My Story Acting up in class

Norwich Theatre – Norwich Theatre Royal, Norwich Playhouse and Stage Two - has been awarded £150,000 by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for what is expected to be a ground-breaking project to support young people and their mental health, Wise About Words. It is major undertaking for the theatre and its chief executive Stephen Crocker, and for its partner in the scheme the Wensum Trust.

What is Wise About Words, how long will it run for and what is the Wensum Trust?

Wise About Words is a major new initiative devised by Norwich Theatre with our long-standing educational partner, the Wensum Trust, which is a not-for profit education trust with 11 non-selective, free-to-attend schools across Norfolk. The project has received major funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and will embed drama and storytelling into school culture through teacher development.

Creative practitioners will work with teachers and school leaders to use expressive performing art forms such as role-play, puppetry, mime and clowning as an effective educational strategy in the classroom. The two-year project will include a series of co-learning opportunities including artist residencies, aiming to improve meta-cognitive and executive skills functio, while simultaneously developing students’ engagement in reading for pleasure.


How has the partnership with Wensum Trust come about and how does it work?

Norwich Theatre has been working with Wensum Trust for more than ten years. The partnership has been initially with three of the trust’s schools but this new project sees our relationship grow to reaching eight of its 11 schools across urban, rural and coastal areas of Norfolk.


Is there research that shows that children’s mental health is getting worse?

The mental health of the UK’s children and young people was already deteriorating before the pandemic. This has been further impacted and some child mental health services have seen a 70% rise in demand in 2021.


How much is the situation about Covid and home schooling?

Sadly, for some children school has always been a refuge, a safe place away from a challenging and difficult home environment. The onset of lockdown and home-schooling will definitely have compounded a problem with mental health in children and young people that was already endemic, where parents have been furloughed, are out of work and have health issues themselves, or in families experiencing domestic violence, drug abuse or poverty.  


Why is a theatre the right kind of organisation to take on this kind of programme?

Theatres are at the heart of their communities and should be at the forefront of using their ability to provide inspiring creative experiences as a means to help us recover from the crisis. Storytelling in the performing arts can assist with children being able to explore and express a range of emotions and make sense of the past year and all its challenges. Working alongside teachers in schools we are able to bring new expertise from creatives to deliver activities which support children and develop new approaches to learning in the school environment.


How have the three venues fared through lockdown, and will the Hamlyn grant pay for all of the project’s costs?

Of course lockdown has been a real challenge, but Norwich Theatre has emerged transformed from the crisis thanks to life-changing support through the Culture Recovery Fund, incredible generosity and loyalty from audiences and supporters and phenomenal hard work and creativity from our teams. The PHF grant will cover all direct costs associated with this project. 


Is this for Norwich or wider Norfolk, and if the latter are there specific geographic areas or types of areas you’re aiming at?

The Wensum Trust’s schools are in a wide range of different communities in Norfolk with their own particular challenges: from urban Norwich, to isolated rural communities and deprived coastal communities. Part of the PHF Teacher Development Fund research will focus on learning more about how we can overcome the barriers to learning which each of the areas present.


Is this an example of theatre activities moving out of the auditorium and into the community, and are the other examples in Norwich Theatre?

Over the past 18 months we have moved all of our work out into the community, from creating a temporary big top venue to working in individuals’ homes and other community settings through our Creative Community Recovery programme. This has been extremely successful, not just in reaching isolated and vulnerable individuals but also in developing new relationships with other community and third sector groups. Wise About Words further develops our work, expanding beyond the work we do in our buildings. 


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