Our Space is a creative programme that works with adults with multiple and complex needs. Participants are drawn from a range of backgrounds, and may have faced a range of challenges such as mental health issues, homelessness, substance misuse, feeling isolated and/or re-offending. Now in its twelfth year, the project became a social prescription under 28 primary care providers in 2018 and has worked with 44 referral partners across the city to make a contribution to recovery processes through drama workshops and performance.
Our Space Offers:
- Outreach hubs in community and service settings across the city (5 x 1.5 hour sessions per term)
- Our Space (weekly Thursday morning drama workshops in The Lab, Theatre Royal)
Participants may join Our Space after attending an Outreach hub, be referred directly through a partner service, or self-refer.
- Project X (weekly Thursday afternoon sessions in The Lab, Theatre Royal)
When they are ready, some participants move from Our Space to Project X which provides an opportunity to engage with more sustained drama work leading towards co-created performances.
At the centre of the methodology is co-creation, which Lee Hart, Creative Director of Project X, frames as a series of questions: “Do we value the voices of everybody in the space? Is everybody bringing themselves to a process? Are we making sure that everyone is valued?”
The work is supported by building partnerships with community and clinical services. Lived Experience Community Mentor, Berni Molton, explains why this is an important part of co-creating change: “Co-creation for me means getting more into communities and showing a bigger framework of services in Plymouth what Our Space can do, how Our Space has changed myself, Jason, Ferri, Pete and so many other people’s lives.’
The aims of this project were to:
- Take our methodology wider and extending the project reach – applying the learning from our existing community hubs offer and developing this to form residencies in key services that sit under The Plymouth Alliance.
- Place value on our members who are experts through lived experience and investing in their development as artists and community leaders.
- Deepen relationships with cross-sector partners and exploring future sustainability models for Our Space through our partnerships.
What we did
Project X Creative Director, Lee, supported the training and development of two new Lived Experience Facilitators: Jason Brownlee and Pete Creed and two new Lived Experience Community Mentors: Berni Molton and Ferri Feredouni. All four have been participants in Our Space and are currently long-term members of Project X.
Training with the Our Space Lived Experience Artists focussed on supporting the development of their own artistic models and pathways. This training including workshops with national and local practitioners including music with Daisy Higman, and art with Liz Atkin. Facilitation technique workshops included Meg Fenwick: Facilitation and dealing with difficult behaviours, Kate McCoy, Small Performance Adventures: Facilitation mid-point training, and Geese Theatre: Creative facilitation in prisons.
Additional training on planning and facilitation, safeguarding, working on zoom, and evaluation was provided by the Theatre Royal Plymouth Team.
“Co-Creating Change workshops have been fun and have helped me better understand the connection between Art and Drama. Also, it has helped me to be more creative to contribute to the lead practitioner’s plan for the session.” Ferri
Due to the COVID 19 lockdown, training took place on zoom. At that point it was unclear whether the planned Community Hubs would also take place online or be delivered in person.
Lee also mentored the Lived Experience Practitioners throughout, participating in their workshops, and supporting their evaluation process.
“It’s very important, the mentoring, I’ve learned so much. Just simple things like Lee teaching me how to write an invoice. Being a freelance practitioner now, I couldn’t do it without that.” Jason
Outreach Hubs in the Community
Four ten-week Outreach Hubs planned and led by the lived experience practitioners, were planned to take place in the community. Due to Covid-19, the start of these Hubs was pushed back, with two being delivered during the summer term.
The format of the Hub sessions was based on the practitioners’ experiences of participating in Our Space, following a similar structure:
‘The sessions also have a clear structure – check-ins, icebreakers, improvisations, small group work, working as a team to share something back, mindfulness at the end to ground you before you go back into the world. This allows you to become familiar and comfortable in the space.’ Pete
Jason and Pete were asked to draw on their experiences as an artist and a musician to plan and facilitate sessions in art and music. Despite this change of art from, the structure they were familiar with continued to form the core of their planning:
‘So, to plan an art session, I would probably use some of the same techniques, check in, then maybe a little warm up to break the ice with people. But then I’m going to show some of the techniques that I’ve learned from my own experiences as an artist, and let them create using these techniques.’ Jason
Drama remained an important part of the hubs, with both using drama games as ice breakers. And each session was concluded with mindfulness.
Summer Term Community Hubs
Hamoaze House Drama and Art
Facilitator: Jason, Community Mentor: Berni, Mentor: Lee
Participants: 7 Weekly attendance: 0-5
Painting created in pairs using string.
“Being a new practitioner for co-creating change has been inspiring with many positive challenges. Leading the last ten sessions have taught me that I’m quite capable at doing anything I put my mind to. Stepping out of my comfort zone and venturing into the unknown as well as working as part of a team has produced some exciting and rewarding results.” Jason.
