The company was born in 1991, in the Cardboard City which had sprung up in what was then called the Bullring in Waterloo (now the site of the Imax cinema), and its longevity in the field has earned it the trust and respect of homeless people and funders alike. The first members of the company included a number of those shanty-town rough sleepers, along with hostel-dwellers, transvestites, rent-boys and street drinkers.
From these rough and authentic beginnings, Cardboard Citizens has pioneered the use of participatory arts and theatre in particular with homeless people. In those days, the occasional unused pottery wheel in the corner of a day centre was the only form of arts activity provided for homeless people. Nobody thought that participation in the arts could make a real difference in people’s lives, leading to tangible, measurable outcomes in everything from wellbeing to employment, and ultimately providing a real social return on the investment made. Now the picture is very different – Cardboard Citizens has proven that theatre can be a uniquely powerful tool for engaging homeless people in a process of change, and for engaging general audiences to focus on the plight of those at the margins of our society.
Whether these stories are presented in a homeless hostel or on the stage of a London theatre or the living room of a private house - the telling of these stories starts a conversation about change. And how that change could be brought about, translating ideas shared on stage into the real world. At street level, engaging homeless people with interactive Forum theatre and workshops, supporting them afterwards with advice and guidance, Cardboard Citizens empowers the dispossessed to move forward in their lives. At a national level, in partnership with leading homelessness agencies and the top theatre companies in the land, Cardboard Citizens shows hidden Britain to all who care to look.