IT IS a milestone year for Forest Forge Theatre Company in Ringwood as it celebrates 40 years of entertaining audiences – albeit a bit delayed.

Although the actual anniversary was last year, the pandemic meant celebrations had to be put on hold.

The company, originally formed by artistic director Karl Hibbert in 1981, is the New Forest’s very own established self-producing touring company, which is now based at Endeavour Park, Crow Arch Lane.

The CEO and creative producer Sharon Lawless said it was “amazing” to be marking the milestone adding: “It was 1981 that we were set up and so obviously nobody could celebrate anything last year. It is really lovely and you need to celebrate these landmarks because they are real milestones in life. We are going to celebrate throughout the year.”

It was originally based at New Milton Arts Centre until moving to Ringwood Comprehensive School in 1983. In May 1996, the company was awarded a capital grant by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England, to build a new purpose-built studio space and workshop in Ringwood, which it moved into in March 1997 and is still there today.

The theatre company has a programme of productions and activities planned with “lots to get involved with for all ages”.

A project is also underway delving into the archive looking at the productions and the actors who have been part of them over the years as well as past youth theatre groups.

“There is something really special about this company. People feel part of that family,” added Sharon, who has returned to Forest Forge over the years after working for other companies. She has spent a total of 11 years with Forest Forge.

The theatre also has a youth theatre and drama groups, The Gap and our Act Your Age.

“There is a warm feeling about this company when you are part of it. We are some committed to the community – they come first. All our work is based on our local community and we really think about the audiences and the people we are going to and what is appropriate and interesting for them.”

During the pandemic is has adapted and found a new way of working online, which Sharon says it can “flip back” to if need. It ran its youth and other theatre group and courses online. 

“It showed we are very resilient here and have passion and belief in what we do and the people we work with. That is what drove us.”

Last July, Forest Forge Theatre return to delight audiences with its youth theatre outdoor show Joy in partnership with Forestry England.

Asked what the future holds, Sharon said she hopes there will be more shows, participation, building the youth theatre and the next phase of a project to refurbish its workshop but added: “Hopefully, the future is another 40 years.”

During the lockdown facilities underwent a refurbishment with the help of a grant from New Forest District Council.

Sharon hopes the pandemic has shown the importance of the arts and said: “The arts are incredible thing, probably underestimated, for what affect they can have on your life and wellbeing.”

If anyone has memories of Forest Forge they would like to share email:



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