The Children's Society - Protecting children from being exploited by criminal groups
Inside This Box is a powerful production highlighting the harsh reality of life of young people who are coerced into criminal exploitation. It shows their vulnerability and the trauma they experience trying to deal with terrifying situations, often on their own.
Young people define child criminal exploitation as ‘when someone you trusted makes you commit crimes for their benefit’. This is the definition we use at The Children’s Society. It conveys well the key components of exploitation – a trusted person taking advantage of children’s vulnerability to deceive, control, coerce or manipulate them into criminal activity. This can include work in cannabis factories, moving drugs across the country, shoplifting, pickpocketing, or threatening violence against others.
Recently, child criminal exploitation has become strongly associated with one specific model known as ‘county lines’. This involves organised criminal networks exploiting young people and vulnerable groups to distribute drugs and money across the country through dedicated mobile phone lines, often from cities to smaller towns and coastal communities. ‘County lines’ is no longer a fringe issue, but a systemic problem reported in almost every police force in the country.
Children are being cynically exploited with the promise of money, drugs, status and affection. They’re being controlled through threats, violence and sexual abuse, leaving them traumatised and living in fear. For criminal groups, exploited children are a commodity they are prepared to sacrifice to avoid themselves being arrested by the police.
There are many signs that a child may be groomed for exploitation or is being exploited – from changes in behaviour to going missing, coming home with unexplained expensive gifts or looking anxious every time the phone beeps.
Sadly, our research report Counting Lives found that signs are too often missed or ignored and that many children remain under the radar of professionals who can help them until they are trapped in the cycle of exploitation. They might only come to the attention of services when they are arrested for possession of drugs, or excluded from school for their behaviour. Even then, questions are not always asked about why they are in this situation and they are treated as criminals and not offered help.
For girls who are criminally exploited, it may be even easier to fall through the gaps. There is not enough awareness among parents, professionals and in the community that girls may be exploited by criminal groups through county lines operations.
Any child can become a victim of exploitation, though Counting Lives shows that a combination of factors can put children at higher risk:
• Their vulnerability as a child, which can be exacerbated if they have additional needs like learning difficulties.
• Vulnerability created by society - for example poverty, experiences of discrimination, lack of opportunities, or the inability to access education.
• The lack of protective factors in a child’s life, including a lack of support from their family or the local community.
• The proximity or access a perpetrator has to a child.
COVID-19 can exacerbate many of these factors in the lives of children increasing the risk of them being targeted by criminals.
Exploitation never stops. Even during the current pandemic, when children and families have been forced to spend more time in their homes, there are concerns that exploitation has continued. Many vulnerable children have been at even more risk. Being away from school and spending more time at home has meant they have been ‘invisible’ to professionals who might have helped them, such as teachers in schools or youth workers. There are also concerns that more are being groomed for exploitation through online platforms as children are relying more on technology to stay in touch with friends and family, and to learn.
That’s why it is so important, now more than ever, that children are supported and protected. We all have a role to play in keeping children safe. As criminals are targeting, and trapping children in exploitative situations, it is the responsibility of professionals and everyone in children’s lives, as well as wider communities, to do everything they can to prevent and disrupt exploitation and protect children.
At The Children’s Society we work with children and families affected to help children stay safe. We also raise awareness among professionals and decision-makers of signs of exploitation and steps that need to be taken to disrupt it.
To help prevent criminal exploitation from happening, we need changes to the law to make coercion and control of children for the purpose of exploitation a criminal offence. We need to change systems that make children vulnerable, address poverty and provide the support they need.
Yet, the first step to making things better is something that does not require any policy changes. It is about showing young people that we care, that they can trust us and that we are there to support them to stay safe. Each of us needs to be more like the train conductor who our heroine meets in this play - kind, non-judgemental, caring and able to act on signs that a child is at risk.
For resources on how to identify the signs of criminal exploitation and what to do if you are worried a child may be being exploited, please visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/our-work/tackling-criminal-exploitation-and-county-lines/county-lines-resources
For many of us, the Coronavirus pandemic has brought problems in our lives into sharp focus. For girls and young women already feeling cut off or overlooked, this period has magnified the challenges they face.
