Homelessness and Theatre

A one-day event looking at homelessness and theatre
Friday 11 April 2014, 10am – 5pm
Guest speakers Tony Lloyd (Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester) and Alan Lyddiard (The Performance Ensemble)  
This one-day event will explore the rich variety of conversations, progressions and reflections taking place with people living in poverty. Led by homeless participants – and the practitioners and organisations that work with them – the day will be made up of a mixture of practical workshops, group discussions, performances and short presentations. It will be a chance to listen, watch, debate and take part – a behind the scenes look at this area of arts practice. The outcomes of the event will form the basis of a Good Practice Guide for organisations available later in the year.
The event will look at:
  • How organisations can creatively support homeless people to rebuild their lives with a range of activity-based approaches
  • The value of a partnership approach built on arts-based practice, as well as the challenges
  • The benefits of offering progression opportunities, cultural attendance and participant led reflection as part of a partnership
  • Providing a platform for participants and service users to have their say about theatre and the arts through theatre and the arts
The event is aimed at:
  • Anyone working with adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, particularly organisations that are using or developing an activity-based approach to engagement
  • Cultural organizations interested in working with excluded groups
  • Local Authorities and Housing Associations who are looking for ways to engage with adults who have multiple and complex needs
  • Individuals who are interested in theatre practice and professional development opportunities in this area
  • Those currently working in the field of homelessness and theatre who feel they have something to offer to a discussion and debate
  • People who are homeless, or at risk of / have experienced homelessness
User involvement will be present in all aspects of the day. The morning is being designed primarily with staff and workers in mind, and the afternoon with staff, workers, participants, clients and service users in mind.
Further details and booking information available at royalexchange.co.uk/backstageme.
The Booth Centre / Royal Exchange Theatre partnership is supported by The Rayne Foundation and the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust.
The Booth Centre and the Royal Exchange Theatre have been working in partnership for just over 5 years, and are currently at the beginning of the third and final year of the Theatre’s Community Leader programme. Since the programme started in 2011, a total of 157 participants from the Booth Centre have been involved in creative activities with the Royal Exchange. They have performed in 7 performances in The Studio and the Theatre (and once at the Royal Opera House in London), taken part in 151 workshops and been to see 19 plays. 64% of participants have substance misuse issues and 94% have mental health issues, with many experiencing complex multiple problems. However as a result of the partnership and the work of the Booth Centre, 80 have now moved to more stable accommodation, 20 who were at risk of losing their homes have been helped to maintain their accommodation, 6 have moved into paid employment and 46 have gained a Introduction to Performing Arts level 1 qualification.
The Progression Group from the Royal Exchange and Booth Centre Partnership was a Creativity in the Community Finalist in Manchester City Council’s Be Proud Awards 2013.
Royal Exchange Theatre
St Ann’s Square
M2 7DH
0161 615 6792
Booth Centre
Manchester Cathedral
Victoria Street
M3 1SX
0161 835 2499

Who Can Help the Arts Flourish In the Age Of Austerity?

Photo from Entelechy Arts

No Boundaries

So the ‘established cultural leaders’ are meeting in York and Bristol this month to discuss the Role of Culture in 21st Century at the conference No Boundaries

That sound great. They have some fantastic eloquent and wise speakers and the list of delegates is impressive. They are also giving away giving free tickets for young artists which is perfect.

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, will be there. She is one of the great motivating speaker for the arts and I have been inspired by her many times over the years.

In the video below she discusses how well she feels the arts and culture sector is represented when education policy is set, important ideas.

I won’t be at the conference but, if I could have been there, I would be expressing a few thoughts and ideas close to my heart. It will, however, be all livestreamed and online free for the whole event, with all the speakers – so we can all still join in.

I believe the arts are not integrated into society in England (I say England because it is an Art Council England funded project). The arts have not been embraced by millions of people in this country because they are not thought to be important in their lives.  Central governments and local authorities across England have also not taken the arts seriously as a contributor to people’s wellbeing and to recognise the real benefits that they can gain from an involvement in the arts and creativity.

I believe that the arts are still bound up by a class system that, unbelievably, still exists in our country. They are regarded by some people, as something ‘posh people do’, even today, despite the ‘audience development programmes’ and the ‘Creative People, Creative Places’ schemes.

I am beginning to believe that this opinion is cultivated by the establishment because it justifies their own sense of superiority and their belief in their own inherent civilised behaviour. “The people on ‘Benefit Street’ don’t need the arts”, they say “they need to get off their arses and get themselves into some jobs”. I know that is a bit of a cliche, but I was told that cliches are cliches because they are often true.

There is, however, an extraordinary growth in the community arts movement in England. Participation in the arts is increasing year by year as expressed, for example, in the DCMS paper ‘Taking Part’ published in March 2012.

People who participate in the arts go and see other arts projects.

So let us work harder in getting more people involved in professional participation arts projects. Let us invest more in Community Theatre. Let us not turn our noses up at Amateur Theatre, but rather advocate the benefits of community/amateur arts and recognise their true worth.

