Barrow Cadbury Trust – Forum Theatre

Sara Llewellin

The Barrow Cadbury Trust is a UK family foundation with strong Quaker roots and a long history of working for structural and systemic change in areas of economic, gender, racial and criminal justice. We aim to use all our resources in pursuit of our mission. Our model is to work collaboratively with others to build an evidence base for new ways of tackling old problems.

When deciding how to deploy our resources, we therefore focus on the question ‘What contribution will this make to our specific change agenda?’ We are not expressly an arts funder but where an arts medium can contribute to our goal, we are open to that.

Our criminal justice programme focuses on systemic change in the criminal justice system for young adults. The Transition to Adulthood Alliance (T2A) is a mature campaign of key civil society organizations. The larger part of our funding for this work is used to support and robustly evaluate key demonstration projects. The Ministry of Justice will not commission services on the basis of hearsay or poor evidence of efficacy. We are also committed to supporting community-led grassroots work where it can contribute, albeit less robustly, to that emerging evidence base.

Engage Youth Empowerment Service (EYES) is a youth project in Wolverhampton, a town with challenging social needs. The piece of work we are funding uses Forum Theatre (an idea based on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed) techniques to highlight systemic problems in the criminal justice system while also challenging young people themselves to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

On 16 September I attended a performance. The actors had all been in the criminal justice system and the audience included probation officers, police, magistrates and a crown prosecutor. Maybe parents were there; if not, it would have been a good idea. The performance was powerful and well rehearsed. After one run-through, the audience were invited to stop the actors when they could see how a different outcome could have been achieved by a different intervention. I was astonished to see representatives of all the professions walk onto the stage in turn to ‘rewrite’ the story by suggesting another approach. I’ve seen quite a lot of Forum Theatre and this was among the most powerful.

You can watch a video of a Real Talk performance here:

However, written reporting to the Trust is not sophisticated. We know the project will not provide the kind of robust evidence our criminal justice programme requires, so from that point of view, the work is only a qualified success. But if you want to see the arts engaging and transforming young people before your very eyes – pardon the pun – this does the job.

Sara Llewellin is chief executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust. Email

Lead image: Real Talk performance on 16 September 2014.

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