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

Ten year olds made me eat a raw potato.

I performed Not a Séance for a group of ten year olds last month. They were definitely my toughest audience so far. As the performance was at my friend Helen’s house which has a large garden, everyone was able to bury their own personal potato. Each potato had been written on with a desire on one side to grow up and something unwanted on the bottom to go into the earth.

As part of the show I ask the audience to help me decide which of two potatoes is giving out negative energy and as for solutions as to  how we as a group can solve this. This lot thought that the only way to solve the problem was for me to eat one of the potatoes raw. This I did and it worked.

First time I have been lost for words when facing a question too. “What if you are allergic to your vegetable guide? ”

A great day, my personal highlight was when I asked the group if they could hear their potato talking to them, and every single one of them held their spud up to their ear.



Not a Séance @ Manchester University

I was in Manchester working for TiPP teaching drama students who are studying Applied Theatre. They are all going to do a project in a prison, so it made sense for them to see an example of something that had been performed in a prison. A few Manchester based folk came along too and we had an audience of around twenty-five in the studio at The Martin Harris Centre on Thursday 2nd October. Here are the public potatoes from the performance.

I particularly enjoyed the questions in this performance, which  included queries about the potato’s South American origins and concerns about my relationship with the potatoes and possible dependency issues. A piece of feedback that I really valued was from Janet Batsleer, who is Principal Lecturer in Youth and Community work at MMU, who said that she enjoyed that the piece was “affectionate and kind”.