02 Aug Restructuring The Nursery, Part 7; Reaffirming Our Code Of Conduct
I am writing to you, our community, on behalf of the Trustees of The Nursery Theatre to openly acknowledge where we as an organisation have fallen short of your expectations; to apologise for that failure, and to set out for you the changes that have been made and processes put in place for The Nursery to do better moving forward.
In August 2020 the Trustees were made aware of allegations that members of The Nursery’s management team had made prejudiced comments and engaged in actions against the Black members of our community. We stand behind our zero-tolerance policy for harassment and took the matter extremely seriously. The allegations were raised on the condition of the anonymity of the complainant, and the offer of a formal investigation was refused.
Although a formal investigation was not opened, the Trustees (represented by myself and Mark Johnson) spoke to those implicated in the allegations and to those who would have been present at the time of the alleged actions, as well as those who had understandably expressed concern after hearing second-hand accounts of these actions. After engaging in multiple interviews and reviewing all historical Code of Conduct records, we found no supporting evidence either for the claims made or for a pattern of behaviour that would support the claims. We considered the matter concluded and our actions appropriate. We now know that this was a mistake on the part of the Trustees.
In April 2021, when the Nursery Theatre appointed Velvet Wells as Outreach and Inclusion Manager, he was approached by a few people whispering warnings about an anti-Black environment at The Nursery. In May 2021, Velvet raised his concerns first to management and then to the Trustees. This was not the welcome we expected or would have hoped for Velvet.
The warnings he received pertained to that same incident from August 2020 and it became clear that our belief that the matter had been concluded fully and satisfactorily was mistaken. Even though the original allegations were raised on the condition of anonymity and the offer of a formal investigation was refused, we now realise that not communicating clearly and effectively about the incident or the outcome of the informal investigation was detrimental to and upsetting for all parties involved.
We now understand that the lack of communication was perceived by some as a confirmation of the rumours, or an indication that accountability requests would not be managed appropriately or in a timely fashion. We didn’t account for the understandable perception of bias (an all-white Trustee board investigating another white person) in a society steeped in anti-Black racism, exacerbated by the lack of a formal investigation. In this manner we failed to support the parties involved, our Black community, and our wider improv community, and for this we are deeply sorry.
We apologise directly to the Black improv community for not using that moment to help The Nursery reinforce our commitment to you — your presence is welcome here. We will continue to create opportunities for you to lead, teach, train and perform here.
Prior to any of this happening, The Nursery had already identified the need to restructure the organisation and to increase the diversity of the Board of Trustees, the management team and the teaching staff, as well as to undertake training to make sure that we moved forward actively and consciously promoting equality, diversity and inclusion within the Nursery’s operations and to support and protect all of its membership.
This experience has highlighted where we as an organisation can do better to promote our values of equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as to improve the Code of Conduct and complaints and whistleblowing procedures.
We would also like to thank Velvet for his conscientious and continuing efforts in educating the Trustees, and management on the best steps forward.
On 12 July, senior management began their Unconscious Bias training as a group through Equality and Diversity UK. On August 19, the senior management will continue this work through another session with Hollaback! In February 2022 – when Talawa Theatre is able to take us on as clients – senior management, trustees, and teachers will continue the Unconscious Bias work through a bespoke workshop series.
The Board of Trustees needs diversity. We seek greater representation from previously marginalised communities, have already recruited additional trustees and commit to considering future applications on a rolling basis from anyone. You do not need to be a UK citizen to be eligible for a Trusteeship. You can learn more about being a Trustee at The Nursery and apply [here].
Velvet will continue his work with The Nursery’s community accountability measures. Velvet has already implemented measures to make classroom management easier for facilitators and students. In the future, he will post a separate blog on the upcoming changes to the code of conduct.
Community Invitation for Feedback
Again, we offer our apologies for the late timing of this message and the actions that it outlines. We value you, we respect you and we are listening to you. We welcome your feedback and perspectives on this matter and how we seek to move forward at the Nursery Theatre. You can contact me or any of the other trustees by email or our anonymous, sender-friendly feedback service.
We would like to reiterate our thanks to the improv community for your support during the past 16 months of the pandemic. We are truly grateful and we look forward to sharing more news with you about how the Nursery is continuing to grow and improve, and our plans for the future.
Emma Warren-Thomas, Chair
on behalf of the Board of Trustees of The Nursery Theatre