Innovative community arts intervention supports mental health in Leeds
A researcher in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries (PCI) has been working with postgraduate students and community-based learners on an initiative that enables participation in developing theatre and performance skills.
Led by Dr Alwyn Walsh, student interns from the MA in Applied Theatre and Intervention, studying the impact of the arts in the community, have developed and delivered practical courses to over 25 community learners in the year 2017-18.
The participants have been recruited from mental health services, where they are directed to the learning opportunities supported by Leeds Mind, a leading independent mental health charity.
The School of PCI is part of a consortium of HE providers in Leeds who, under the umbrella term Converge, have worked together to develop performance and arts-based courses that have engaged a diverse cohort of adult learners from across the city.
Imagine an intervention that enables people usually excluded from mainstream education because of mental health issues coming onto a university campus and being taught in intensive 6, or 8-week courses.
This is what has been happening in the School of PCI as part of a postgraduate research initiative over the last two years.
While this unique model is designed for people using mental health services in Leeds, its focus is not directly on mental health.
Throughout the course the focus is on building collaboration, developing creativity and learning skills related to theatre and performance, giving participants confidence, the opportunity to set goals, rekindle dreams and take on responsibility – skills and experiences that help them lead a full, active and rewarding life.
Developed from a pilot project at York St John University a decade ago, the Converge model has become well known for its innovative approach that recognises and blends individual needs, desires and outcomes in an inclusive pedagogy.
The project in PCI was enabled by an Ignite funding award of £1800 and created in partnership with Leeds Mind in 2016.
In its first year, Converge recruited 19 participants, and members from this original group have gone on to form a company of their own, meeting regularly and giving performances at the University of Leeds, the White Cloth Gallery, stage@leeds and the Tetley.
Through her research, Walsh is committed to continuing to provide PCI students with the opportunity to work in a reflexive environment with community members.
The project highlights the revitalisation of socially engaged practice in the School of PCI, affording exciting, life-changing opportunities for people to perform who would never otherwise get on stage.
The Converge course at PCI runs annually, alongside courses in the consortium partner organisations at Leeds College of Music, Leeds Beckett University and Leeds Trinity University.