Theatre to help addicts in recovery

Drama project is believed to be the first of its kind in Islington

Friday, 1st April — By Charlotte Chambers

Islington People's Theatre's Nicola Hollinshead with Eagle's Maxine Richmond and John Acton

Islington People’s Theatre’s Nicola Hollinshead with Eagle’s Maxine Richmond and John Acton

A THEATRE company is calling for people who are in recovery from substance abuse to sign up to a 10-week drama project to help them “reclaim their voice”.

Believed to be the first of its kind in Islington, the Recoverist Theatre Project aims to help those in recovery learn new skills and build their confidence through giving them a chance to work alongside others creating something relevant to their life experience.

Nicola Hollinshead, the creative director of Islington People’s Theatre and the company behind the project, said: “I work with lots of different types of groups. I work with women on parole, men in the prison system, women who are survivors of domestic abuse and trauma, mental health issues.

“So lots of groups that are excluded, disadvan­taged and basically marginalised who we feel as applied theatre practitioners don’t have a platform for a voice in society about their journeys and what’s happened.”

She added: “Applied theatre provides people with those creative skills, within a safe space with a network of people who are also in the same situation to build confidence. A lot of people are really creative and talented who are in addiction – it often goes alongside.”

By “opening a creative door” for people taking part in the project, the theatre director, who lives in Essex Road, said it “gives people agency” and “empowers” them, allowing them to see themselves through new eyes.

“It makes people realise that, hang on, it’s not all [because] of you that you became an addict,” she said. “You’re not to be blamed and shamed. Look at the structure, the systems that we live in. Are we surprised that we have these things going on in our lives that cause chaos when you look at the inequalities that exist?”

Many services for drug misuse and alcoholism were cut during the pandemic and nearly all public buildings were closed.
So at the very point of most need, and as many people experienced spiralling addictions – some for the first time – it has been suggested there was little on hand to help them.

Maxine Richmond, of the Eagle Recovery Project in King Henry’s Walk, Mildmay, said they turned to holding groups outside in order to be a consistent presence for 200 service users over the past two years.

Eagle, a charity, forms a key part of the chain for many recovering from addiction when they leave intensive rehabilitation but need a stepping stone back into functioning in society.

“We’re sort of re-teaching people that they can have fun, and do positive things, sober,” Ms Richmond said.

Eagle are working with the Recoverist Theatre Project and hope it will provide a unique new way for service users to recover and also form new networks as they move away from their old lives.

Ms Richmond added: “An addict on their own is in bad company, they say. Addiction can be overcome but in order to really succeed at it, you need a support network. It’s very difficult to do it on your own.

“It’s a very lonely place to be. When people decide to change their lives and stop using drugs and alcohol, quite often they have to change all their friends as well.

“You need to make new friends and what we try and do is provide a space where people can come together and get a more positive support network.”

The theatre project will begin on April 29 and run for two hours every Friday until July at St Mary’s Community Centre in Upper Street.

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