‘Social distancing’ has explicitly asked us to keep apart. To avoid one another, not to gather together, form large groups or go to the kind of places that provide us with social support and contact.
For many of the girls and young women Agenda hears from, the challenges they have faced growing up – domestic abuse, mental health problems, poverty - can already leave them feeling isolated, abandoned, and not knowing where to turn for the help they need.
Early experiences of being hurt or let down by family, excluded from school or repeatedly moved between care placements, can be deeply unsettling. Sometimes, when help or interventions do come, these can lead to them feeling further disconnected from the lives they knew. Even when the environment they were living in before was tough, being torn out of it can be even harder, as Sheena told us:
"All my friends are in [my city]… like as much as like I didn’t get along with my family and whatever else, all my friends, everything I knew - I know every street in [my city], I know how to get [every]where."
Children facing greater disadvantage and poverty report feeling lonelier than others; 27.5% of children aged 10 to 15 who received free school meals said they were “often” lonely, compared with 5.5% of those who did not. And as they get older, girls report loneliness at higher rates than boys. Only a third of young women aged 16 to 24 say that they “hardly ever or never” felt lonely, compared with nearly half of young men.
Feelings of loneliness are likely to be exacerbated for young women with other marginalised identities, including LGBTQ girls or Black, Asian and ethnic minority young women, for whom loneliness may also be associated with experiences of discrimination. In the context of events such as the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Belly Mujinga, and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, it is likely that reminders of the grave inequalities some groups of minoritised young women face could leave them feeling particularly isolated.
There can be stigma or embarrassment associated with admitting to feeling lonely. For young women already facing social stigma – perhaps relating to being a young mum, being in trouble with the police or experiencing problems at home – the shame they might feel may stop them from describing how they really feel.
Being hurt or having their trust betrayed by those meant to love them - like family or intimate partners - can leave young women traumatised and have a profound impact on their ability to trust others. Which is why – when young women need help - being able to develop positive trusting relationships with adults and peers is critical. And why having had limited access to that kind of support during lockdown has been even harder for some.
Rebecca, who was exploited as a teenager by people she thought of as her friends, told us about the importance of being able to get support from a specialist young women’s service, and how vital this was to combating her isolation.
"I’m 26 now but I still need support. I’ve got no family support and no friends really, so the support workers here are the only support I’ve got."
The government recognises loneliness as a condition that should and can be challenged. This acknowledges some of the ways in which women might be affected – as carers, if they face language barriers, or if they’re in prison and separated from family. But this doesn’t go far enough to understand the specific challenges younger women might face.
Too little attention is given to the reality of young women’s lives, particularly for girls who are most marginalised and too quickly overlooked. Which is why Agenda has launched Girls Speak to hear more from young women and the services supporting them, to help develop a better understanding of the challenges girls face and find solutions to improve their lives.
We know that young women themselves hold many of the solutions to the problems they face – like getting the support they need to combat the loneliness they can face - and we look forward to continuing to hear from young women like Sheena and Rebecca as we do so.
Jess Southgate is Interim CEO of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk. We exist to ensure that women and girls at risk of abuse, poverty, poor mental health, addiction, homelessness and contact with the criminal justice system get the support and protection they need.
In Spring 2020 Clean Break's Young Artist Development Programme worked with Eastside Film Crew (a programme to develop young filmmakers aged 18-25) to document Inside This Box, a play by Yasmin Joseph, directed by Stef O’Driscoll.
Eastside Film Crew (EFC) is an initiative which aims to create professional film and editing opportunities for young people aged 18-25 years old. The crew of up to 10 young people, have the chance to work on professional briefs, trying different roles from camera operators to editors, learning valuable skills and a portfolio of work on the way over the course of a year. On this project they got the chance to film and edit a live theatre show for the first time.
Both Clean Break's and Eastside's team were women only and the young women from both organisations had the chance to meet and speak with each other, connecting on the themes involved and why they both wanted to get this work seen by a bigger audience.
