Background to the idea
In 2015 we produced the Mr Shapeshifter theatre production, with writer Mike Harris, an exciting and interactive modern fairy tale for 9-11 year olds about the way that some adults abuse the trust of children and how children can work together and with trusted adults to protect themselves. Since then it has been touring nationally into primary schools and has been acclaimed for the power it has to engage and empower children. It has given many young children the confidence to make disclosures which have led to arrests, convictions and the closure of businesses.
In 2017 we secured public funding from the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner and Crowdfunding monies to expand the reach and impact of the project by developing exciting animated and book versions of the same story, both written by Mike Harris. The animation was made by Bafta Award winning Fettle Animation.
In early 2019 we launched the animation at the National Film museum in Bradford and then at the HOME Arts Centre in Manchester. We now have a unique safeguarding project for young children using a theatre production, an animation and a book to tell the same story in three very different ways.
The response to the new animation has already been fantastic, including from professionals at the highest possible level:
"This is a really important project...resources like Mr Shapeshifter can really help to create conditions in which children feel secure enough to tell someone they trust if they are being abused"
Ann Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England.
Responses from professionals and children can be watched by using these links:
The Mr Shapeshifter animation has also been nominated for Best Animation at the Royal Television Society Yorkshire Awards.
What we want to do next - our vision
GW Theatre Company will continue to tour the theatre production in conjunction with the animation and the book and reach as many people as possible with structured and professional delivery in mainstream schools and other settings.
But a legacy of the public funding is a completely free version of the animation which can be found at online at www.mrshapeshifter.com - and it is around this resource we seek to build our vision for this project. The free online version is supported by three activities for children and parents/carers, but we want to add to and enhance the resource so it can reach children who are not in mainstream schools or who are living or learning in very different or challenging circumstances.
We also want to reach children with learning difficulties, language difficulties and those who are seriously vulnerable or at risk or who have been victims of abuse. We want to reach them because these children are the ones most likely to be targeted by abusers because of their vulnerabilities - and we want to engage and work with them in appropriate and supportive ways to raise awareness and help them to recognise risk and danger and how to protect themselves.
Additionally, we want to engage with parents and carers to support them and to help raise awareness levels and recognition skills so that they can best protect their children and know who the people are who can help if something goes wrong and they need support.
Delivering the Vision - Using the Funding
We know we have three fantastic creative catalysts which can be used together or independently of each other, but we cannot make presumptions about how they will work most effectively with the people described above. GW Theatre is not-for-profit and is not core funded - hence the need for Crowdfunding which we will use to facilitate the following key three areas of work:
We will use some of the funding to allow us to take the time to undertake some research with the people we have identified - we need to spend time talking and listening to children, and we need to do that with the involvement and support of the skilled professionals who work with them. We need to do the same with parents and carers. We will only achieve success in the future by working directly with the people we seek to target now - we can safely test the resources in a open process in which we can learn from each others experiences. We can take the time to build up trust and respect. Together we can find the a way to address the barriers and difficulties we know are there and this will be pioneering work.
We will use some of the funding to organise consultation events for children and parents and carers, together and separately. These events will feature the showing of the animation or/and a reading from the book or even a performance of the play. We need to know what people think of the resources, what impact they have and what responses they provoke - we can then learn from this, hone and adapt things if we need to and perhaps even develop new resources. The key thing is to maximise the use of the work to bring change and to make children safer. With these events we would be very interested to engage with foster parents/carers, with other parents/carers, with children in care, with very vulnerable children and their families, with grandparents, with children in the criminal justice system and those at risk of offending. The more funding we raise the more people we can engage with and the more effective our safeguarding work will be.
Enhancement of the Resources
We will use some of the funding to enhance the animation, and possibly the book, to widen and deepen the reach and impact of them. Some things are obvious to us already and we will prioritise putting subtitles into the animation. There may be other things we need to do - clearly language difficulties will affect the ability of some children and adults to engage. We must address how we can successfully engage with deaf and blind children - and how we can engage in the face of cultural issues e.g. working with Romany children. The list will be long but we will do whatever we can to open up this safeguarding work to as many children as possible.
The Crowdfunding monies will allow us to undertake unique work and we will feed the benefits of this back into the free online resource and all the work we do to safeguard young children. A pledge to this project might just change the life of a child by helping to keep them safe from or to helplift them out of abuse.