Fiona McKenzie- Centrestage 18 February 2020

Centrestage is all about “fun, food, and folk” and that ethos underpins everything the Kilmarnock-based charity does through its vision “to create energetic, inclusive communities “with the arts at the heart”. So said Fiona McKenzie, founder and former CEO of Centrestage when she talked recently to our club about the excellent work of the organisation.

Fiona began her career as a schoolteacher, reaching the role of Principal Teacher of Music. In 2006, she left teaching to set up the pioneering Centrestage. Her experience of delivering music classes in HMP Kilmarnock, and of the high numbers of prisoners (some of whom were her ex-pupils) who had been excluded and were part of the care system, had fired her ambition to do something different. In her case this meant providing the means which would allow anyone to take part in creative and artistic experiences, enabling people of all backgrounds and ages to feel a sense of belonging and purpose and to aspire to better things.

Centrestage now operates across Ayrshire which is testimony to the efforts of Fiona and her team. It is now preparing to bring all of its activities together when it relocates this year to the site of the former Kilmarnock Academy thus marking the largest Community Asset Transfer in Scotland to date. The Centrestage Village will play its part in regenerating Kilmarnock, a place with a proud historic past, looking forward to a creative and artistic future, championing inclusion, community engagement and access to the arts for all.

There are now around 3000 Centrestage participants every year, ranging from pre-school age to the oldest who is a mere 106. Last year there were 80 different shows and demonstrations with various aims and themes such as bringing families and genders together, dancing for Parkinson sufferers, cookery lessons and product displays as well as musical, theatrical and dancing shows. Amongst the latter, titles included The Unlikely Lads, The Shortlees Maws and Gie it Laldy, and all ages, backgrounds and experiences were welcomed among the performers. There is a 78 year old tap dancer (hope for some us yet) and even a Centrestage bus on the road taking the enterprise to the community. Members of the public attending the shows are asked to donate what they can instead of paying the usual admission charge.

In his vote of thanks, Hugh Millar congratulated Fiona on her great achievement in bringing Centrestage to such a level and on her many qualifications and awards which recognised her huge contribution to Ayrshire society generally.