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Introduction to me.

I have recently completed an MA in Performance and Visual Practices at The University of Brighton, graduating with distinction. For over twenty years before this, I have been working in “Theatre for Personal Development”.

Kate McCoy Survival event

This involved creating workshops and performances with people who have been labelled negatively in some way by our society. My work has seen me in prisons in the UK, Europe and USA and I have worked with people with experience of the criminal justice system, sex work, mental health services and homelessness.

This blog was originally started to detail the creation of my performance Not a Séance and now details its development along with other reflections from performance and workshops, with the most recent post first.

Social Peda -WHAT??? -Seeing Social Pedagogy in The Washing Up – Guest Blog by Robyn Kemp

washing up for social pedagogy

The washing up is an everyday, mundane task that most of us share, but when we scratch the surface there is so much more to explore as this great project shows. Social pedagogy is also interested in, works with and explores meaning from the everyday stuff of life. Most European countries have an established tradition and professional discipline of social pedagogy (it’s rooted in society so differs from country to country depending on the culture and conditions of where it exists), but ours in the UK is relatively new and still quite unknown so I’m going to try to explain a bit about it through the lens of The Washing Up…

Social peda-whaaat?

Pedagogy is a word most of us aren’t familiar with but teachers will be as it describes ‘the way of education’ a teacher, school or college might take. Social Pedagogy is about ‘the way of connecting’ the individual and society, it’s concerned with care and education and with relationships. Social Pedagogues are specially trained to work in relationships, especially where those relationships might be difficult – it is ethical and deeply humane, seeking to create strong, genuine, authentic relationships that truly support people in the ways they want to be supported. It is not a sculpting way of connecting, where someone else’s idea of who and what a person should be is the basis for connections (and corrections), but a gardening way of connecting so that social pedagogues are keen to create and nurture the kind of physical, emotional and social environments where people can thrive and be seen as the whole people they are, as the experts in their own lives and as people with rich and extraordinary experience and potential. All too often people are reduced to one aspect of their lives – children in care, people in addiction recovery, people with disabilities are good examples – but we are all so much more than the labels given to us. Social Pedagogy aims to question and ‘disturb’ the status quo and assumptions made about people, speak truth to power, flatten hierarchies and co-create a society, communities and relationships where everyone is enabled to fully participate, learn, connect and thrive whatever their circumstances.


A group of rather brilliant people have been exploring the washing up through the creative medium of performance art, and have the most engaging, extraordinary takes on the most ordinary of subjects, as you will see on these pages and when you come to the performances. Through song, poetry, prose and theatre this group have found a way of engaging with each other as equals with rich and extraordinary lives and potential. In social pedagogy we might call this project a ‘Common Third’. The common third is a Danish social pedagogical concept that seeks to strengthen relationships through doing things together – the theory is that when people with different starting points and levels of power share a genuine interest in something that is new to them both and explore that interest together, the different starting points, backgrounds, life experiences and levels of power are eclipsed by exploring the shared interest, and all the while the relationship between them grows stronger. So the Washing Up is a common third for those involved in co-creating the project, and the interactive performances could be a kind of common third between the performers and the audience.


That  the majority of the  performers are in addiction recovery is both immaterial and significant. Immaterial because while previous addiction may have brought them together, it does not make the person or the group or indeed the project. Significant because while exploring and co-creating this project every person is also dealing with life difficulties to one degree or another, there are good days and bad days and the group is understanding and flexible to accommodate what comes up – I see individual responsibility for the group and group responsibility for the individual in this project. Significant too because the project provides an opportunity to explore mental health and addiction in a creative way, with metaphor, and in ways that we can all connect with – only this morning I noticed a depressed teaspoon in my washing up bowl and thought of how cold and lonely it must be. The Washing Up gives us a fun and thought provoking way of thinking and talking about mental health and addiction.


So many people in our society are excluded for arbitrary reasons of discrimination and this has become a growing concern over recent years where we have begun to notice how judgmental and uncompassionate some of our services and professionals have become. This is not to blame, the environment has been changed beneath the public radar, and landscape has changed so that the priorities of professional practice have been obscured.  In the UK our emerging social pedagogy is trying to redress this balance and change the landscape, and so too is The Washing Up.


