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  • Al Ogando

Cardboard Camp Plymouth cont.

The launch event for the Cardboard Camp, which took place in January this year, saw representatives from the many vital support and community focused services we have in the city come together in one room. Joined by local artists, and representatives from our local political parties, it was a unique moment where conversations could take place openly and honestly regarding some of the challenges we face as a city which contribute to homelessness. It was no surprise that homelessness touched not only the professional lives of most in the room, but most personal lives too. We explored what support there already is in place, what is lacking, and what could be done, and we all left the event full with pride reflecting on the huge amount of warmth, kindness, and compassion there truly is bubbling within our city.

During the event we discussed heavily the benefits of storytelling. Particularly how it is one of the most effective tools to relay to others the journeys that local services help their clients go on. The idea that homelessness is deemed an unglamorous and often hugely misunderstood crisis was touched on, and many were excited about what the performance at the end of the project could offer in terms of changing perceptions. Especially as the performance will be found with a cast of individuals with lived experience of homelessness.

The final performance due to take place later this year, will include both a forum and legislative theatre section. There is a definite buzz from those interested in this project around which key gatekeepers and policy makers will be present. There is hope for what we could see changed; which responses from the audience we may see considered and put into action. At the Theatre Royal Plymouth we are aware this provides us an exciting opportunity to learn from Cardboard Citizens and step out beyond the performance making alone, and into social activism. Allowing us to better use our voice to amplify others and to ensure the right people are listening.

The journey to that final performance is littered with fantastic opportunities for local service staff and artists alike to up-skill. Including three days worth of training that recently took place in March. The Art of Engagement One Day Training saw many service staff, and individuals with an interest in the community and voluntary sector come together. In that day of training they explored how they could apply creative Cardboard Citizen techniques to their work with the community.

This project continues to nurse an important question among the social, health, community and voluntary sectors around how creative tools can be used to enhance the work they carry out with their clients? How arts could be tapped into in order to enable better telling of stories, and offer key workers alternative ways to encourage communication and expression? The Cardboard Camp has nudged us all to start asking more questions around the power of creative collaboration, and how we might secure this two way exchange beyond this project and into its legacy, whatever that may be?

The two day Forum Theatre Training was aimed at local theatre-makers and artists, and saw an exciting mix of individuals who reflect the hum of creativity that moves through our city and ripples further beyond. Including individuals with lived experience who have come through Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Our Space programme, who are now key role models in our creative community, the two days were rich with exploration of how forum can truly be used to rehearse real life. Offering us invaluable opportunity to try out different ways of responding to life’s many curveballs, and allowing us to see beyond our own perception of an event, stepping into someone else’s shoes. We were all agreed that this was a powerful way of using theatre beyond the applause and the fall of the curtain. We could use forum theatre to help our city empathise, unite, and search for solutions.

Although we are in the early stages of our Cardboard Camp, I have noticed a new openness to collaboration being born. What I think the camp does best is offer a creative journey that shines a spotlight exclusively on the homelessness and social housing crisis, and the factors that contribute to individuals becoming at risk. It gives those with lived experience, and those who work tirelessly every day to help get people off the streets, a chance to be heard, and to tell their stories. It places value on making people sit up and listen to what the people of this city want, and more importantly what they need. It asks who is accountable and what can be done? There is nothing passive about this creative project, it is loud, lively; about re-claiming our power and our ability to take action.

We wonder of course what the legacy will be for this project beyond the performance at this point in time, and of course it is hard to tell where this project will take us. Especially as we currently find ourselves in unsettled and uncertain times. I think looking forward the best legacy we can aim for is to continue our open conversation between services, service-users, policy-makers, artists, and arts organisations. The legacy should include pursuing exploration of what changes can be made, and how we can best utilise one another’s skills in this city to best convert thoughts around change into action. I’d like to think this project will push the boundaries of what change is possible in the future through creative collaboration, and I look forward to jumping back into the project as soon as we can.

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© 2015 by Alexandra Ogando

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