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Underground Lights bring community workshops to the Belgrade

Posted on 11 December 2018

Adults with experience of homelessness, mental health difficulties and social exclusion in Coventry and Warwickshire will be able to benefit from a series of community drama workshops coming to the Belgrade Theatre in January 2019.

Delivered by emerging community theatre company Underground Lights, these open and welcoming sessions aim to support people in the region faced with social disadvantage, drawing on research that demonstrates how participation in theatre and the arts can play an important part in improving mental health and wellbeing.

Funded by Heart of England Community Foundation and Big Lottery, Underground Lights Community Theatre was founded by drama practitioner and mental health researcher Emma Ormerod, together with Lewis Ford, who has himself experienced homelessness.

As a drama tutor for Crisis Skylight in Coventry and Warwickshire, Emma has worked extensively with people experiencing homelessness in the community, teaching Open College Network Levels 1 and 2 in Performing Arts.

Her ten years’ experience working with socially excluded adults includes work at homeless drop-in centres in Leamington, Crisis in Birmingham, and a PhD in Criminal Justice, involving research into Mental Health.

“As a teenager, I went through a period of mental ill health, just after finishing my GCSEs. But when Exeter Northcott put out a call for people to join an acting chorus, I decided to sign up, and pretty soon I found it was the glue that was holding me together,” she explains.

“As well as giving me a focus, an outlet for creativity and opportunities to meet people, it gave me a space where I could put everything else I was feeling to one side. I think that was a big part of what led me towards this – it felt important to me personally.

“And then when I met Lewis, who had experienced homelessness, it was clear that was something that we shared – he just got it.”

Co-founder Lewis Ford added: “Theatre changed my life. In the time between starting drama with Emma at Crisis Skylight Coventry and her leaving, I went from being a shut-in near-mute who was scared of just about everyone to wanting to run drama sessions for quite large groups of total strangers. I think that says it all.

“Doing theatre built my confidence in myself and social skills so I was able to get on in other areas of life much better. Now I’m able to chase my dream of an acting career. So when Emma told me she was leaving Crisis to start up her own theatre company and invited me along for the ride, I had to say yes because I knew it just had to happen and I had to be part of it”.

Following an introduction to the theatre by Belgrade General Manager Vera Ding and subsequent meetings with Associate Director Justine Themen, the company were brought on board to develop and deliver work at the Theatre with support from the Click Spring (formerly Community & Education) team.

Taking place in early 2019, Underground Lights will deliver a set of practical, skills-based workshops for around 15 people, culminating in a showcase for an invited audience.

Further down the line, Emma also has hopes to establish a series of more informal “Creative Cafés”, where participants can come and share their own creative projects in friendly and welcoming environment.

“From those initial meetings with the Belgrade, I think on both sides we felt that we shared the same values and ethos in terms of seeing something that can really change people’s lives,” she Emma.

Belgrade Theatre Associate Director Justine Themen added: “We are privileged to be able to support Underground Lights as they set out on the first stages of their journey. The Belgrade strongly advocates for the power of theatre to inspire and empower and for these benefits to be available to all.”

Underground Lights are reaching individuals and communities that may not use the Belgrade and we want to make it clear that this space, as well as the opportunities that theatre can provide, belongs to everyone in the city. To achieve this, it is essential to be working in partnership and to be supporting new organisations with innovative ideas.”

Underground Lights Community Theatre begin their programme of weekly workshops at the Belgrade Theatre at 2.30pm on Friday 11 January. Visit their website to register your interest.