Reflections on 2018: A year of Collaboration and Co-production

Posted on: 07 January 2019

Written by: Flora Newbigin

Cardboard Citizens' Programme Delivery Manager Flora Newbigin checks in on a busy and productive 2018, and the direction our programme will take in 2019...

Co-production has been a big theme for me in 2018. In April I was lucky enough to be funded by  Homeless Link to travel to the US and visit Theatre of the Oppressed NYC to see how they are using Legislative Theatre techniques to engage people with lived experience of homelessness in shaping policy. Given the role of our work in influencing the Homelessness Reduction Act, I was interested to see how they are using Theatre of the Oppressed to influence systemic change. You can read my report, along with those from other Transatlantic Practise Researchers here.  

Reflecting on our work over 2018 and what’s ahead for this coming year, some key values of co-production ring out. Here are my top three...

The power of human stories to build empathy and activate change

Theatre and storytelling are incredible tools to communicate complicated issues such as homelessness, which may feel far away from the reality of some people's lives. Forum Theatre gets audiences talking, stepping into each other's shoes and can facilitate conversation between diverse groups in a fun, engaging and accessible way.

Last year, in response to our recent tour of Cathy and the story of a mother’s journey into homelessness, almost 1,300 people signed up to our Citizens Do campaign where individuals took practical actions to tackle homelessness. Force: A Change, our residency with ex-service personnel, provoked a rich discussion about PTSD, lack of signposting and support as well as suggestions for change to improve the lives of vulnerable people leaving the forces.

The value of experts by experience

People who have lived through homelessness know what needs to change and we have found Forum Theatre to be a powerful way of gathering ideas and suggestions from diverse audiences. Following our recent Hostel Tour Rising, we presented the top five suggestions for policy reform - gathered from audiences from prisons, day centres and hostels - at a unique Forum performance at City Hall. Our younger Members developed No Box No Label, a youth-led campaign advocating for a person-centred approach from services they access, informed by their own experiences.

Wherever possible, we are developing ways for our Members to be leading and supporting our work as paid artists and facilitators to ensure our delivery approach reflects the changes for which we advocate. This will be the case for All The Lights Are On, our women-only project in association with Clean Break which will be performed in March this year. We recognise the value of peer to peer support and the knowledge and expertise lived experience brings. 2019 will see the next phase of our peer-led research process supported by Groundswell as well as our upcoming L&Q residencies, where our Members will be leading recruitment and engagement of vulnerable residents.

Collaboration is key

Homelessness is a complex issue and will only be solved if sectors and services collaborate and if space is created to hear a diverse range of voices. We’ve seen the power of Forum Theatre in facilitating more co-produced approaches to service design and delivery. As a result of our St Albans residency, and the Forum performance and discussion that followed, one of the participants has been working with St Albans council to develop a video handbook for people accessing housing options who are facing homelessness.

Similarly, by collaborating with companies like Clean Break to highlight the intersection between women’s experience of homelessness and the criminal justice system, we are will be better able to offer a three dimensional, creative picture of what needs to change and challenge the systemic issue of siloed approaches to tackle homelessness.

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Our work across 2018 is - for me - further testimony to the value of theatre in enabling people to tell their stories and be part of the change that we need to see. And there is plenty more to come for 2019 through our London based and Regional Residencies as well as our workshop programme at HQ. We continue to work with our Members creatively in our rehearsal space but also as volunteers, peer mentors and board representatives.

We’re excited about 2019 and all the new voices and opportunities it holds! Watch this space!