System Change: I have a dream…..

SYSTEM CHANGE: I have a dream…..

I love working with and for creative people and organisations.  Currently I work part-time and freelance so that I can be around for my children too.  My availability doesn’t allow me to be in the thick of things as I once was so I do what I can to support other creative organisations and individuals and their endeavours. At the moment I am supporting the development of Bradford’s Local Cultural Education Partnership; working with several theatre companies to develop online resources; working with a colleague on a three-year research project with a Liverpool based theatre company investigating the contribution their work makes to young people’s state of mind; and supporting a long-standing contemporary performance company to evaluate their first participatory programme.

My involvement in evaluation focused work means that I regularly hear first-hand from ‘participants’ about how important a project, programme, event or experience has been to them.  It is particularly compelling to hear people express this in their own words although increasingly I have been finding this to be an almost painful experience too.   These sorts of conversations usually take place towards the end of a project or activity and in the back of my mind I know that it will inevitably be sometime (if ever) before the organisation will have funds in place to build on what has been achieved.  This is of course not new knowledge to me; I’ve known and accepted that this is the way the sector must work in relation to economic factors and the funding infrastructure on which we rely. Perhaps it is hitting home harder as more and more voices fill my head – be it children and young people, patients on an eating disorder ward, adults bolstered by some positive activity, investment and focus on their neighbourhood.  They all want more and want to know what’s going to happen next and they want it soon / now / immediately.  Surely these are  not unreasonable reactions, responses or expectations?

I struggle to describe what I do but have recently settled on “I specialise in creative and cultural engagement” as a bit of a tag-line.  The things that I am most drawn to are always those involving stories, storytelling, drama, theatre or immersive processes and experiences.  I live in North-West Leeds, grew up in Huddersfield and I have now worked in and with arts organisations across Yorkshire and the North of England for over 20 years. My previous roles include Founding Director of Orangebox Young People’s Centre, Community Director at Interplay Theatre, Director of Creative Partnerships West Yorkshire, Development Director at CapeUK, Chair of Chol Theatre, Board member of The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Trustee of the Manav Kalyan Trust (supporting a special school in Gujarat, India) and member of the organising committee for The Society For Theatre Research New Researchers Network. In 2018 I was awarded a PhD from The University of Manchester for research focusing on applied theatre and young people’s spiritual wellbeing.  As a freelancer I have worked with Freedom Studios, Balbir Singh Dance Company, Hull Truck Theatre, Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah, Dark Horse Theatre, IVE, The Brick Box, Artlink West Yorkshire, Arts Depot, Creative Scene, Leeds 2023 and Bradford 2025. 

I am in a slightly tricky immediate position workwise in that I have such a lot to do and deliver before the summer (when several contracts come to an end) but I desperately need to create some space to secure new contracts too.  Longer-term I want to develop some work in my local area and find ways of doing so that avoid short-termism.  So I’m looking at applying to programmes that support individuals to explore, learn about and instigate different approaches and practices.  By different I mean systemically different.  I am trying to think divergently, strategically, and optimistically and I really would welcome any suggestions or feedback.  I am looking to discover places and people that can help me come up with a radically different approach to supporting community arts development.  Maybe it will require the combining of several approaches / models?

  • Do you know of other places or countries that have a completely different systemic approach to supporting young people’s connection to theatre and drama at a community / locality / neighbourhood level?  
  • Can you recommend any exciting early years drama / theatre practice?   

Finally – looping back to the now, the short-term – just a reminder that a lot my current work finishes in the summer so I’m on the lookout for new freelance opportunities.  Do please bear me in mind and get in touch if you want any support with your creative and cultural endeavours, we can navigate this crazy strategic and economic context together!

About madiirwin

Madeleine Irwin is a PhD researcher in the Drama Department at The University of Manchester. Madeleine is also an independent consultant specialising in creative education, applied theatre, partnership working, action research, and young people's participation
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