Company History

The Company, Action Space, grew out of the revolutionary 1960s as part of a cultural movement in the arts which challenged the Establishment for social change, bringing arts into the community and making it accessible to all.  It worked in the street, parks and playgrounds and on the Inner London council estates, pioneering the use of inflatable structures as an environment for art, music, drama, dance and creative play.

It started arts work in institutions formerly known as mental hospitals/asylums, with the aim of changing the quality of care and enabling the residents to gain the confidence needed to re-enter society.  It challenged the education system offering alternative arts curricula for hard to reach groups.  It challenged the arts establishment to take art out of the galleries and theatres to non-traditional environments and to a wider public.

In 1979 there was a division of the company into three independent organisations: Action Space London Events, The Drill Hall and Action Space Mobile, which became the touring wing of the company.

Having developed its methodology of creative arts with people, Action Space Mobile moved to Yorkshire in 1982 under the artistic leadership of Mary Turner (photo to the left), one of the founding artists.  It toured throughout the UK and to Europe working on many site specific projects.  It then began to work more closely with local communities,  special needs groups, schools and play schemes, running workshops, making street performances, creating productions, films, books and performances with local people. It established its first long term project "In the Boat Theatre Company" in Sheffield in 1983, and later, "Cross the Sky Theatre Company" when it moved to Barnsley in 2002. 

In 2002 it became an RFO (Regularly Funded Organisation) and was supported by the Arts Council of England for the next ten years.

Between 2005 and 2011 Mary Turner pioneered work in the mental institutions in Romania where she earned the designation "Destroyer of Unhappiness".

The Company's work has always been underpinned by the passionate belief that participating in arts activities can change lives positively.  People have always been at the heart of the work. The artists working on the  projects have brought their expertise, methods and approaches that have been developed over the years, which has allowed flexibility and the capacity to respond to the needs, abilities and interests of the participants in  very individual ways using whichever medium seemed most appropriate.    

The artists also had the passion and skill to work with vulnerable adults and children with special needs encompassing learning disabilities, behavioural difficulties, and problems associated with mental health and old age.

Over the years the Company has undertaken commissions in mainstream schools and  in the community in Barnsley and further afield.

In autumn 2012, a book entitled Action Space Extended (photo of cover to the left), written by Mary Turner, was published.  It covers the period of Action Space's history from 1968 to 2000 and narrates the development of an arts company that has always worked with people, believing that contact and participation in the arts can change lives positively.  The book is a beautiful documentation of photographs from the company's archives and a narrative based on Mary's memories of the company.  Copies are available through Amazon.

Sheffield University's Special Collections Department houses the Company's archive materials.

For further information on the history of Action Space Mobile contact: Mary Turner, Artistic Director of Action Space Mobile from 1984 to 2014 on maryturner@myself.com

For information on the archive contact: Jacky Hodgson, Head of Special Collections, Sheffield University on 0114 222 7230