Felt Nowt

Kevin Marquis, BIC’s Social Enterprise Manager with stand-up favourite Lee Kyle.

A new North East comedy cooperative plans to bring the laughs back to Sunderland by establishing a dedicated comedy club in the city.

Felt Nowt is a not-for-profit organisation set up by a group of well-known North East comedians with a shared goal to transform the regional comedy scene.

Working with social enterprise experts at the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), the organisation has developed a business model that reinvests profits with the long-term goal of taking comedy to communities which might not otherwise have access to it.

Felt Nowt has already thrown open the doors to a new club at Laurel’s Theatre in Whitley Bay and Sunderland is next on the agenda, with plans to soon launch a weekly gathering at the historic Dun Cow pub.

“Sunderland has been without a permanent home for comedy for too long,” said comedian and Felt Nowt member Si Beckwith. “It’s unbelievable that a city of this size and comedic heritage doesn’t have a comedy club already and we can’t wait to share the talent that’s on the doorstep.

“The city is buzzing with regeneration and is ripe for a new comedy scene that acts not just as a platform for comics, but also for other creatives, writers, producers and communicators.”

Felt Nowt started in the wake of the pandemic when a group of out-of-work performers came together to consider ways they could create new opportunities.

Though their initial plan was to simply generate some income, they quickly realised the potential of their combined skills and experience to create something bigger.

Their comedy co-op concept, brings together dozens of comedians into one place, making it easy to find and book a comedian for events, workshops and corporate jobs. And by working with social enterprise experts Kevin Marquis and Michelle Booth from the BIC, they’ve found a way to fulfil their social purpose as well as making a living.

“What we’ve ended up with is something much more impactful,” said Si. “We all volunteer our time to drive Felt Nowt forward, and it’s all been about generating work for the talented comedians in the North East.

“Comedy has the potential to do incredible things in all kinds of contexts to improve confidence, mental health and relationships. Our driving force is to bring those benefits to our community.

“Kevin and Michelle really got that and helped us stay true to those goals. Their support meant we felt like we weren’t flying alone.”

The founders of Felt Nowt approached the BIC for help in getting established and were supported with everything from business and financial planning to advice on attracting funding.

Kevin Marquis, the BIC’s Social Enterprise Manager, added: “Felt Nowt are a fantastic example of an ambitious organisation with a social heart. By coming together in this way, they not only amplify what they do as individuals but can reach whole new audiences and benefit new communities.

“We’ve seen a huge uplift in recent months in the number of businesses wanting to set up in a way that supports them to do good in the world and the BIC continues to invest in services to support them to do this.”

Part of the BIC’s support for Felt Nowt was funded by The Hive – a programme for new and existing co-ops delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with The Co-operative Bank. James de le Vingne, Head of Development Unit, at Co-operatives UK says:

“Felt Nowt is a really inspiring example of how co-operatives can help a group of people come together to improve the working lives for themselves and the wider communities they are based in. Thanks to support from The Co‑operative Bank we’ve been able to support over 1,000 co-operatives and groups with support including direct business advice, training and mentoring since 2016. We’d love to hear from others who are looking for this type of support.”

This project is part-funded by the European Structural and Investment Funds through the Sunderland Community Led Local Development Programme.

To find out more about the BIC’s work around social enterprise visit ne-bic.co.uk or call the team on 0191 516 6200.

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