Welfare State International Archive


Founded in 1968 by John Fox and Sue Gill, Roger Coleman and others, Welfare State International (WSI) was a loose association of freelance artists bought together by shared values and philosophy. WSI first became well known for large-scale outdoor spectacular events. When the company began, taking art out of theatres and galleries into the street was considered revolutionary. Under the Welfare State umbrella, a remarkable group of engineers, musicians, sculptors, performers, poets and pyrotechnicians invented and developed site-specific theatre in landscape, lantern processions, spectacular fireshows, community carnivals and participatory festivals.

From 1999 - 2006 its HQ was the striking RIBA Award-winning Lanternhouse, a £2.2m conversion of the former National School which opened in Ulverston town centre, with £1.6m of funding from the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England. As artist-clients WSI were able to drive the entire process, working collaboratively with architect Francis B Roberts. It included a theatre workshop, self-catering accommodation for four artists, a unique reference library and archive, sound technology, digital video and multimedia facilities, studios and workspaces including a warehouse/resource centre. 

On the 1st of April 2006 John Fox stepped down as artistic director of Lanternhouse. The final act of WSI was the finale of Longline a Carnival Opera in a big top in Ulverston.

Indicative list of WSI projects 1998-2006. Much of the work falls into two main programmes: Milestones and Longline. These projects all took place in the years after the completion of Lanternhouse. They are mostly small scale projects that focus on the local and personal with much of the work based around Ulverston and Morecambe Bay. This list is in no way complete or definitive.

2006: Longline; The Carnival Opera
2005: Metamorphosis; Bay Tales; July Picnic; Mad March; Barebones
2004: Moons in the Mud; Cabin Fever
2003: One Rock
2002: Dead; A Child's Eye View
2001: Nativity of the Beasts; Ford
2000: Sitooterie; The Sky's The Limit
1999: 100 Days

Other Major WSI events: 
1990: The biggest lantern festival in Europe (Glasgow City of Culture 1990) 
1986: False Creek (Expo '86, Vancouver)
1983: The Raising of the Titanic (London International Festival of Theatre 1983)

In addition, WSI set up and ran Ulverston's Lantern procession, Comedy Festival and Flag Festival.

What the collection holds

The archive of the arts organisation Welfare State International (1968 - 2006) includes scripts & sheet music; research and publicity material; project files; magazines containing WSI articles/reviews; Lanternhouse building plans & history of Lanternhouse material; press cuttings; poster design work; photographs; posters; processional vehicle designs; WSI booklets & reports; films - betamax, reel to reel, 35 mm, 16 mm.

The online catalogue for this collection can be viewed here: WSI - Welfare State International Archive

The archive is currently being catalogued thanks to a Wellcome Trust grant to conserve, catalogue and make accessible the archive of WSI. A full catalogue will be published in 2025. Please contact us if you require any further information regarding its contents and access.

Further information

Further Reading

  • Engineers of the Imagination: the Welfare State handbook edited by Tony Coult & Baz Kershaw (1990); 
  • Eyes on Stalks by John Fox (2002); 
  • In All My Born Days by Sue Gill (2021);
  • Tulane Drama Review March 1977; 
  • Performance Magazine April/May 1983;
  • Plays and Players 1976; 
  • New Theatre Quarterly Vol 4 No 15 1988

Other Useful Sites
Welfare State International
Dead Good Guides

Two men in skeleton style costumes playing saxophone and bagpipes respectively
Skeleton bagpipes ‘Parliament in flames’. Welfare State International. 1978 Image credit: University of Bristol Theatre Collection
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