Every year, Chichester Festival Theatre’s Learning, Education and Participation (LEAP) department runs a number of bespoke programmes and projects for vulnerable young people living in West Sussex with little or no access to the arts. While the starry productions on stage grab most of the spotlight, this work makes a huge difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
One such initiative has been organised in partnership with asphaleia, a Worthing-based charity specialising in welfare, fostering and training services. Each week, the LEAP team runs outreach workshops for a group of young unaccompanied asylum seekers, defined as being separated from both parents and not being cared for by an adult, many being very recent arrivals in the UK. ‘We go in once a week to use drama to help them develop their language skills, but also their communication and social skills, their ability to interact with other people and to speak confidently in English,’ says Lauren Grant, LEAP’s Deputy Director.
When the ground-breaking physical performance company Barely Methodical Troupe (BMT) brought their show-stopping acrobatic show Bromance to the Chichester Spiegeltent last autumn, the Troupe ran a day-long workshop for the asphaleia asylum seekers. It drew a hugely positive response from the sometimes diffident and uncertain teenagers who threw themselves into BMT’s demanding physical routines with astonishing prowess.
‘They were standing on the shoulders of people they’d never met before and they just lit up’, recalls Freddie Dempster, CFT’s 19 year-old Youth and Outreach Trainee, while feedback from support workers testified the sessions had provided ‘the chance to relax, laugh and learn in a safe environment, and put a difficult past out of their mind.’
According to Charlie Wheeler from BMT, ‘It worked so wonderfully that we had to come back for more.’ Charlie and the Troupe share the Theatre’s desire to work with communities who may not necessarily engage with them in the normal way; so in March, BMT returned to Chichester for a four-day residency, working with asphaleia’s young learners: exploring their stories and combining them with circus and acrobatic skills, as inspiration to create an informal performance piece titled Us: Untold Stories.
Freddie Dempster – an alumnus of Bishop Luffa School and Chichester Festival Youth Theatre – ran the partnership project as part of his Gold Arts Award, developing his leadership and project managing skills.
‘We did a lot of circus, group acrobatic skills and trust exercises’, says Charlie Wheeler. ‘We also did some individual acrobatics so that was really fun. It’s been great to teach a whole new vocabulary to people. And they picked it up absolutely incredibly, it’s been really cool.’
The overarching aim was to help the young people integrate into their new community, instilling confidence and achievements that can be transferred to their everyday lives, including articulating thoughts and emotions and making eye contact. A key goal is to support them in reaching a level of English that will enable them to apply for and attend college, as well as enabling some participants to achieve an Arts Award qualification.
‘What’s really important is that it gives the participants the opportunity to do something completely different and really helps them to develop their communication and teamwork skills,’ says Emma Hotston from asphaleia.
There was just one word repeatedly used on all sides to sum up the week: ‘Wonderful.’
Take a look at this exceptional video of the project...
To find out more about Chichester Festival Theatre please follow them on social media. They are currently posting a lot of content online including resources for how you can stay creative during the current pandemic.
To find out more about our ESOL provision for 16-18 year-olds who speak English as a second language (including those with low levels of English), please click here.