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Thursday, 24 September 2020


Tackling trauma – theatre company’s new approach to homeless wellbeing

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HOMELESS people whose mental health has suffered during lockdown will get better support thanks to an innovative approach by an East End theatre company.

Around 40 per cent of members of Cardboard Citizens – which encourages people with experience of homelessness to take part in theatre – have mental health needs.

Now, the Whitechapel-based charity has received a £152,420 grant from City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charity funder, to embed a ‘trauma-based’ approach into its work.

The approach, which places emphasis on understanding and addressing past trauma such as neglect, abuse and conflict, is well established in therapy but not widely used in the arts.

Dhruv Patel, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust Committee, said:

“Poor mental health is both a cause and a consequence of homelessness, and many homeless people live with experiences of past trauma which still impact on their lives today.

“This funding will enable the charity to address these issues in its theatre work and the one-to-one support it offers members, putting them on course for recovery and improved wellbeing.”

During the lockdown, Cardboard Citizens has had to close its office and workspace but has doubled the one-to-one support it offers members over the phone and online.

It has also been offering online workshops, including ‘London On Lockdown 1664-2020’, aptly featuring readings from Daniel Defoe’s Journal Of The Plague Year.

The charity says a trauma-informed approach and a focus on supporting members to recognise their strengths and develop coping skills, will remove barriers to taking part in workshops and help members overcome past trauma.

Cardboard Citizens Squatlife. Photograph credit: Matt Allen

Geetha Rabindrakumar, Cardboard Citizens Director of Social Change, said:

“Our members often tell us they come in feeling lost, unhappy, scared and alone, but they find an open, welcoming space that is free of judgement, where they can develop their creative talents and feel part of a community.

“This approach means addressing symptoms and behaviours resulting from trauma, recognising them as a normal response to abnormal stress. Our own contribution lies in how we work with our members as artists with individual talents rather than people with deficits to be fixed.

“The funding will enable us to do more to help members make sense of and recover from trauma in their lives while taking part in artistic work that can inspire and challenge other people.”

Case study: ‘It’s like an extended family’

Chelsie, from the London Borough of Harrow, has been attending Cardboard Citizens for four years.

She said:

“If you’ve ever experienced homelessness or if you’re feeling lost or vulnerable, you want to be around supportive people that understand who you are and what you’re going through.

“I was suffering really bad depression when I first came here, and they’ve helped build me up. The depression’s eased up, I’m more talkative and I’ve got my confidence back in so many ways since doing the courses.

“To actually have fun, be creative and be part of something that you know impacts on other people, that’s what Cardboard Citizens has given me – it’s like an extended family.”

More information on Cardboard Citizens is online at www.cardboardcitizens.org.uk

The City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, City Bridge Trust, is London’s biggest independent grant giver, making grants of over £25 million a year to tackle disadvantage across the capital – www.citybridgetrust.org.uk

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