“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…”
Imagine is a zine packed with interviews, features and ideas for young people to take a digital detox and get creative. Made for The Grace Dear Trust, it focuses on using the arts as a tool for better mental health.
“Do whatever you want, be who you are, don’t be afraid to be yourself.”
The Female Voice is a podcast series made by girls for girls. Created over Zoom during lockdown. It is a set of conversations about equality, being ok with your hormones, politics and why it is good to be a girl.
Happy to Chat is a podcasting and digital art project led by young people, to talk about the benefits of positive conversation on mental health and well-being.
Young people across the UK are collaborating to conceive, design and deliver Happy to Chat podcasts. Tackling some of the challenges around coping with your emotions, lockdown and loneliness, the project aims to champion the importance of self-care.
Heritage from Home was inspired by our project Things to do in a Blackout.
Through lockdown, we all saw a surprising new relevance to our project. So rather than stop completely, we decided to start a newsletter for self isolating older people. We wanted to find a way of celebrating the heritage but also to find a way to creatively connect with the people who could help grow our stories.
3500 copies were sent to older people during lockdown.
March has been a month of big, dramatic, unexpected changes for this project.
The early part of the month involved collating and organising the research gathered over the previous months, and for my own part, a single workshop at Coombe Boys school. This group was the first I’d been involved in at the end of the school day. With early drafts of parts of the script for the performance now written, the students were divided into two groups – one dramatising the script’s adaptation of Wally Thompson and his gang’s escape, and the other, with me, exploring the character of Winston Churchill.
The script contained an extract from the speech that Churchill made upon becoming Prime Minister, and the aim of this exercise was to explore how Churchill could be portrayed in the play, and perhaps find a boy capable of embodying Churchill and performing this speech. Having been researching Churchill as part of getting further context for the project, I was ideally placed to do this.
One of the things I particularly noticed about Churchill, however, particularly when listening to recordings of his speeches, and watching the even rarer video recording, was something I’d forgotten about from my days studying him at school – that as a speaker, he was not in fact particularly charismatic and compelling. Although he was capable of particularly rousing and soaring rhetoric, if you listen to any speech of his, the delivery seems mismatched. Churchill’s intonation is sometimes counterintuitive – in terms of pitch, he often goes down rather than up at the end of a sentence, giving the impression of boredom or deflation. This seems quite at odds with the portrayal of him many of us are used to in television and film – no doubt because from a dramatic point of view, if the narrative at all refers around Churchill or those adjacent to him, having an actor do an entirely true-to-life impersonation would highlight this dissonance. Instead, I suspect, most actors probably do some study of Churchill’s voice, his mannerisms, his body language and history, and then deliver an approximation, with them adding a degree of flavour to the delivery of the already fiery rhetoric.
To do this, I initially tried to play them the section of the speech quoted in the script, and then experimented with telling each of the four students to just perform it with the same energy, and then with progressively more energy. However, it still felt as if even the performance intended to be the more inspiring rallying cry lacked the energy needed. I then asked them to experiment with performing the speech as if drunk, with some as only slightly inebriated, and others barely able to stand. This was based on my existing knowledge as Churchill as someone who liked a drink – and it occurred to me that his tone of voice could subtly reflect this.
Next, I asked the students to imagine delivering the speech not as Churchill himself – a figure of less interest and an uneasy point of reference, but for political figures they could more easily draw upon – I asked one to deliver the speech doing an impression of Boris Johnson, one of Donald Trump, and one as Martin Luther King – the last one in particular as King had come up in conversation with them as an inspiring speaker. This greatly improved their performances – particularly for the boy performing the speech as Johnson. In attempting to capture a little of the essence of Johnson, the student performed with more bombast and energy, yet still was sufficiently restrained to convey a degree of statesmanship that one might associate with Churchill. The student leaned over a chair to use as a mock lectern, and at the end of the session, along with the other students, delivered his interpretation of the speech. The Johnson version seemed to capture the energy needed, and whilst another boy was a very effective mimic of Donald Trump, and it was interesting and amusing to watch as an exercise, it became clear that our ideal young person to perform as Churchill in the final production was the boy using Boris Johnson as a point of reference.