Young artists from Clean Break and Eastside have written blogs about the project. You can read more about the experience of one of the Eastside Film Crew, Sade Briggs, here and Clean Break Young Artist, Chloё Florence's interview below.
Tell us about your connection to Clean Break
I’m on the Young Artist Development Programme.
Tell us about Inside This Box
It’s a Play that follows Alex, a young vulnerable homeless girl, as she navigates around a city that never seems to be on her side. She finds hope and home in her little sister and follows a path to try and change her fortune for good.
How did you find the experience of collaborating with other artists, creatives and filmmakers on this project?
Amazing - I felt so supported. It was really nice to work with other young people and not feel so isolated and alone in making art. It was hard work but enjoyable, I had so much fun, a very rewarding process.
What do you think Inside This Box says about the pressures facing young women?
That there are so many pressures put on young women specifically and lack of support when they need it. That it’s hard for young people to know who to trust, when they are betrayed constantly by people who are supposed to be helping. That they therefore hold a lot of pressure and responsibility on themselves.
How has the world changed for young people since you first performed Inside This Box?
The Pandemic. For young people like Alex, the pandemic is literally a death sentence. More people are facing having to stay in abusive situations or/and be forced onto the streets. People who don’t have a ‘home’, can’t stay ‘home’.
There are now fewer opportunities and less hope for young people to get out of negative situations because the world has literally stopped.
When we performed Inside This Box, London was a city that never slept. Now, it sleeps. If you have nowhere to go, there are fewer survival options than there were before. Services that help people like Alex are being stretched even further. The hope has been taken away for many young people. It feels like a different world now.
Are the themes still relevant?
The themes are 100% still relevant. They just exist in a city that has changed which offers up a different set of problems for someone like Alex.
What do you see as the biggest pressures on young women in risky situations?
From my experience, I feel one of the biggest pressures on young women in risky situations is they feel like it’s their fault. Their problem to fix; they blame themselves and there’s lack of access to support which leads to isolation. This in turn negatively impacts their self-worth and mental health. Which then can lead to exploitation, abuse, and all sorts of other pressures from dangerous people in order to help them fix their problem. These pressuring situations then become the only place they can find belonging, hope, worth and purpose.
How do you think projects like Inside This Box help to address youth loneliness and to find a sense of belonging?
I think they help by bringing young people together to help find their power, voice and feel part of something collaborative where they are not alone. It’s important for young people to know they are not alone. They might feel like they are the only person suffering in their world but there are thousands of people going through the same thing. It’s not their fault. Projects like this address those issues and bring audiences closer to those people in those isolated situations and show young people that they aren’t alone.
If you could imagine another way, what could the world look like for the character in Inside This Box?
In an ideal world... Support there for Alex without her having to ask for it. The Council gives her a council flat near her family as soon as she needs it. With money / grants to fund it until she is fully financially able to pay for it herself. Support Groups - for her mental health and career. Friends that care for her. A world where she can breathe, that is there for her without chasing it. A world that feels like everyone is on Alex’s side, not against her. A world where she can just be at home with her sister.
Maxine Peake will be presenting our Charity Appeal on BBC Radio 4.
Tune in on Sunday 21st June at 07:54 and 21:25 then again on Thursday 25th June at 15:27. Click here to listen.
In this current crisis the demand for Clean Break’s services has increased. This appeal will help us to raise vital funds to support our Members during this particularly difficult time; providing a support line, care packages and broadband devices to help women meet their essential financial, medical and social needs. They can also access the therapy and theatre courses which are now available online.
Our Presenter Maxine Peake
Maxine Peake is a stage, radio, film and television actress with many of her roles exploring the different facets of the criminal justice system. Here she shares why she supports Clean Break and believes in our work.
The appeal will be aired on Sunday 21st June at 07:54 and 21:25 then again on Thursday 25th June at 15:27. Click here to listen.
The appeal is now closed, but if you would still like to make a donation to support our work, please click here.
Clean Break is part of a sector-wide initiative to set up a Freelance Task Force, as outlined in the Open Letter to Theatre and Performance Makers.