Francois Matarosso writes brilliantly about his experience at The West Bromich Operatic Society in his article Producing ‘The Producers‘, for example

One of the areas that is expanding rapidly is the work arts organisations are doing with the elderly.

Apparently engagement by adults aged 65-74 and 75 plus has increased significantly since 2005/06 – from 71 per cent to 75 per cent for 65-74 year olds and from 58 per cent to 63 per cent for aged 75 and over. (‘Taking Part’)

Look at the pioneering work of companies like Entelechy Arts, for example.

In an introduction to a report by the Baring Foundation, ‘Ageing Artfully: Older People and Professional Participatory Arts in the UK’,  Dame Joan Bakewell talks of the work that the Baring Foundation has been supporting.

“In 2009 the Baring Foundation launched a new fund for arts organisations in the UK working in a participative way with older people. This mapping study primarily looks at the kind of work that could be supported by this fund.

The report begins with the broad context of our ageing society, the discrimination and disadvantage faced by older people and at the voluntary sector organisations that serve them.

The Baring Foundation sets out in this major report a picture of the situation that exists across all art forms – dance, music, drama, painting – as a way of engaging and invigorating the older generation. In so doing it draws attention to work done abroad, in America and in Ireland, and the research that shows the benefits of the arts to us all.

I have always believed that arts need no other justification than their own intrinsic value, their capacity to lift the spirit and give us experiences of transcendental and inspirational power. And that remains true. But there are adjacent benefits that hold particular force in the lives of the elderly. This report makes the case that participation in the arts increases our personal sense of wellbeing, often in some cases actual physical improvement. Stiff limbs and muscles brought into renewed use in dance, help keep people mobile and improve our sense of balance, an important consideration when falls are such a risk among the old. There is evidence from America that participation by those suffering from dementia offers positive benefits. There are case histories closer to home that demonstrate how the arts bring communities and generations closer together, help relieve the isolation so many old people suffer, and bring new friendships into their lives.

This report sets the agenda for how we can move forward. Its range and detail describe not only how the old in the UK already enjoy the arts, and of how arts institutions reach out to this growing constituency, but also draws attention to the many opportunities that await us in the future. Its vision is of an ageing population able to enjoy the riches and pleasures of our abundant cultural life. I commend its thoroughness and the concept of public good that informs its pages.”

Joan Bakewell

Old Dogs New Tricks

(c) David Wardle

I  believe the future for the arts is not always with the young – sometimes good ideas come from the old.

The elderly still have so much to contribute. My own work at “The Performance Ensemble”, developing a professional theatre company with performers over the age of 60 – working in the space between ‘professional, community and amateur arts practise’ – creating contemporary performance – is a case in point.

We are bringing together artists of great experience and talent to make work that is new and visceral. We start our work in the heart of communities, working with local people, as was seen in our recent production, “Dancing Days.

Older performers are so often forgotten and yet they have much more to offer. Old dogs can teach us new tricks. People in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and upwards are still capable of creating great artistic works that can speak to audiences of all ages.

When we first set off to create a company we devised a work in progress, only inviting a few people to see the work . One of our visitors, a Relationship Manager fro ACE, wrote to us:

“Congratulations on the showing on Friday, which was of such high quality – there was a tangible sense that something rather special was coming into being. I particularly enjoyed the quality of presence which all the performers had, imbued with the generosity and solid grounding of experience. I found the energy of the ensemble profoundly affecting, and think there are all sorts of audiences out there who would too. The showing gave a strong indication of the potential of this initiative, and I will be interested to see which of the various paths possible for its future development you choose to take.”

So please, conference of “No Boundaries” don’t think that the future of the arts in the 21st Century can only be devised by the young and emerging artists of tomorrow. Don’t forget the older artists of yesterday, still full of energy, still with lots to say, still with lots of opinions, still able to teach us something and still with exciting visions for the future.

Sermon from Revd Dr Nicholas Buxton – Arts As Action

I attended the service at St John the Baptist Church in Newcastle yesterday to listen to the sermon given by the Revd Dr Nicholas Buxton.  He spoke about the Arts As Action Conference we had recently run at Northumbria University.

We had clearly stimulated a good discussion –  An except from his sermon follows below

2nd Sunday after Trinity – 9 June 2013

“The other day I attended a conference at Northumbria University, called Art as Action.

It was organised by Alan Lyddiard and the Cyrenians arts and media programme, also responsible for producing the big performance event that is going to be taking place here on the 27th of June. You will all have seen the posters, I assume… Anyway, the conference brought together a number of groups and individuals involved in social work and community arts, many of whom specialised in working with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society – including the homeless, prisoners, asylum seekers and so on. And indeed, this type of work was the main theme of the conference and much of the discussion it provoked.

