role in the coordination of the programme, using her extensive links with local schools, the North Lincolnshire Music Support Service and local community music organisations. Lottery funding through the Arts Council was also fundamental, and Sue says that 'the £65,000 we received enabled us to actually commission the opera but it also enabled us to finish off the project, get all these people up and running, do rehearsals with them, and produce the fantastic amount of music we had to create.'


Cycle Song involved 25 North Lincolnshire primary schools, six local secondary schools, 12 community choirs and choral societies, six ensembles from the North Lincolnshire Music Support Service and three adult instrumental ensembles. Yet despite the sheer volume and range of abilities of the people involved, the quality of the music and production was still extremely high, with amateur performers working alongside professional artists to seamlessly deliver complex musical and movement sequences. 'The quality and scale of the final production was staggering,' says Sue. 'It was a real achievement for all concerned to create a production that involved such huge numbers of community participants yet achieved such high production values.'

The project brought many benefits to the local community, including raising the self-esteem and confidence of those who participated. 'The community participants rose to the challenge, gave incredible performances and were all immensely proud of what they achieved,' says Sue. The feedback from school pupils taking part in the show, captured during the rehearsal process, illustrates the extent to which participation in the project raised their aspirations and developed their confidence, with one pupil noting: 'It's a once in a lifetime experience and a boost in my confidence for speaking in crowds.' Sue adds: 'The atmosphere was incredibly positive with everyone really getting into performing, and several performers (of all ages and abilities) told us how much they loved the sense of playing as part of such a big group.'

The project also provided development opportunities for local teachers, dance leaders and students. Over 50 local teachers and dance leaders took part, and Cycle Song's core ensemble was made up of 21 students from the University of Hull’s drama department. Sue says: 'For all of the students this was their first opportunity to work on a large-scale production and their feedback demonstrates how much they learned about rehearsal and performance discipline, about performance technique and about the work that goes on behind the scenes to produce a show on this scale.'

Celebrating local hero Lal White through Cycle Song also brought a sense of pride to the residents of Scunthorpe. All of the participating schools taught their pupils about Lal White, his background as a steelworker from the local area and his incredible sporting achievements. Sue says that 'feedback received from participants and audience members, particularly via social media channels, clearly illustrates that by basing the piece on the life and achievements of a local man and designing a show that celebrated the beauty of the area’s steel working heritage, the project was successful in restoring pride in the local area and its heritage'. One participant wrote on Facebook: 'You have woken us all up from a deep sleep! With the steel works closing and everyone feeling low, this has made us think what we can do as a community!'

Find out more about National Lottery funded arts projects.