The aim of the Freelance Task Force is to strengthen the influence of the self-employed theatre and performance community. It will create ongoing points of connection between freelancers, organisations, funders, and government and amplify the voice of the self-employed in the conversations to come about how we manage the response to and recovery from the Covid-19 crisis in the performing arts sector.
We are delighted to be working in partnership with Theatre Rites to support two freelance practitioners, on a part time basis, to be involved in the Freelance Task Force.
We wanted to make a clear statement about why we have not done an open call for applications.
At the time the scheme was announced, neither organisation felt we had enough funds to support a freelancer for the full 13-day commitment required by the Taskforce. However, at a late stage it transpired that a job share was an option and we joined forces with Theatre Rites who were in a similar position to us. We wanted to work with an artist who has worked with Clean Break before so she could speak to our Members as part of her network of engagement for the Taskforce. A very tight time frame, coupled with a majority-furloughed team meant that we were not able to share an open call with our artist pool, but instead decided to identify clear gaps in terms of freelancer roles within the existing Taskforce.
We are delighted to be involved in the scheme and hope to learn about how we can improve our working practice with freelancers in the future.
This week has seen a global protest against the unlawful killing of George Floyd by the police in Minnesota, USA. We have seen widespread anger and hurt and a demand for action and change from people all around the world. Individuals and organisations across the UK have acknowledged the need to fight for justice and to ensure anti-racism lies at the heart of their work moving forward. At Clean Break we have pledged our own commitment to anti-racism and will strive to continue to shine a light on the presence of racism and discrimination within the criminal justice system and the need for change.
We asked some of our Members to respond to this moment through the lens of their experiences of discrimination in and around the UK’s criminal justice system. Ann, Beverly, Fatima and Sandrine shared their stories in a very personal way.
Please note that these stories contain potentially distressing material for the reader.
I knew George Floyd
Back in the eighties, we were close friends. Full of life, love and laughter. We had a beautiful naïve hope. Content to be in a world we thought was promising us endless possibilities. The harsh reality of how our life would almost inevitably unfold, hadn’t quite hit us yet. The phrase “systemic/institutional racism” hadn’t even been coined. But make no mistake, it was/ is real.
I knew George Floyd
She died in police custody. Not even out of her teenage years. I saw her on the day she was to die. She was planning to spend the afternoon with her young son. Excited at the prospect, she decided to go to town, and shoplift some goods to sell. She was planning to take him out and buy him some gifts. She lived a life, that maybe you would not understand. A product of her environment, some would say. A teenage mum, in and out of prison for petty offenses. Brought up on a notorious predominately black council estate. In foster homes for most of her short life. Crime was the only way she knew how to escape the poverty that surrounded her.
I knew George Floyd
A social scientist would have a field day studying her life. Her young son already in care like his mother before him. Would they have known she had a heart of gold? A zest for life? No amount of trauma she had endured, ever dampened her spirit. This beautiful young black female, may have been a petty thief, known to the police and the justice system. Yet she was also a human being, with dreams and aspirations like all of us. She was happy in the only world she knew.
I knew George Floyd
The “justice” system, which (still) comprises mainly middle-class white men/women, coming from an opposite perspective, a different world view, never actually saw her. She was treated in death the same way she was treated in life. Killed in police custody. During the “investigation” I was told she had hung herself. Told by the very same police who diligently removed, on a daily basis, all potential possessions that could harm anyone. Belts, ties and coat cords were routinely taken away, and given back when released. A police officer who interviewed me during the inquiry, stated her death would be called suicide. In a cell, that he agreed, had no possible means in which to hang yourself.
I knew George Floyd
In the coroner’s report the boot-prints that were found on her face and clothes, were never explained. Bills have been passed, laws have changed, but the heart of man has not. There have been many George Floyds before my friends murder, and tragically, probably many more after. The justice system is broken in this world. My hope is in a God who will judge what man will not. Jesus take the wheel.
Listening to the radio presenter and guest gush over the 'timeless image' of the current Monarch on a horse. I see another 'timeless image' l am not able to let go of - the still at the beginning of the video detailing the murder of George Floyd through extreme aggressive state representation. One member of our human race ending the life of another human being. I'm not going to watch the video, and perhaps (as well as the need to shield @home) that's why l'm not amongst others outside the US Embassy demanding justice that leads to peace.
