North West Playwrights Archive

Scope and Content

The archive contains material reflecting the various activities of North West Playwrights including scripts, photographs and publicity material; administrative records especially for the running of the workshops and the award schemes, and extensive correspondence. There is, sadly, little for the period pre-1989.

The Articles of Association of the Company, and documents relating to its charitable status remain with the Directors.

Administrative / Biographical History

North West Playwrights began life in 1982 as North West Playwrights Workshops. It was founded by a group of playwrights from the Manchester branch of the Theatre Writers' Union to promote new plays and playwrights in the north west of England. At that time there was virtually no new work being produced by the region's repertory companies. With a grant of £6000 from North West Arts (including £1000 from the Arts Council), the first North West Playwrights Workshops committee set out to challenge what they saw as the theatre establishment's firmly held view that the perceived risks associated with programming new work were somebody else's responsibility. The committee held the first annual script-reading scheme, selected the six best plays, assigned professional directors, actors and playwrights to work on the scripts, and invited the public to the first script-in-hand performances at Contact Theatre in July 1983. Two of the plays selected that first year, Norman Leach's Life of Einstein and Peter Fieldson's positively the Last Supper went on to receive successful professional productions.

One of the ways in which North West Playwrights broke new ground was their insistence that the writers be paid for their work in developing their scripts, this emphasis no doubt arose from the organization's union roots.

NWP continued to receive a small core grant from North West Arts with support from the Arts Council for several years and then from the Greater Manchester Local Authorities [AGMA]. In 1988 NWP won the Manchester Evening News Horniman Award for their outstanding contribution to new writing for the stage. The project was run entirely by a voluntary committee of playwrights up until November 1989, when a four-fold increase in the AGMA grant enabled them to employ a full-time co-ordinator, Melanie Harris. Also at this time, funding was secured to make a series of annual commission awards and residencies. The organization continued to be run by a committee, elected annually, until 1993 when the organization applied for charitable status as a limited company. In 1997 the formal link with the Theatre Writers' Union, by now merged with the Writers' Guild, was ended.


Where possible the arrangement reflects the filing system found in place at North West Playwrights, which is fairly simple in structure. However with the some of the larger files it was essential to break them down into smaller units, in order to make them more accessible. Where this has been done a note on the original structure will be found in the arrangement section at the appropriate level.

The collection has been organised into sub-groups as follows:

  • NWP 1: Records relating to the Board of North West Playwrights
  • NWP 2: Records relating to the funding and finances of the company
  • NWP 3: Records relating to the annual workshops
  • NWP 4: Records relating to the annual award schemes
  • NWP 5: Records relating to the classes
  • NWP 6: Records relating to the script-reading service
  • NWP 7: Records of the Co-ordinators/Directors
  • NWP 8: Records relating to the publication The Lowdown

Access Information

Most of the collection is open to any accredited reader, but there are some files containing material that is restricted. These are highlighted in the catalogue. Readers wishing to consult these files must obtain consent in writing from the Directors of North West Playwrights.

Acquisition Information

The collection was placed as a permanent loan with the John Rylands Library in July 2001.

Conditions Governing Use

Most of the collection is copyright and so there are restrictions on copying under the Copyright Act.

Appraisal Information

Financial records: very basic records, such as invoices and receipts, have not been retained as part of the archive, but are routinely disposed of after seven years. An exception was made for the invoices 1991-1993 workshops. These have been kept, as there is so little material from these workshops, and from the invoices it is at least possible to see the names of the personnel involved. Similarly a small amount of financial material was found from 1987 and was kept for the same reasons.

Custodial History

The collection has always been in the hands of the Co-ordinator, later Director, of North West Playwrights. Until 1998 the organisation was based at the Contact Theatre, Manchester. Following the rebuilding of the Contact Theatre North West Playwrights found a new home in St Margaret's Chambers, Newton Street, in the Northern Quarter of Manchester.


Small accruals are anticipated at regular intervals of records relating to the workshops, awards and on-going classes as these records become at least three years old. More recent records are retained by North West Playwrights as part of its obligations to the North West Arts Board as an annually funded organisation. It is hoped that the records for the organization pre-1989 may be added to in the future. Additional issues of the newsletter The Lowdown are also expected. Readers wishing to know what accruals have been received should consult the Library staff.

Corporate Names

Geographical Names