Painting using tea and coffee
‘I think it’s because we’ve got the lived experience, we can then pass on the lived experience to other people that are like, ‘Why should I come along?’ ‘What am I going to gain from that?’ And then they see normal people in front of you going, well, actually, we changed our lives. We were homeless, we were this, we were that, whereas now we’re like, paying our bills and able to come off Universal Credit, hopefully.’ Berni
Union Corner: Drama and Music
Facilitator: Pete, Community Mentor: Ferri, Mentor: Lee
Participants: 9. Weekly attendance 2-7
‘It’s really made me realise the importance of the arts in the community and what it actually can do . . .bringing people together and getting conversations going.’ Pete
Listen to a co-created track here:
Here are links to two participants’ Case Studies:
Autumn Term Community Hubs
Two ten-week hubs were planned for the Autumn Term. One at Wolseley Trust’s Jan Cutting Centre and one online for Devon Mind. Poor awareness of the sessions led to insufficient numbers so the plan was adapted to return to Hamoaze House and Union Corner for two five-week sessions. Drawing on Berni’s interest in working with women, a third short hub was planned at Trevi House:
“It’s made me think about my future and where I want to go and actually I want to do more with women, I want to do more with communities, I want to do more with children as well. Because again, my history is from in a relationship at 14, child at 15, domestic violence, so I’ve got every story. If you go into somewhere that a woman is struggling there’s usually been this. I own my story with pride now because I want to make a change for other people.” Berni
Due to incidents of COVID within the team, and the need for others to self-isolate, these hubs were unable to go ahead in the autumn.
An additional five-week Hub with Ferri working with Theatre Royal Plymouth Practitioner Sam Parker took place at HMP Channings Wood.
Feedback from the seven participants included:
“Sam and Ferri made us feel really comfortable and welcome. They had a real good positive energy.”
“Would be interested to hear more about Ferri’s story, how he turned his life around.”
As members of Project X, the Facilitators and Community Mentors were supported to develop their creative practice. Central to this was a co-created show, Universal Spaghetti, in which Pete continued to develop his work as a musician, and Ferri and Jason as performers. Bernie extended her theatre work in a new role as a Trainee Assistant Director. Due to be performed in November, the performance was postponed due to members of the cast contracting COVID. Jason’s art exhibition in the TRP Gallery did still able to go ahead.
Several factors have combined to make this an extremely challenging period.
Facilitators and Community Mentors had to adapt to online training and the possibility of running the Hubs online, then change their plans again to delivering in person sessions. The Hubs are planned to allow participants to dip in and out, both Pete and Jason noted that they always had a Plan A and a Plan B to accommodate differing numbers. However, with participants additionally being absent due to COVID 19 or having to self-isolate, this led to several sessions with one or no participants.
Change of Staff
At the beginning of the project Victoria Whelan was bought in as maternity cover for Engagement Manager Sara Rhodes. Due to illness, the planned hand over period did not take place. This, combined with the evaluator, Tiffany Strawson, moving on to a new role meant that valuable experience within the team was lost.
Relationships with Services
COVID also had an impact on relationships with providers and partners. Many key contacts were furloughed, and COVID created an increased workload for many of the services some of which were also experiencing funding cuts. Combined with the loss of hand over time for the Engagement Manager maternity cover, this meant that many of the existing relationships had to be re-developed.
This was further impacted by COVID making visits impossible until after restrictions were lifted, at which point Victoria and Berni were able to undertake visits to a range of Plymouth services including Mind and Pathfinder.
- The importance of valuing existing experience within the team was underlined by the loss of the hand over period and how this contributed to difficulties in trying to set up Hub opportunities. Community Hubs work best when they are delivered with an existing group such as those attending Hamoaze House or the Recovery College at Devon Mind. This underlines why the original aims of the project to share the methodology wider and extend the reach through embedding provision in existing services is crucial to the long-term sustainability of Our Space.
- The relationship and trust between the Mentor, Facilitators and Community Mentors was key to the success of the Hubs. This enabled a successful transference of agency to the facilitators to create and hold a safe space for participants. By drawing on their specialisms in art and music, this supported the facilitators to develop their own distinct approach.
- The Participant Case Studies reveal that they valued the Hubs as a safe place to meet people and create together particularly after lockdown. This suggests that in person contact is an important part of the Co-Creation experience for these participants.
- Participant Case Studies also demonstrated the value that they placed on the lived experiences of the Facilitators and Community Mentors, particularly as role models.
Co-creation affects everyone involved, as well as how the wider project develops. This has been clear in the growth of the Facilitators and Community Mentors and how, as their confidence grew, their lived experience has shaped their roles. Berni’s developing interest in working with women has already informed choices within the project in terms of Community Hub partnerships.
The project has not yet had an opportunity to see how this translates into enrolments from the Hubs into Our Space or how Ferri’s role as an Assistant Practitioner in Our Space will additionally support those making this transition.