In the days since the British Transport Police (more human beings) closed the terse investigation into the assault on Belly Mujinga leading to her Covid-19 related death. I'm not getting a sense of justice and the peace lacking in my heart and mind is manifest in protestors worldwide.
These days of systemic discrimination within our institutions that are here for our protection; is that right? Have l misunderstood? These days of relentless unconscious bias are a culmination of centuries of one set of humans with greed, status, and easy living in mind (in my opinion) stating with absolute authority that the people with different skin colour sitting on natural resources that hold, potential prestige for you and yours back home are not just different they are a different race. A lesser species therefore... 2020.
It takes real desire to change, to actually see another person as another person equal to you. Not above or beneath, you, equal to you. I am using the pronoun 'you' intentionally, the second by second, hour by hour, day in day out, work you need to willingly engage in (reflecting on outcomes regularly) to effect the changes that have justice leading to peace as the consistent natural outcome for you and all of us. This is what l want to see; what about you?
With the protests that are alive now, l am feeling real hope (thank goodness cos Minister Hancock understanding #BlackLivesMatter, numbed me) that, more of us are willing to do the work of transforming systems in society that are not working justly for all of us. My biggest complaint is that l don't feel people, other humans enough of us are willing to do this transformative work, that begins with looking within yourself to assess how have l contributed to the situation, am l ok with my efforts to date, and what can l do in this moment to create value for myself, and others, with aim being justice that leads to peace?
People protesting at this time all over the world, tells me, compassion and empathy are ALIVE, and that humans can get it - they don't have to have the lived experience of being handcuffed lying on your front arms pinned behind your back, whilst another human being (empowered by the state which is paid for by you) pushes his full body weight on to your neck as you lie unable to protect yourself and are murdered as a consequence of.
I can't look at these recent present moments of state/government representatives killing - through decisions based on hidden discriminatory values- with impunity without referring to our 400+ years past. And so yes l see l am going round in agonising circles in my heart and mind-the micro, and l see the same in society-the macro.
I'm back to where l began, one of these timeless images is soothing and pacifying, the other, helps, l hope, break the cycle of incomplete humanitarian revolution within our criminal justice system within our institutions that need to develop total respect for the dignity of all lives, yet, for at least the next 100 years emphasise the #BlackLivesMatter, cos we all need - supported by law - to find ways to make these words our reality.
“Stop. I can’t breathe! “-George Floyd, dying words of latest police murder victim in USA, 2020 Ignorance allied with power, is the enemy of justice. (James Baldwin)
Dreams and memories: police abuses of power
Whilst studying at Tottenham college, I dreamt our college disco was raided by police, with all jumping through windows to avoid police arrest of youths dancing, enjoying themselves. I recall waking in terror, sweating, unable to breathe!
This was nothing compared to my feeling, hearing that my dream had come true; my best friend jumped through a window fleeing police arrest and brutality she witnessed. The US police murder of unarmed black man, George Floyd with hands up saying, Don’t Shoot, reminds me of police slaying of Mark Duggan in North London culminating in ‘The Hard Stop’, documented in film by George Amponsah (2016). Armed police were witnessed shooting unarmed black man Mark, contrary to Metropolitan Police allegations of him dumping a gun. UK inner city uprisings: socio-economic, legal and political inequalities Urban 1980’s uprisings in Brixton, Toxteth and Manchester were documented in films:
Blood Ah Go Run (Dir: Menelik Shabazz), examining the inequalities in socio-economic conditions: housing, wages, inequalities before the Law and the CJS. Time and Judgment (Dir: Imruh Bakari) records injustices meted out to the Afrikan-Caribbean community systematically criminalising Black youth.
