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Charity initiative helps care experienced young people discover the joy of theatre

'Everyone deserves the chance to experience something new and have the chance to escape - and the impact lasts far longer than the run time'

The Drive Forward Foundation is a charity which aims to make a difference in the lives of young care leavers.

Wherever they come from, they’re on a mission to help open doors and give them the skills, confidence and inspiration to make some momentum and realise their full potential.

They’re running a new programme called Aspire, which is short term and offers trips and experiences such as ice skating, theme parks, the chance to experience nature and more, as well as employability support and career insight sessions.

Photo: Drive Forward Foundation

For I Love MCR’s theatre writer, Glenn Meads, it offered a chance to arrange for care experienced young people to discover the theatre for the first time.

“This appealed to me because I am a teacher, but also because I think theatre needs to be more accessible,” explains Glenn.

“I delivered workshops via Zoom to these young people on everything from writing, acting, and dancing. Creatives joined me and the young people were given the opportunity to ask questions.

“We were all in it together, as we were all feeling the effects of lockdown. Once a week, we were able to get together and deliver something informative but also fun.”

The gift of escapism

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

In his work as a mentor at Drive Forward, Glenn has noticed just how many of the young people benefit from access to areas of life that many of us take for granted.  

“As a child growing up, my nan took me places such as museums, cinemas and to a panto – and this has played a massive part in who I am today,” he says.

I teach English, Writing and Media, write theatre reviews and I love going to gigs and seeing shows and films across the country and on holiday.

“These seeds were sewn when my nan kindly took me to live events, the cinema and to art galleries and museums from a very young age.

“It gave me the gift of escapism, which we all need to thrive.

“I remember loving these trips as they felt unique, and without realising it at the time, they shaped me.”

Photo: Danny Kaan

Glenn was 14 when his nan died.

“She took her own life and my life and my education stopped,” he says. “I went to school but I did not engage any more.

“I had lost a loving and nurturing soul, who had given me opportunities to explore who I was.

“She left a huge gap, and at 16 I left school, even though I was expected to stay on do my A Levels. I had to get out to try and make sense of what had happened. 

Then I remembered what my nan had taught me and given me – that gift of escapism – and I carried on where she left off, and fled to cinemas, museums, theatres and gig venues.

“This hobby developed in a way I never thought possible, and aged 23 I decided to return to college. I studied Film, Communications and Media, and thrived.

“I even managed to get taken on by a local newspaper as their theatre reviewer, following a placement. This got me to University, where I studied Journalism and trained to teach shortly afterwards.

“I have been writing  ever since, alongside teaching arts based subjects. This is all thanks to my nan and those trips every summer.”

Giving young people an opportunity

& Juliet
Credit: Johan Persson

Glenn was aware that not every young person has this experience, and many care leavers have never attended a live event such as theatre, sport, or a gig. So he launched a fundraiser to help.

“Following the first crowdfunder, we were able to fund a trip to see the hit show & Juliet in the West End,” he says.

“This show started life in Manchester, and members of the cast backed the fundraiser, as did many people from the arts world and beyond.

“It touched a nerve with people during a very long pause, due to the pandemic.

“The young people finally went on this trip in October last year and they had a blast.

“You have to ‘see it to be it’ and the & Juliet cast are testament to that and the young people saw people like themselves up there on stage.”

It’s an experience he very much wanted to repeat, so that more young people could have the opportunity.

“So earlier this month, to quote a Britney song from the show, it was a case of “Oops I did it again” as I set out to crowdfund for a target of 10 tickets for young people on the Aspire programme,” he says.

“This would mean raising £200.

“When I closed the page earlier this week, we had raised £1,115.50 and this has left me feeling quite gobsmacked, as it means 50 young people can go to the theatre for the first time.

“This is way beyond what I hoped to raise, due to the cost of living crisis.” 

A huge impact

Photo: Johan Persson

The effect of this is massive, he says.

“I work with young people at Drive Forward who come to me, wanting to work in the arts. But they feel disadvantaged in many ways.

“Giving them access to one show not only provides them with a night out and a sense of escapism.

“It has the ability to inspire future dancers, performers, theatre technicians, set designers and so much more.

“Even if it provides a young person with a future hobby, there is impact.”

Claudia Roehlen, who is the Aspire programme leader, said: “We cannot express how grateful we are. This theatre trip will be highlight for us and the young people.” 

Social media is sometimes filled with noise about people who are disadvantaged or in poverty, says Glenn, “for example the common rant about flat screen TVs owned by people who have no money for heating.

“Should someone struggling be punished even more by not having access to what the rest of us take for granted?

“And some might say at the minute people are struggling to pay their bills, and there you are crowdfunding for a luxury item? 

“The answers to to the two points above are the same.

“Everyone deserves the chance to experience something new and to have the chance to escape, even if momentarily for a few hours, because the impact lasts far longer than the run time.

“This is why so much money has been raised, as I think the majority of people are kind hearted and want the best for our young people who find themselves in challenging situations through no fault of their own. 

“A huge thanks to everyone who donated and shared this crowdfunder, as the impact is huge.”

How to help

Photo: Pamela Raith

If this is an area that interests you, there are initiatives both local and London based that give young people access to their arts for free, or at a reduced rate, says Glenn. 

The Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats recently launched its new ‘First Curtain’ scheme. The scheme allows customers to purchase an additional ticket at checkout with the extra tickets purchased helping fund a first trip to the theatre for local young people.

Hope Mill Theatre will be working with local primary schools and community groups within Greater Manchester to help welcome children of all ages to the show.

You can also donate at the theatre when you next visit or online.  

 The Jamie Lloyd Theatre Company based in London pride themselves on making theatre accessible for young people. 

For their current production of The Seagull, featuring Game of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke, there are specific performances throughout the run, where half the seats in the house are £15. These tickets are exclusively for under 30s, key workers and those receiving government benefits.

There is also a scheme for disadvantaged young people, whereby organisations working with these groups can apply for free tickets.  

There are other schemes run locally, too, says Glenn – just go to your local theatre’s website and check for more details.   

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Manchester is a successful city, but there are many people that suffer. The I Love MCR Foundation helps raise vital funds to help improve the lives and prospects of people and communities across Greater Manchester – and we can’t do it without your help. So please donate or fundraise what you can because investing in your local community to help it thrive can be a massively rewarding experience. Thank you in advance!

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