However, events in the month later took over. The aforementioned workshop took place against a backdrop of growing fears about the outbreak of the Coronavirus. In the days leading up to it, we had all already seen the news and social media reports of people stockpiling toilet paper and hand sanitiser, in anticipation of the virus and potential prolonged isolation. Whispers of potential school closures and mass gatherings had already begun, with the virus spreading across Europe, and the beginnings of contingency plans for Things To Do In A Blackout were being drawn up – understandably, potential school closures would impact any project that involve school students, as would any bans or official advice against mass gatherings.
In the days after the session, following government advice and information about the virus’s spread, Bounce Theatre took the executive decision to postpone the initially planned performance for May 2020 until the autumn. Workshops with young people will still be carrying on in some form, and practitioners are visually recording as much to do with the project as possible, so that whether or not they are in the final production, young people involved up to now will still have played a decisive role in devising Things To Do In A Blackout for later in the year.
When I started researching for this project, I highlighted some of the potential comparisons between the Second World War and the modern day, particularly when it came to the rise in crime. I talked about similar circumstances in falling numbers of police and resources, and how that may have had a particular effect on crime. I spoke of some who will have committed crime because of the visible opportunity, such as gangsters like Billy Hill, and how some did so because of desperation, trying to feed and provide for their family.
What I doubt anyone could have predicted at that time was that the coronavirus pandemic would create the need for rationing of goods. In the expectation of forced self-isolation, then as aforementioned, people began stockpiling loo roll, and due to fears about the virus, people panic-bought hand sanitiser. This made headline news, so much so that it even became a part of the session in the workshop we described – at one point we asked the students to improvise a scene in a supermarket of people vlogging and panic-buying.
One might question what this has to do with the rise in crime in WWII or the modern day – my workshop on Churchill was all about lending historical context to the rest of the piece, while the other half of the workshop was devising a scene featuring Wally Thompson and his gang. The stockpiling and panic-buying that has taken place so far is clearly not a crime. But the images I am sure we’ve all seen posted on social media of the consequences – of elderly people finding empty shelves when they get to do their own shopping – are nothing short of criminal. Indeed, many supermarkets have introduced independent rationing of goods, albeit nothing as extreme as the war, to try to prevent this.
One of the things that became particularly prevalent with actual crime in the Second World War was new legislation making criminals of ordinary folk, who were ignorant of the new legislation, or charged for reasons that in normal times may seem excessive. Whilst panic-buying has yet to be criminalised and rationing yet to be nationally imposed, perhaps what problems that have emerged since the outbreak of the crisis could be due to public ignorance, about the virus, about social isolation or similar. In times of crisis it is more important than ever that the government clearly communicates what it wants citizens to do.
But just as much, it’s important we as communities pull together, just as many did in the Second World War and thereafter. The quarantine and social distancing of many people has clear similarities with the Blackout in WWII, and further comparisons will no doubt crop up in the coming weeks and months, especially as potential restrictions on our movement become more stringent. But while this project won’t shy away from highlighting the multi-faceted story of crime in WWII, and will continue to shine a light on this often neglected side of the war, we hope that, when further comparisons between the war and today are made, that their are similar stories of community spirit, friendship, and solidarity.
That is the story we hope will be told, of the Things We Did – In A (Social) ‘Blackout’…
For nearly 14 years, Bounce has made theatrical content with children, young people, and families.
People have always been at the heart of what we do.
We’ve cherished the things that happen because of engagement in the arts, as much as the art itself. Children and young people have formed lasting friendships, developed confidence, come to terms with disabilities, faced down bullies, acknowledged mental health needs and so much more in a creative space.
The impact of Covid-19 has rippled through our small company. Clubs, workshops, projects, and productions have been cancelled. We have reworked them and reshaped them, with the support of our funders, to keep all of our freelancers in work. We are finding new ways to make our work. At the heart of it we are blending the spirit of play with the opportunities of technology.
Whether Bounce comes out the other side of Covid-19 is, for now and to some extent, in the hands of fate. In these unknown times, we have used the funding we had to make projects that allow the widest range of people, from isolated pregnant women through to people in their 80s, to engage creatively and connect with others. By doing this, we hope people will feel a tiny ripple of those small connections that grow in a creative space.
