Cherwell Theatre Company (CTC) creates an environment where young people can be themselves, make new friends and feel a real sense of value. We work collaboratively with 150+ young people aged 2-25 each week in Banbury to bring their unique qualities and aspirations to life through inclusive community theatre, often in unusual locations.
CTC Members performing at local landmark Broughton Castle
...and in the decommissioned nuclear bunker underneath Banbury Town Hall!
We are deeply concerned, with the COVID-19 pandemic, that the young people (some of whom are in vulnerable circumstances) who rely on our workshops to stay creatively engaged, make positive friendships and feel less isolated will have no way to connect with each other and to take part in positive group activities. The same applies to children of key workers and other vulnerable groups still attending schools in Banbury. We run after school clubs in five schools in disadvantaged wards and know that their skeleton staff are struggling to provide activities for days at a time for these groups. We’re determined to support them with interactive online workshops and must respond quickly, creatively and with great flexibility to give young people agency during this crisis.
CTC works with young people who are already socially isolated and fear for their well-being, sense of purpose and value during this challenging time. In our core groups, 30% of young people have autism. They tell us they feel “at home”, a valued member of the team able to express themselves. One such participant described a sense of feeling “invisible” in their town before finding CTC “where people listen”. Many participants live with anxiety, and 20% in our groups are home educated, relying on our service to form friendships: “[Our daughter] has been under a lot of stress, which has resulted in us taking the decision to home school, and she really enjoyed being around such a welcoming and accepting group. It got her out at a time when she didn’t want to see anyone, which has meant so much to us”- Parent of participant.
We take a strength based approach which doesn’t label young people by their perceived ‘needs’; treating each participant as a unique individual with their own interests, abilities and aspirations. We have a proven track record for using theatre to bring people together as equals, no matter how isolated they feel in their peer groups and communities.
We welcome all backgrounds, abilities and cultures by having an open and inclusive approach; removing the audition process, keeping subs low and offering bursaries for those who find money a barrier. We never turn a young person away: “I liked the diversity and [the project] was free, so everyone was included”- Participant .
We work extensively with local authority, schools and community partners to identify beneficiaries who will benefit from working with us, our partners recognising our unique approach reaches young people who others can’t. We accept referrals from; social services, schools (pupil premium students) and other youth organisations such as BYHP who work with NEET young people (not in education, employment or training). Through working with us, young people learn new skills such as vocal and movement technique, communication and team-work and make new friends, increasing their confidence, raising aspiration and helping them find a stronger self-identity: “We’re constantly looking to divert young people from negative behaviours. Our issue is the lack of agencies. CTC help our most vulnerable with bursaries meaning that they do not miss out on opportunities and feel more positively engaged members of society who feel less marginalised.”- Brendon Miller, Lead Practitioner, OCC Social Services, New Futures Centre.
Through participating in our online projects, young people will:
• Stay engaged with extra curricular activities, keep a sense of purpose in these difficult, isolated times.
• Have an increased sense of connection with others during isolation periods.
• Learn new skills; vocal technique, movement, creative devising and improvisation skills, script writing etc.
• Have an increased sense of value and well-being from taking part in group activities where they can safely interact with each other in secure online platforms.
We will also:
• Work with existing partner schools to help vulnerable children, those whose parents are key workers, and those in phased return, providing support to teaching staff and to children who are struggling with missing friends and family in this difficult time.
• Support self employed creatives and their families, sustaining important cultural and aspirational links that are in danger of being decimated.
To deliver these outcomes we will:
• Consult with other youth organisations across our county to develop new practices and programmes for delivering workshops online to best involve and include every young person who wishes to take part.
• Consult with our Designated Safeguarding Lead, local authority partners & organisations such as Oxfordshire Youth to develop and refine new online safeguarding procedures for this work, in response to the rapidly changing situation, which we will share with others in our sector, across the county.
• Share resources, ideas and session plans with other organisations to reach more young people in need of engagement, co-hosting a “Stay Creative” daily bulletin for distribution through social media networks.
• Conduct research and development with the young people we work with, our salaried staff, the creative freelance practitioners on whom we rely.
• Run 16 x weekly sessions with ages 5-8, 9-11, 12-16 and 17-25 in the place of their regular workshops. These workshops will include group facilitated drama activities delivered over video conferencing applications as well as group discussions, creative task setting and planning of virtual theatre projects, some activities allowing small groups to work together with a facilitator to support them in devising their own new work.
• Host ad hoc free digital theatre screenings at set times where participants can watch and comment live on the performances, then engage in a post performance discussion.
• Provide an additional 16 interactive live streamed masterclass sessions with guest professionals on subjects to be decided by the young people. These could range from dance/movement work to singing with virtual choirs, learning how to create a stand up comedy routine, or develop a performance poem, for example. We have a range of facilitators on hand and an extensive local network of artists we’d like to support financially in delivering this work. These will be delivered for ages 5-11 and 12-25 and will also be made available to local schools for vulnerable children and/or those whose parents are key workers.
• Share our learning in online workshop practice and safeguarding with other arts organisations & individual artists in our area through the “Oxfordshire Arts Online Response Group” CTC has initiated in partnership with Oxfordshire Theatre Makers.
Bringing it to life
We have began to develop our ICT platform and consult with young people on content already, having received some funding from Oxfordshire Community Foundation to support research and development. Our board believe it is of the greatest importance to provide a platform to them swiftly, in the current circumstances, though we will rely heavily on the support of new and existing supporters if we are to sustain this free, accessible provision for the 150+ children/young people who now regularly use our service.
At present it is difficult to know how long social distancing measures will remain in effect in the UK, and whether restrictions may vary from month to month. With this in mind, we believe CTC must not simply create temporary solution, but a dynamic new model of working which excites and gives purpose to our young people, breaking new ground with the artists they know and trust to find ways to meaningfully engage with others from a distance and create art from this sorry situation.
Like many charities, COVID-19 has hit us hard, though we have chosen not to furlough our staff to cope with the increased demand for our service and support our young people at this challenging time. We are, however unable to draw on pledged funding due to projects being postponed and without bridging investment we may struggle to sustain our service, and ability to bounce back once restrictions lift.
We hope we can rely on your generous support.