Press Release

Date: 2 July 2018

32 years after the first professional circus school opened in the UK, in Bristol, we are announcing the launch of the Richard Award for Circus Arts.

The award has been conceived to commemorate and pay tribute to Richard Ward, the founder of Fool Time, Centre for Circus Skills and Performing Arts and the pioneer of professional circus training in the UK.  Fool Time opened on 1 April 1986 in a converted church hall in St Pauls, Bristol and was operational from 1986 to 1993, later re-forming and re-launching as Circomedia in 1994.

The award will invite applicants who have trained in the circus arts at any of Bristol’s training centres. Seven acts will be shortlisted from the applicants, all of whom will perform to a public audience at Circomedia on 10 November 2018.  

The winner will be decided on the night by a panel of circus professionals.  The audience will include potential employers, agents and managers scouting for new talent.  All those shortlisted will receive support to develop their performance or business development skills.  The overall winner will also receive a cash prize and have their name included on the Richard Award Trophy.

The showcase performance evening will be the final event in Bristol’s Circus 250 calendar.  2018 marks the 250th anniversary of the beginning of circus, credited to Philip Astley, a retired army major who defined the ubiquitous circus ring and started performing acrobatics on horseback after leaving the army.  Bristol is one of six UK cities selected to host official anniversary events and is widely regarded as a ‘City of Circus’.

The award has been developed by Audrey Michel, co-Founder and co-Director of Fool Time 1986-1993, Helen Crocker, co-Founder and co-Director of Circomedia 1994-2010 and Janine McCretton, former Fool Time student and performer.

Audrey said: “we are really excited to launch the award and to celebrate Bristol’s immense circus heritage in both training and performance. Both Fool Time and Circomedia attract students from all over the world and the Circus City has a reputation for physical performance creativity, training excellence and innovation. None of this would have been possible without the trail-blazing efforts of Richard Ward.  Sadly Richard is no longer with us to see how his legacy has become part of defining Bristol’s rich culture so this award will not only recognise his achievement but commemorate the man who changed so much for so many.”

Hundreds of professional and community circus clubs, centres and schools can now be found all over the UK supported by significant Arts Council investment.

Contemporary circus has developed as an art form and is an integral part of UK culture.

Applicants for the Award apply via the Richard Award website launched today:


For further information contact:

Audrey Michel 07968 489591

Helen Crocker  07779 332709

Notes to Editors

Background to Richard Ward and Fool Time

In 1986 Circus was a travelling, family-oriented and predominantly animal-based affair. If you wanted to be a circus performer you either had to be born into it or to run away with it. 

Growing interest in circus skills combined with growing unrest about performing animals in the UK and a cultural shift towards human creativity, artistic excellence and contemporary performance. 

Richard Ward was a Quantity Surveyor, and a single parent with two children.  In his spare time he was a juggler and stilt-walker.  He wanted to train properly and craft his circus skills and was dismayed to find that there was no school in the UK, unlike the new circus school he had recently visited in Brussels. He resolved to give up his career to start a school for the UK.

 Fool Time was an educational charity, quickly developing a programme of courses and curricula up to a one year full time course, and attracting students and teachers from all over the world. It took three years for the school to gain the recognition of the Arts Council which resulted in circus being recognised as an art form and core funding for the school.  Fool Time raised 30% of the funds from companies, trusts and individuals to subsidise the course fees and make the training as affordable, accessible and available to as many people as possible.  

The first premises were 3,000 ft2 in Thomas St, Bristol, 1986-1992.  In 1992 the school moved to the Kingswood Foundation site and occupied 10,000 ft2.  Rapid growth (1,800% in seven years) meant that fundraising was unable to keep up with the growth and the school had to close in 1993. A year later a new school, Circomedia, was started by Fool Time senior tutors  Helen Crocker and Bim Mason.

Hundreds of professional and community circus clubs, centres and schools can now be found all over the UK supported by significant Arts Council investment. 

Circomedia offers a full curriculum which includes BTEC, Foundation, BA and Masters courses.


For further information contact:

Audrey Michel 489591

Helen Crocker  07779 332709

Key Messages – Richard Award

  1. Richard Ward was the UK’s pioneer of the development of professional circus training. He laid the foundations for anyone to learn circus skills and become a professional circus artist. 
  1. Fool Time was the first professional training school in the UK which ran for 7 years. Now superseded by numerous other schools and training centres around the UK, it needs to be remembered and recognised as the ‘beginning of it all’
  1. The Award is Bristol-based, a city with a vibrant cultural identity and known as a City of Circus.  The inaugural award will be made to a performer or group of performers who has trained in Bristol. It is planned to be biennial (every two years) expanding nationally to include all UK training.
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