On first glance, one might think there isn’t much of a comparison between a rise in crime during wartime, often under the cover of night, during a period of 6 years, and any rise in crime during the modern day – specifically the last decade. Although the story of the spike in crime is less often told, coming, as it does, into contradiction with the powerful images WWII evokes of pulling together, wartime spirit and unity against a common enemy, it is not hard to imagine how, under the cover of the Blackout and Blitz, criminals may spot an opportunity.
This window of opportunity was exploited by one Billy Hill, “the dapper gangster from Seven Dials central London”, who predicted, correctly, that with the outbreak of war, young men, including police officers, would be off in their droves to join up, and this would lead to a weakened police force. The war required reservists – men who had recently been soldiers – to return to the army or navy, so that the *much reduced* British army could benefit from trained soldiers. Many police officers were reservists, and many more were young enough to serve in the armed forces, and so volunteered. Although the government sought to limit the inevitable reduction in police numbers that would result from this, by restricting numbers of who might volunteer, and older officers delaying their retirement or enlisting as special or reserve constables, this didn’t prevent the initial shortage – 3,000 reservists left the police force to serve their former military units towards the end of 1939, and another 16,500 would volunteer over the course of the war. Despite making up the numbers with reservists, older officers delaying retirement and more women police officers than ever before, there was, nonetheless, an initial fall in police numbers as a result, and even when the numbers had been made up, a police force that was in some parts older and in other parts less experienced will no doubt have weakened their effectiveness. This allowed criminals like Billy Hill to flourish through jewellery theft, and sales on the black market of whisky and sausage skins, due to rationing limiting the availability of such items.
There is an interesting comparison to be made here with the fall in police numbers in our country today. Since 2010, the Conservative government has cut 21,000 police officers, as part of its austerity programme. As Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Ed Balls, argued in 2010, when the initially planned cut of 20,000 police officers was first announced, this “is the biggest cut to our police for a century, outside of wartime.” That Balls made the distinction between peace and war time for police cuts is obviously important; it is understandable that police numbers will likely fall when sending people off to fight a war, especially if, as was the case in WWII, many police officers are ex-military.
What is remarkable about comparing the Second World War fall in police numbers with the fall in the modern day is that the latter was not to serve a greater aim of defence of the realm, but part of a more general policy of reduction in public spending. This proved controversial in many quarters – indeed, in the 2017 general election, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, specifically argued in the wake of two terrorist attacks that police cuts were in part to blame, and that ‘you can’t protect the public on the cheap’ – a particularly damaging attack on the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, who had been Home Secretary at the time of the coalition government that announced these cuts. May had also faced fierce criticism during the course of the campaign about police cuts – the Police Federation had warned her as Home Secretary on numerous occasions about the dangers of cutting police officers to the public’s safety, and she had responded by accusing the Police Federation of ‘crying wolf’.
Whatever the reason for police cuts, there is nonetheless a clear pattern in similar criminal activity between the Second World War and the last decade. Theft, or ‘looting’ and violence are problems that have never gone away, as are fraud (particularly aided in the modern day by the internet), murder, sexual assualt (which has taken on a much greater significance in today’s media in the wake of the #MeToo movement), and juveniledelinquency. All of these may have taken different forms in the Second World War than in the period from 2010 to the present day, but they all will have happened for similar reasons.
For some, the increase in these crimes will have been a case of opportunity, as with Billy Hill; although there was a few years’ delay between police cuts in the modern day and the subsequent overall rise in crime, unlike in the Second World War, then as former Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Kirkham argued in early 2018, the likely reason that fatal stabbings took place on New Year’s Eve 2017 in the suburbs was due to existing officers being diverted to the celebrations in inner London, because of the overall lack of officers. It could be argued that the lack of police officers in the suburbs, therefore, created the opportunity, whether or not the perpetrators knew of the shortage, for them to get away with such crimes. Kirkham has on more than one occasion placed the blame for rises in knife crime and other criminal activity at the doors of Theresa May’s government cuts to policing, and there is a notable comparison between the officers in the Second World War who delayed their retirement and the officers in the modern day who Kirkham argues have had ‘rare leave days’ cancelled and 12 hour shifts extended to 16 hours. For others, for example in the case of