A number of questions were raised. Are the arts relevant to those on the fringes of society, or are they – as often perceived – a middle class preserve? Can the arts – and specifically community arts projects – help empower people to change their lives? And if so – and I think it was pretty clear that this is indeed the case – then how? In the presentations, workshops and discussions that took place over the course of the day it emerged quite clearly that participatory or community arts projects, that is to say, some sort of creative activity that engages people in a cultural practice – often facilitated by a professional artist – can be and very often is a catalyst for personal and social transformation. And in all this, the key term that cropped up again and again was ‘wellbeing’. Participatory community arts projects improve wellbeing, self-esteem, and so on, because what happens is that people are enabled to tell their stories, and in the process, to change the story other people have of them – as being no good, a burden on society, or whatever – and this in turn enables them to change their lives and the world as they experience it.

Art really can do all of those things, because it enables people to express, reflect on, and share their stories of who they are and how they create meaning. And, most importantly of all, when people are given a voice, they are able to re-write their story. And it struck me, during the course of the day, that the crucial element in all this, and the thing that makes art different from many other kinds of participatory activity that may also have therapeutic benefit in enabling self-expression or relationship building, is that generally speaking, at some level, artistic activity implies an audience. It is not just about self-expression, but also about being witnessed: being seen, being heard. The significance of this can perhaps best be understood by thinking about the implications of not being seen. We know that to feel as if one is invisible is soul destroying, miserable. It is to feel as if we do not even exist. It is no accident that the word ‘regard’ has meanings that include both ‘looking at’, and ‘holding in esteem’. Our sense of self is affirmed by the regard of others – in both senses of the word. Our very existence depends on being seen and valued by others. To count for something, to be valued, really is a fundamental human need. Without it we lose our humanity. Without regard we are as nothing.”

The Revd Dr Nicholas Buxton

Art As Action


We are organising last minute details for our conference that is happening tomorrow

I am trying to stay calm but things are moving so fast and, on a limited budget, it is hard to keep things on track.

But in terms of the big picture I think it should be good. We have some great speakers and an amazing group of people coming. It will be, as they say, a good and lively debate.

I am speaking for ten minutes in the morning and have been thinking about what I might say. I will be very optimistic  about the people engaged with this conference. We have such a good cross section of people from many different sectors of the community, the arts, local authorities, charitable organisations, people working in areas of health and well-being and academics. A lively mix. But I am quite concerned about the way we currently work together, how we organise ourselves and how the funding works etc. I have a nagging suspicion that we could work better together and we should consider each other as complementary partners and not forget who we are working for.

I am currently working for a group of people who are living pretty chaotic lives. I am based in a homeless hostel in Newcastle’s West End. Sometimes it can be depressing. I work to try and take people’s minds off the things that trouble them – which can lead them into taking an excess of drugs or alcohol to dampen the pain that I imagine they feel. I hope that by introducing some creative projects into their lives that, maybe for a time, they will see an alternative to the deadening of their minds, their emotions and their creative spirits.

I have worked here for two years now and I know it has been useful for some people that I have been around. Many people have told me that their relationship with the arts has given them something extra, something that their support workers, the probation service  and the health workers cannot give them. It is a privilege to see the the progression that some people make with their lives and working with them teaches me about resilience and determination and the joy of the simplest thing. Sometimes I see people make incredible progress only to then see them fall back into their old ways. That makes me really sad.

But I also know the arts have helped some of them to grow – helped them in their battles with addiction- helped them feel better about themselves – helped them to live healthier lives – helped them to progress to independent living – helped them look at the world differently with more optimism – helped them to see a brighter future for themselves – helped them to lift their spirits when they have felt depressed and helped them in more ways than iI can imagine.

I believe the work will also have saved money for local authorities across the country and national governments. In the age of austerity governments and local authorities have a duty to consider what the arts are able to do.They should accept the finding of many reports that tell them that the arts are extremely good value for money. That they are helpful in creating better  lives for all citizens.

We must change the attitudes of the people in positions of power  that believe the arts are irrelevant – because they are simply wrong.

I hope our conference goes a little way to helping us achieve this goal.

Art As Action 2


Details here Art as Action 2  Newcastle 29th May

This conference is for anyone who interested in exploring the positive relationship between the arts, social care, health and well-being. Stakeholders from four different worlds will come together to explore common themes and how we can all work together toward a common cause.

If you are:

Commissioners working within health and social care Third sector and voluntary organisations
Academics in arts/social work and health and recovery Arts organisations / arts practitioners…

…This conference is for you.

Keynote speakers

Stephen Bell OBE – Chief Executive The Cyrenians (Welcome)

Teya Sepinuck – Artistic Director, Theatre of Witness, Northern Ireland

Toby Lowe – Chief Executive, Helix Arts


Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company

Freedom From Torture
Cyrenians Arts & Media Programme
St John the Baptist Church Newcastle

West End Refugee Service
Arts Council England – Creative People, Creative Places

Crossings Music United

The Conference will invite participants through workshops, seminars and plenary sessions to explore 3 questions:

1  What are the issues for commissioners seeking to meet their needs through the support of community based creative activity

2  What are the issues for community based creative activity groups in accessing commissioner support?

3  What do we know about the impact of community based creative activities on individual well being?