Engage is a community- based programme run by Reading Rep Theatre in Reading, Berkshire. The programme is funded to outreach drama workshops with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in the area. As Community Engage Officer, I have worked with the programme over the last 12 months, working with four groups; women on parole in the Criminal Justice System, adults in addiction, adults in recovery, and elderly dementia residents in a care home setting. I also met with the other existing partner organisations that Engage works, learning about the diverse range of projects offered by Engage and how they could be improved and developed, as well as about the effectiveness of these projects. Delivering sessions has been a large part of the role and has offered an opportunity to discover how best to work with each of these groups. In terms of expanding the programme, I engaged a new partner and wrote, developed and delivered two new trial projects with their clients. Additionally, a major aspect of the role has been to work alongside an external consultant to develop and create a new evaluation framework for the Engage programme. Over the last year, there has been much to learn, develop and evaluate. Implementing this new evaluation framework across all its future programmes will enable Reading Rep to provide clear qualitative and quantitative evidence of its outcomes and benefits, as it continues to expand its work with the communities it engages and beyond.
Nicola Hollinshead, September 2018
Elizabeth Fry Approved Premises – Working with Women in the Criminal Justice System
Participant verbal feedback on the sessions:
‘We were able to have a laugh’
‘it’s about not feeling self-conscious in the space’
‘Enjoyed the bonding, the mixing with everyone’
‘It gave us the chance to be silly’
‘Really liked the enjoyment of it’
‘it brightened up my day’
I first started working for Reading Rep Engage as a freelance facilitator in April 2017 at Elizabeth Fry in Reading. Elizabeth Fry is an ‘approved premises’ for women who are on license from prison. The women usually spend between 10-12 weeks as a resident at the AP, during which time they are supported to find accommodation and employment as they are integrated back into the community after a period spent within the Criminal Justice System. My experience of working at the centre was mixed, but overall, I ran some of my most creative sessions with the women at Liz Fry. Out of all the groups I worked with, it was clear to see, even if it was just one session, the obvious benefits to the women by their taking part in the session. This is a client group that can really benefit from regular access to theatre as a medium to provide a creative outlet for the multitude of situations and complex emotional states they go through, having just been released from their experience of being incarcerated.
Magda Le Roux, Offender Supervisor
Offender Supervisor Feedback
Iris Treatment Centre – Working With Adults in Recovery and Addiction
At Iris Treatment Centre, I ran a version of Recoverist Theatre Project, focusing on working on building confidence and self-esteem by using drama practices.
Feedback on the project from Peer Mentor
- Participant A expressed himself more in the sessions. He was allowed and given the freedom and the opportunity to express himself
- The sessions were interactive and thought provoking
- Participant B really benefited. He usually has a stammer. In one improvisation story he gave a full account of the story, remembered everyone’s names and didn’t stammer once
- The sessions can benefit people in understanding body language more. They can use body language to give a more confident image which will make them feel more confident
- They can have fun in the sessions which will improve mood swings
Abbeyfield Care Home – Working With Dementia Residents
I started working at Abbeyfield Winnersh in October 2017, running bi-monthly sessions with residents with dementia. In terms of the session content, I was keen to see how I could expand the creative content of the sessions to include working with text, song, acting, use of props and creating poems and stories based on themes. The sessions were continually expanded creatively with a thoroughly prepared theme for each session; adding more aspects to test out the engagement levels amongst the residents.
Being a Mentor
A Reading based placement student started working alongside me at the beginning of 2018 to assist on the sessions. This was hugely welcomed, both in terms of contributing creatively to the sessions, as well as providing additional 1:1 support to individual residents during the sessions. As we work with large groups at Abbeyfield, this meant that engaging more residents in that group became more feasible, and residents could experience more engagement and interaction. It was also valuable experience to work in a mentoring capacity, passing on aspects of working with dementia residents and sharing appropriate research around the work.
All the sessions with the residents at Abbeyfield were themed and included; singing, working with props, incorporating chair-based movements, warm up games, reading text; poetry, classical text, reading text from film scripts and reading text from Shakespeare. Colourful visuals and pictures were used and a variety of themed props to provide a multi-sensory experience and to keep residents engaged. The attention span for those with dementia tends to be short, so it is important to have a variety of stimulus in the sessions.
Examples of session themes
Musicals – Mary Poppins/Singing in The Rain/West Side Story
Reading classical text
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