Like many communities around the UK, the London borough of Bexley has experienced an influx of new residents from different socio-cultural backgrounds in recent years. And like other communities, Bexley has experienced a rise in isolation and tension between these different parts of the community.
This tension rose to the surface in September 2016 when schoolchildren in uniforms engaged in an unexpected and shocking ‘mass brawl’ that involved the police, made national headlines, and drew critical attention from Ofsted. Children in the community did not feel safe in public spaces and people were talking about crime and ‘not recognising people’ as a way of signalling their discomfort with the pace of change.
The council realised that community leadership was needed around bridging differences between these different parts of the community, which were very cohesive and bonded within themselves but not with one another. A sense of familiarity, understanding and cohesion across the entire community needed to be created along with a need to bring the different generations together in a way that brokered trust and mutual ownership of public space.
The age of participants ranged across the spectrum, from toddlers with their carers, to primary and secondary students, to adults of all ages including pensioners. There were also activities targeted to specific groups, such as storytelling workshops with children aged 7 and under and their carers, workshops at Age UK with elderly day residents, and a workshop at the Moorings with young people who were experiencing material or emotional deprivation, in crisis or having caring responsibility. The engagement by students at Central School of Speech and Drama, Bird College and Rose Bruford was also noteworthy, involving 135 first-year performance students and over 30 masters’ students, who experienced a fantastic opportunity to engage in applied and devised theatre in a community setting.
In particular, the project captured the attention of the children, many of whom saw theatre for the first time on their own doorstep.
What the judges said:
‘Great to see use of VR and AR to bring younger people into shared community spaces.’
‘Performing Places Bexley started as a response to a significant local issue, but the scale of engagement and involvement, improved perceptions of the local area, and the lasting partnerships that have been formed, all demonstrate a project that has made a lasting impact on its community.’
Photo credit: Maria Ignacia Goycoolea (Farewell) & Suha Ak-Kayyat