If you’d like to find out more check this out www.sppa-uk.org

washing up for social pedagogy

washing up on the bus in brighton


We had a  great day at The Manor Gym East Brighton, where we were talking to people about The Washing Up which will be performed as part of Your Place Brighton Festival 2018. We spoke to people about whether they preferred to wash up using a sink or a bowl, asked them about their tea towels and invited children to decorate rubber gloves using paints, glue and washing up utensils. We had some very interesting conversations and hopefully got people interested in our show.

For me, the best bit of the day  was the bus home. Nou (our songwriter) and I waved goodbye to John (our set designer and maker) and went off to catch the bus back to town. We were carrying much washing up stuff, including a rather delicious papier maché washing up bowl. As soon as we sat down, a woman asked us what we were up to and we explained about the show and asked her whether she prefers washing up in a sink or a bowl. She answered and then four other people started joining in. One had a dishwasher which prompted my favourite comment from a man. He held up his hands and said “these are my dishwashers”. He reckons, he is going to come to the show with his other half! All this happened between Whitehawk and Old Steine.

For me this was exactly what I want the show to do, bring people together and start conversations in a safe  way. My belief is that we all really do want to, and enjoy connecting with each other, but we get nervous, scared or bored when we have to reveal too much of ourselves, fear having  our opinions shut down or judged,  or have to negotiate hierarchies. We love that the washing up is a way into connecting with strangers and talking about something small that might develop into something else…

The Washing Up @brightonsoupuk

wash me!

Diaries to the ready. Brighton Soup is an event where four community projects get to present their ideas and win the entrance money. ” A fun community dragon’s den.  The Washing Up project will be one of them on 8th December at Community Base. We are looking for funding so we can pay expenses and provide refreshment for participants as we create our show about Washing Up.




The Washing Up

IMG-20170829-WA0006Why is it called The Washing Up and not the Washing Down or Across? We are creating a brand new performance all about washing up. I am working with fantastic artists at Cascade and the project now has a Facebook page.  We are currently trying to raise some money so we can make sure that the project goes ahead. We would be massively grateful for any support you can give. Click here to find out more.





Do not Alight Here

kp image

My friend and collaborator Katy Pendlebury has invited  me to be a critical friend to her new participatory project about the experience of exile. She is going to create a choreographic documentary drawing on her epxerience as a dancer, choreographer and film maker. I am excited to be part of it as it will introduce me to very different ways of working from my usual practice. I am going to be helping with planning and ideas for creative ways to engage participants, but only if she gets funding for it. Click here to find out more about the project and offer your support.


Arts Alliance Blog

Wrote this a while ago about the work I have been doing with Safe Ground developing a creative personal development programme for women in prison. It has been a really interesting process and this piece talks through some of the development.


This is a guest blog post written by Kate McCoy, Women’s Programme Development Coordinator at Safe Ground.

“Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created” Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature 1993

We are always telling stories about ourselves, consciously and unconsciously. Some of them we have told so many times that they become part of our identity. Sometimes we embellish them for an audience, to make us look good and often the ones that we tell ourselves in the dark make us look very, very bad. Our stories can help us move forward or hold us back in old patterns and narratives.

Research and experience show us that the stories that women in prison have to tell are often not good stories. Abuse, neglect, drug use and trauma all combine to create narratives that in turn create identities of badness and victimhood that we can get stuck in. Wouldn’t it be great if we could find new stories to tell, become the heroes of our own story, creating narratives that would help us move towards a compelling future?

This dream has its basis in theoretical thinking across many disciplines, most relevantly for this project, criminology and the arts. Desistance theory describes the processes that individuals undergo as they move towards ceasing to commit crime. Narrative theory is a strong element of this and describes the changes that people make in the stories that they tell about themselves, to themselves and others in order to begin to think differently and make changes in their lives. Safe Ground’s programme aims to offer women the space, opportunity and tools to facilitate this process.

So how might our programme begin to do this? Perhaps a look at artistic theory and the concept of ‘ostranenie’ as described by the Russian Futurists in 1917, and translated as “making strange”, may help with this. It is the technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar way in order to enhance or alter perception of the familiar. Sometimes a shift in perspective helps us access whole new ways of seeing that may help us think differently.

