Theatre Tracks is an innovative dance and drama project focusing on community safety themes which supports cared for children in Tameside.
Theatre Tracks is an innovative dance and drama project focusing on community safety themes which supports cared for children in Tameside. The project has been running for over six years. Twenty young people have remained meaningfully engaged with the programme since it began, and four of these young people are due to graduate the programme and return as young leaders to support future cohorts. The outcomes for these young people are significant and achieve the following:
- the ability to build relationships with peers and those in the community
- making positive connections with services and professionals
- increased aspirations and confidence
- achieving qualifications every year they attend.
The library service in Tameside wanted to connect with more young people, including cared for children with the aim of encouraging engagement with library services. At the same time, the children in care council had identified that there were not any performing arts opportunities specifically for cared for children in their local areas.
The Theatre Tracks project was born in 2015; a dance and drama focused project, specifically for cared for children, set in a library and addressing community safety themes relevant to them.
Theatre Tracks has been running for over six years, each year the project has an intake of up to thirty young people. Two groups are run concurrently each week from September to February, a younger group eight to eleven-years-old and an older group for those twelve to sixteen-years-old.
Each year the project facilitators choose a book, which is then used to create a structure for the drama and dance workshops. The young people have a chance to build relationships with the facilitators, which supports the basis of engagement within the programme. They also have the chance to learn from local artists and creatives, put on their own performance and see a theatre production. Over the duration of the six-month project, the young people work through the Arts Award qualification, and each year they have the opportunity to progress from discover to gold.
The books that are chosen are used as a tool to connect with the young people. They can learn about the world around them, but it also allows them to explore themes that connect to experiences as cared for children and being a young person in today’s ever changing world. The dance and drama workshops are based on a one step removed approach, in which the young people taking part are able to make a subconscious choice on how they relate to the material being explored. They can choose to explore the characters and the book more generally or make personal connections to their own experiences. All of this takes place in a fun, safe and contained space.
All of the facilitators have safeguarding training and each year the safeguarding pathways are reassessed so that any disclosures, triggers or incidents are dealt with by the right people in the right way for each individual young person.
Over the life of the project a number of books have been chosen in discussion with the Community Safety Partnership. On the surface, the books may not seem relevant to a life of a teenager in the 2020’s, but through a process of skilled and nuanced facilitation, relevant and poignant themes relate to the young people’s everyday experiences they are directly and/ or indirectly exposed to. The books and themes drawn out include:
- Matilda (neglect, power held by adults, chosen families)
- Narnia (betrayal, guilt and shame, courage and family)
- Railway Children (parental absence, young carers, reunification, poverty and community)
- Around the World in Eighty Days (trafficking, exploitation)
- The Lost World (connecting to nature and taking responsibility for our world)
- Peter Pan (motherhood, parentification, going missing).
The Theatre Tracks project impact has been wide-ranging for not only the young people, but also for those who work to promote and safeguard their welfare for the six years it has been running. The project has benefited each young person in a different way. The impact is rich and can be seen by those who are part of their everyday lives. In particular, outcomes in relation to social, emotional and behavioural indicators are extremely positive for the cared for children that take part in the project.
For many, the project has given them stability, consistency, and a sense of belonging through building relationships with other young people and facilitators of the project. Carers for the young people have spoken highly of the programme as the young people are part of an inclusive environment. This project does not set unrealistic inflexible goals, but instead progresses at the young person’s pace, building on their strengths. Alongside this, there is also an open, curious, non-judgmental and empathetic approach taken by facilitators to support young people who may find it at times hard to take part in the session, which in other settings may be treated as poor engagement. This approach has brought participants out of their shells by building their confidence in an environment where they can be themselves. The facilitators empower them to engage in the sessions so by the end of the programme, the young people are able to take part in the end of project production and achieve an Arts Award qualification.
The young people have had a chance to work and learn from both facilitators and guest facilitators from the local area. This has meant that they get to see people like them using art as a form of self expression, and also that there are a wealth of possibilities that they can pursue. Depending on the level of the Art Award they are undertaking, the young people have had a chance to co-facilitate, lead, try and/ or learn different mediums of creative expression. They are able to see their progress and are supported to achieve their potential.
