How does the inclusivity at Hackney Shed benefit the theatre company’s practise?

Who is Hackney Shed?

Hackney Shed is an independent, charity based, applied theatre company for young people. It was established in 2001 with support from Chickenshed Theatre. The company has 4 separate groups within it, consisting of: Children’s Theatre (ages 7-11), Youth Theatre (11-16), Young Company (16-19) and Collective (16-25-year olds with a focus on learning disabilities, however all are accepted). Hackney Shed believes ‘that every member of the group has something special to offer to the development of the art, and the development of the group’ (Hackney Shed, 2018); this aptly suits the ethos behind the company’s work, which is to offer a safe space for young people to explore creative ideas whilst working inclusively with their peers.

What is inclusivity?

Firstly, for the purposes of this piece of writing, I will be using the term ‘inclusive’ within the context of Hackney Shed, who believe that inclusivity is creating a space where everyone can participate, regardless of needs; “needs” meaning more than disabilities. As a company they work to remove barriers wherever they arise. This may include behavioural problems, working with young carers, adapting our space and removing financial barriers. This level of inclusivity should be a more widespread, therefore, the unique space that Hackney Shed offers, plays an important role in facilitating an opportunity for young people to learn skills in an integrated manner.

How is Hackney Shed inclusive?

Except for Hackney Shed collective, where the focus is more upon those with disabilities, the company is fully inclusive because roughly one third of its members have additional needs. This may be a learning disability, physical disability, neurological diversity (e.g. ADHD/autism) or a need that relates to a young persons social, emotional or mental health.

How is Hackney Shed made available to its members?

If members have difficulty attending weekly sessions, the company runs additional projects in partnership with other organisations, such as: Huddleston Centre, Hackney Young Carers, Akwaba Refugee and Migrant Centre, Hackney Pirates, Laburnum Boat Club, Bsix College, and many local schools. HS (Hackney Shed) also do regular outreach work by contacting Hackney organisations that work with a wide range of young people.

How does funding contribute to Hackney Shed’s inclusivity?

As HS is not a short breaks provider, they do not provide travel funding for their members. Nevertheless, several collective members use their direct payments, taxi cards and PIP to fund travel and/or a travel buddy. On occasion, HS has also supported travel, by helping young people to learn the route when they have travelled independently on a very short-term basis. In terms of funders, amongst many, HS gets donations from inclusive charities such as Children in Need and Comic Relief. Another way that funding contributes to the company’s inclusivity is through its attitude towards donations from members. The expense of watching theatre acts as a class barrier for many people ‘audiences from lower socio-economic groups are in stark contrast to the class origin of the prevailing theatre audience in the UK’ (Barret, 2016 pg17) and unfortunately, the same goes for theatre makers. Hackney Shed offers an alternative to the usual empirical nature that theatre has historically taken, by offering a suggested cost of £25 per term. Many members are from low income households, so the fee is donation based/pay what can be afforded. Currently 70% of members are unable to pay, and to enable as many people as possible to take part, members are never denied participation if they cannot meet the cost suggestion.

How are the sessions made easily accessible?

Bsix College’s hosts many of HS term time sessions. The building itself, is accessible, as it has wheelchair access to the large drama studio space inside. Props are available during sessions for members who may require more sensory stimulation due to additional needs, which in turn increases the entire groups engagement level. Within the session, participants are split into their working groups. One safeguarding trained facilitator offers their full attention, encouragement and support per group which helps to ensure that every member is being heard and joining in. Inclusivity is woven into the companies practise as well as ethos, this is evident in the facilitators attitude towards each member’s input. Members are encouraged to contribute to group work wherever possible, as apposed to merely being present in the room. Additionally, the sessions are scaffolded simply. In the context of Applied Theatre practise, the term ‘scaffold’ is used to describe the ‘supportive strategies [that] are incrementally removed when they are no longer needed, and the teacher gradually shifts more responsibility over the learning process to the student’ (Scaffolding, 2015). With the session plans being clear to follow, members can arrive at a potentially challenging creative exercise, step by step. Within this, instructions given by facilitators are applicable to anyone through the use of considerate language, for example: members are never asked specifically to stand, they can always have the option of sitting or ‘whatever feels comfortable’ this subtle consideration is important when including wheelchair users or those with physical disabilities. The facilitators also take time beforehand, explaining what to expect from the session to certain members who, due to additional needs, feel most comfortable being familiarised with a plan before going ahead with it.

How is it evident that the members are benefiting from this inclusivity?

Though there may be many complex reasons why a young person would stop attending sessions, it is of course the members choice to attend, which increases chances of their engagement within the session as they want to be there. The fact that the sessions are not didactic means that ‘choice-making’ is offered as ‘an important skill area’ (Shevin, M. Klein, N. 2004) especially for those with more profound needs. Generally, members with additional needs usually attend for many years, and often must leave because they become too old, which is why Collective has been set up. When projects themselves are engaging, members are more likely to gain benefits, therefore HS makes term time projects exciting by having an end of term show to devise and work towards. Outside of term time, there are many other stimulating opportunities, for example, a recent project allowed members the opportunity to create a play within two days at the diverse, accessible and innovative Arcola Theatre during a school holiday.

HS ensures that their sessions are engaging, by asking members to create their own campaigns based on themes of what they believe is ‘worth fighting for’ to them, for instance. The sessions are also made more engaging as they are constantly being adapted to each member’s needs, through a reflective practise which ‘offers the practitioner a more thorough understanding of ethical dilemmas in their practice and promotes new ways of thinking’ (Thompson & Thompson, 2008). After each session, all facilitators gather, reflect on what worked well and what could be adapted to improve upcoming sessions, enabling members to gain new creative skills and learn how to work in a team more efficiently.

Another way the company tracks how the young people are benefiting from the sessions, is by asking how they feel about themselves and the group at the beginning and end of each term. HS collects two forms for quantitative data 4 times per academic year, being the standard and easy read, which both ask questions that reflect the outcomes Hackney Shed is working to meet. Qualitative feedback is also retrieved at the end of every show from parents, carers and members.

The significance of inclusivity.

Inclusivity is a vital part of Hackney Shed’s practise. Drawing these ideas together, the company’s shared values with funders, non-discriminatory costs for members, tentative practitioners, level of accessibility, engagement, and lack of segregation allowing members the chance to befriend people who are usually marginalised from society. It has been noted that members without needs have become more supportive, imaginative and accepting through participating in Hackney Shed’s projects, subsequently allowing them to become more inclusive, in their own right. Giving young people a chance to interact and learn from each other, no matter the ability, transforms tolerance, into acceptance and community cohesion. Not only this, but children and young people can learn devising, team building skills, develop creative reflexes and socialise in an inclusive way that reflects the diverse reality of life.

Bibliography:

Barret, M. 2016, Our place’: class, the theatre audience and the Royal Court Liverpool, University of Warwick, Warwick

Hackney Shed. 2018. Hackney’s inclusive theatre company for children and young people. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.hackneyshed.org.uk/. [Accessed 30 November 2018].

The Glossary of Education Reform. 2015. Scaffolding. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.edglossary.org/scaffolding/. [Accessed 7 December 2018]. Shevin, M. Klein, N. 2004, The Importance of Choice-Making Skills for Students with Severe Disabilities, Sage Journals

Thompson, S., & Thompson, N. (2008). The critically reflective practitioner. Basingstoke [England]; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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