In 2015 at HM Prisons Styal, Send, Holloway, East Sutton Park and Low Newton, Safe Ground ran a creative workshop as part of the development of the programme ‘Our own stories’ that encouraged women to look at familiar things in different ways. It focussed on childhood aspirations and current dreams and hopes. We worked with a range of women: those on remand, at the end of long sentences, in a Recovery House, with severe mental health diagnoses, deemed unready to participate in education, peer mentors and those currently completing pre-release programmes. What these women had in common was that they were able to identify and share with the group something they had wanted to be as a child.

The session asked the group to each identify something they wanted to be as children in small sub-groups. Each aspiration was written on a separate piece of paper, shuffled and then re-distributed at random. Each sub-group member’s task was to pretend that whatever paper they received was their true aspiration. They told these stories to the main group whose task was to guess which aspiration belonged to who. This was often a noisy and dynamic process with groups fired up by the challenge of getting things right. The next part of the exercise was more reflective, asking group members to reflect on their childhood aspiration and acknowledge that although they may or may not have fulfilled this aspiration, there will be a quality within it that they still want in their lives. The larger group are then invited to guess what that quality might be for the individual.

The reasons behind using childhood as a starting point are several. If we think about the theories mentioned earlier, we can see that a focus on childhood is a way of looking at dreams and aspirations in a different way. Looking directly at things in our lives can sometimes be like staring at the sun: damaging and overwhelming. So if we switch our focus to look at a seemingly small insignificant detail it can free us up and act as a filter, like sunglasses. An immediate thought might be that looking at childhood is dangerous; women in prison have often experienced trauma and looking back at childhood might dredge up dangerous memories. However, this exercise was carefully boundaried. It asked only that the participants recall something that they once wanted to be. Feedback from participants has been that this has been a rare and valuable experience to reflect on their childhood in a positive way, sharing only what they want to share. There is also an equality in this task – the women and facilitators all doing the same thing together. We have met would-be hairdressers, vets, nuns, witches, archaeologists and writers as women began to reveal and share hidden parts of themselves.

It can help to tell unexpected stories about ourselves. Creative exercises can disrupt our narratives and help us create fresh and new ones from unexpected places. During the exercise, participants are asked to reflect on their own story, but also take on someone else’s. People are surprisingly good at telling a story that is not their own. Often it chimes a chord with them and they are able to tell a story with a kernel of truth; they can easily access the part of them that might have wanted to be a singer or a sweetshop assistant. Groups bond through commonalities and the recognition of how perceptions change from childhood to adulthood. They are able to look kindly at the children they once were. This exercise moves away from judgement and into sharing and exploring.

In the final part of the exercise, we move back to direct personal reflection and indirectly ask participants “What do you value?” Participants also get to hear what other people think they might value and there is something powerful about hearing these spoken out loud. So we might guess that, for example, Jenny* wanted to be a boy when she was growing up because she valued ‘being different’ and then discover that as Jenny reflects, she realises that it was all about desiring a sense of freedom.

By telling ourselves a new story about an old dream, we begin to see ourselves differently and possibilities for fresh narratives emerge.”

Abour Safe Ground
Safe Ground has a strong 20 year track record of creating prison based programmes which are dynamic, creative and take a strong relational approach. Historically based in male institutions, these programmes have encouraged men to relate to themselves, their families and the broader community, in more useful ways, and to build futures and identities based on authenticity, accountability and self awareness. “Our own Stories” is a brand new creative personal development programme commissioned by Novus (Formerly  The Manchester College) in 2015  for delivery in female prisons, ecouraging women to reflect on and learn from their own personal life experiences and those of others, in order to fulfil more of their potential.

About Kate McCoy
Kate is Safe Ground’s Women’s Programme and has spent 2015 developing the programme in consultation with women with experience of the criminal justice system. She was formerly a founder member of The Men’s Roomin Manchester, worked for TiPP for many years and was Theatre and Arts Co-ordinator at HMP Styal.

For more information about Safe Ground, please click here.

*Not her real name