< Back

James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harkness

Too old for this shizzle, but too young to realise it.

Active at Greentop 2000 – 2018, in the following capacities:  2000 – 2002, trapeze and acrobatics evening classes and weekend workshops; 2002, full-time student on the three-month Circus In Performance course; 2005 – 2012, Enterprise and Events Manager; 2014 – 2015, Trustee; 2015 – 2018, Chair of Trustees.

Favourite disciplines:
When I was actively training and performing… static trapeze, rope, stilt walking, characters and clowning.  Fire performance with the staff, poi, whip and sword.

Where I am/what I am doing now:
I work a ‘muggle job’, but still drop in on Greentop regularly when my daughter is training.  I’m enjoying time with my young family, and socialising that doesn’t involve being 8 feet tall or dangling upside down!

Favourite joke:
A bear walks into a bar. It asks “Can I have…

… a pint of bitter please?”

The bartender replies, “What’s with the big paws?”

Quote summarising the impact Greentop has had on my life:
Greentop is a special place which has touched the lives of so many people over the last 25 years and I sincerely hope it keeps serving the city of Sheffield and the North for another 25 years – improving people’s lives through circus.

My Greentop story:
I first went to the St Thomas Building for a rave in the ‘90s. I think this was before it was officially Greentop, it may have been Swamp Circus back then – anyhow, it was certainly a cool circus-y place. When I emerged in the morning, after a night of dancing, little did I know that I would be spending a lot of time there. A few years later, I attended Monday night beginners trapeze classes. I gradually learned aerial skills and met some amazing people from the local circus community. Everyone was lovely and friendly.

When I inevitably ran away and joined the circus, it was to do the Greentop Circus In Performance course. Over three painful, joyful, and fulfilling months, I did things I never thought possible: Swinging trapeze, Spanish web, fire juggling, stilts, clowning, dancing, acting, acrobalance, and more. It was an amazing experience which I will never forget. Afterwards, I formed my own circus company with a friend, and for the next few years provided shows and entertainment for big events, super-clubs and festivals. I wouldn’t have been able to access these opportunities without my Greentop training.

Later on I experienced a period of poor mental health which prevented me from working. Instrumental in my recovery was getting a job at Greentop as the Events and Enterprise Manager. This gave me confidence and purpose, and I believe that if it wasn’t for Greentop my recovery would have taken longer. I worked in the Greentop office, running the charity’s social enterprise for five years. I managed workshops, cabarets, shows, and other events. In time I got married, had kids and wanted a career better suited to my family life. I retrained in marketing and finally left Greentop to work as a marketing manager.

After two years, I heard on the grapevine that Greentop was in difficulties, so I reached out to the Chair of Trustees, Gina Hawkins, to ask if there was anything I could do to help; she invited me to become a trustee – and just like that I was back at the circus. It was soon clear that the challenges facing the charity were serious and urgent action was required. We had to secure new funding, set a new strategy, and put in place professional leadership to steer the organisation forwards. We started to devise a recovery plan, then after a year the Chair stepped down and I found myself as the new Chair of Trustees. Working as a team and aided by our ACE Relationship Manager Catherine Mitchell, we successfully implemented a recovery plan with the support of Arts Council England, resulting in fresh funding, new leadership and an inspiring vision for the future.

My position as Chair was only meant to be temporary, but in fact I remained in post for three years! Once we had recruited the new director, Teo Greenstreet (formerly of Circus Space/the National Centre for Circus Arts), the Trustees were able to focus on charity governance. The crisis was over, so we recruited a permanent Chair and I retired as a Trustee. It was a privilege to have supported Greentop in this way and to have played my part in ensuring its continuing success.

Now, I no longer perform or train, but my daughter loves aerial, enjoying nothing more than hanging upside down or spinning around. Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.