This approach works, there are thirty young people signed up each year. Of note, twenty of the young people have been meaningfully engaged over the life of the project. This is important to highlight, as some participants were adamant they wouldn’t stay engaged, they were not comfortable being in groups or saw themselves as not having a lot of confidence. But in fact, for many of the young people, they have gone strength to strength the longer they engage in the project.
The project has given young people a chance to see their capability year after year. The Arts Award gives those completing the higher levels a chance to gain qualifications. Many of those that attend are engaging with their learning in way that works for them. This has given those attending a chance to aspire to apply for a place at college, university, the ability to see themselves having a profession as well as having an opportunity to lead their own arts project. For others, being part of the project has given them a chance to give back to the local community through co-delivering arts sessions.
Some young people have seen that they can engage within a group environment and has supported them to engage in other activities in their local area. The young people have also built connections with safe adults including the library staff and professionals from the council and other organisations. As a whole, the cared for children are more engaged in their local communities.
There are a recent group of graduates from the programme who achieved the gold award, an equivalent of an A-level at sixteen-years-old. These young people have asked to come back to the project and help to facilitate the sessions. As a result, the project facilitators have incorporated some training for them into the project so that they will be able to help to lead and co-facilitate sessions and most importantly be seen as role models for those in the younger groups. Next steps for the project, include working with the care leavers council to co-produce an offer for those leaving care.
In addition, an initial aim for the programme was to increase, in particular, library engagement for cared for children in Tameside. This has been achieved. The young people who have engaged with the programme have built a connection with the library service. They know the librarians, they come and do their homework outside of the sessions, take out books and know that it is a safe place in which they are welcome.
Other positive outcomes have been communicated by the cared for children’s team, police, and other partner organisations. For example, those that are engaged with the project are less likely to become involved in criminal child exploitation, going missing and engaging in risky behaviours.
How is the new approach being sustained?
Funding is applied for via the Community Safety Partnership who commission projects which address community safety issues. A project evaluation is then shared with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority each year. The project has just received funding for its seventh year.
In addition to this, partnership with the cared for children’s team, the participation officer and the Community Safety Partnership are central to ensuring the project continues to meet the needs of the cohort of young people engaging with the project.
There have been a wealth of lessons learned from undertaking the Theatre Tracks project since it started six years ago. The tips the facilitators would like to share include:
- along with creative facilitation experience, it is crucial to be able to work in a child focused way so that you can understand the needs of the children you are working with. This includes learning about safeguarding themes such as trafficking, going missing, mental health and so on, to be able to appropriately facilitate sessions that meet the needs of your cohort.
- relationship building is a central tenant to engaging the young people in the programme. This also includes getting to know the important people in their network especially their carers.
- it is crucial to build partnerships with your local networks, this includes professionals such as the library service, participation team, cared for children’s teams/ social work teams and the community partnership team (or equivalent in your area). Relationships with these partners will be key to the success of your project as they will feed into developing the themes, help with promoting it amongst the cared for children community and can also support parts of the project if required.
- as the Project will likely be held in the library or similar community hub, it is crucial to build relationships with the staff that work there. The young people will become regular users of the facility, and this will help create a shared understanding between attendees and staff.
- there is a focus to using artists and guest facilitators from the local area. It is important to build these networks as it benefits the young people in several ways. In terms of representation, they see people like them, they’ve lived/ from the same areas and at the same time helps the young person to build links in their local community.
- research theatre productions running in your local area, this will help narrow down the book choice. The theatre company creating the show will usually have a downloadable resource pack that can support in planning the sessions.
- connecting the project to a qualification has been extremely beneficial part of the project. However, this takes a lot of time, organisation, and planning to ensure each young person meets the criteria required. Having a clear understanding of course requirements is key to linking the dance and drama workshops to the award to ensure each child meets and is able to evidence each criteria.