Beyond theatre

11 November, 2018

I was going to write a blog about all the nice things that are happening in our current project,  Our Health Your Hands. It is an exciting collaboration between Bounce, Anstee Bridge and Its Not Your Birthday But…

The project marks eight years of collaboration between Bounce & Anstee. We are proud to be involved with an innovative programme that is in essence using principals of co-creation and social prescription with young people.

Our Health Your Hands celebrates 70 years of the NHS and Kingston Hospital. Through the project young people are leading the way in researching the history of the hospital. There have already been eight workshops at the National Archives and Kingston Hospital. They have met countless people through a number of community tea parties, bringing in local people to talk about their NHS experiences. They are currently working with a visual artist and musician to document their thoughts on their learning.

Amid thinking about all these nice things, I watched the BBC Two documentary School, driving home the incredible pressures schools are under to deliver our education system.

It made me instead appreciate the financial fragility of projects such as ours against this national picture.

Take Anstee for instance. It is an alternative learning programme, working with young people facing challenging circumstances impacting on their emotional well-being.

Entwined within Anstee, is the principal that confidence can be built through creativity. It makes a lot of sense. There is SO much research into the benefits of the arts and creative practices on mental health. A quick google will give you more examples than I could summarise in this short blog. Anstee has for 10 years essentially socially prescribed the arts to improve the mental health of hundreds of vulnerable young people.

In a time where there are pressing financial pressures on education, mental health and arts services, it sometimes feels like a luxury to be involved in this sort of work. It shouldn’t be but frankly it becomes a luxury because you feel lucky to do it.

Naturally, you are often asked to justify it. “What’s the point?” “What’s the value?”  “Is it going to make great art?” “What are they learning?”

From my experience at Anstee, some are genuinely just learning to stay alive. An English G.C.S.E is a million miles away from where your headspace is if you’ve never told anyone about experiencing an assault…

Over the years I have worked there the programme has nurtured young people who have been abused, neglected, assaulted or developed an addiction. Some have parents in prison, are carers to parents. Others have been bullied or are dealing with effects of living in relative poverty.

Beaten down by life before they are legally entitled to vote, they are nurtured for one day a week to have the courage to believe in themselves. Some will make leaps and bounds, others will take just a tiny enough step to get them through their G.C.S.Es and into the next stage of life.

We see it in the small contribution we make. Young people enter with their eyes to the ground. They might challenge you with their behaviour or frustrate you with their reluctance to participate. However by the end of the project they might look you in the eye, smile or sometimes laugh. You recognise that the tea party gave them an opportunity to make eye contact and talk to a person ahead of their college interviews. The theatre show allowed them to vocalise thoughts they don’t know how to about their life experiences. The sewing activity gave them a release that mellows their attitude.

These are the things that draw you back year after year. It’s more than a theatre production. It’s the life skills inherent in the arts. The ability to find something mindful to help you manage your emotions. The platform to have a conversation with someone you thought wouldn’t listen to you. The responsibility of managing money when you have spent six years hating maths, so switched off.

This creative engagement and nurturing from the inspiring programme leaders makes them believe that underneath everything, there are people and perhaps even a community that care about them. Sometimes it’s genuinely been the difference between life and death.

When you consider the value of funding programmes like Anstee, I think you have to ask yourself more, what is the value of not having them.


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