Comparing experiences globally, I found evidence of sustained police brutality, terrorisation and complicity in Black deaths in police custody and police house searches. What of police legacy: killing innocent unarmed women, whilst supposedly searching houses for Black men: Cynthia Jarett in North London, and Cherry Groce in Brixton, one killed, one maimed? Police investigating police has on balance proved ineffective: examining the New Cross Fire investigation: where 13 Black teenagers died in a mystery fire whilst celebrating Yvonne’s birthday, yet nothing was said. Peaceful marches protested what the Black community perceived as a ‘racist attack’ in a known National Front racist area, New Cross, South-East London. Having agreed the route of the march, police then tried sabotaging the outcome, Attacking peaceful unarmed marchers hoping to provoke violence, but marchers chanted:
‘Thirteen Dead. Nothing said! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!
Conclusion: Film and music documenting inequalities in CJS, US & UK Activist, Spike Lee’s enduring film message, Do the Right Thing, seeking an end to police brutality could have been filmed in 2020, instead of cataloguing African-American deaths at the hands of racist police officers. Oprah highlighted on her TV show, a video recording of Rodney King brutalized by police saw no appropriate action brought against officer(s) concerned. Junior Mervin’s song, Police and Thieves still rings true now. ‘Until the philosophy that holds one race superior, and another, inferior, is toppled…abandoned, everywhere is War! (Bob Marley song, War). LOVE conquers hate, fear and ignorance, bringing healing and transformation. I envision ‘justice flowing down like a river’, Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
First of all my deepest, deepest condolence for the GEORGE FLOYD family
I am going to speak emotionally and from my heart
It is fucking inhumane the way we treat black bodies
I am so fucking sick and tired of trying to convince people (white people specifically) that racism is fucking alive and well.
you know what
fucking good for you for not being able to see colour
well done for not noticing a security guard following me around shops and supermarkets.
well done for not noticing young black men being stopped and frisked constantly just because of how they are dressed.
I am honestly so sick and so tired,
God I am really tired.
I can’t master the sound
to expressing what I feel
Every time I open my mouth all that comes out is an animal sound
I am howling!
a hyena sounds
I am the hynena
I fear for my
For my brother, for my sister who have yet to be grown
How do I protect them
how do I make it better?
how do I hide them from the system that is determined to claim them before they have grown?
Must take arms
in this war
The anger must be eaten and suffocate deep into my bones rest I burn the world down
I must numb
Must numb all this anger and pain in fear of suffocating myself
This what black people must do every time one of us is shot, put in a cage or humiliated for the fun of it by the system.
what I am told I must do as an individual by society
1) It must be my responsibility to get justice
2) I must be obedient
3) I must wait for nothing to be done by “the judicial criminal justice system”
4) I must be thankful that this time there was video that showed the truth
5) I must
6) I always must
I will rage until I am heard
I will be motherfucking seen
I will provoke until we start getting somewhere
until I am treated the same as my white friends
I will begin burning the world down one corner at the time until something new grows on scorched ground
Something must give and it will not be black people that give
We have given you enough of our sons and daughters
We are the new generations and we are not afraid to take hostages in this war
Seeing as you choose violence as your weapon of choice
Dear our ancestors
Dear our foremothers
We call on you
We call on you our foremothers
We on your children
We call on our continent
Lead us into this battle and may we succeed, Amen
With our thanks to Ann, Beverly, Fatima and Sandrine.
#BlackLivesMatter #BetheChange #ImagineAnotherWay
Led by our commitment to the alchemy between Artists and our Members, we are pleased to launch a new project, 2 Metres Apart, the joint commissioning of twelve writers from our artist community and twelve of our Member artists.
The twelve artistic collaborators are:
Over the next 8 weeks our twelve pairs will meet digitally to work creatively, share ideas, and see what arises from the process. They could choose to co-write together, to each respond to a selected stimulus, for one artist to write for their partner to perform. Working on the understanding that both Artists’ skills and lived experience are equally valued, the pairs will work as collaborators on equal footing to explore what creative partnership could look like. The project is focused on practise rather than product, providing our collaborators the space to explore and experiment. We have chosen not to focus on outcomes but to bring people together and maintain our commitment to nurture, employ and extend artists and our Members.
Watch this space to get further insight into the project.
Click here to read the full press release.
Clean Break is proud to announce the inaugural Helen Pringle Award, an annual award in memory of our dearest friend and colleague, Helen Pringle, who died three years ago on May 14 at the age of 50, after living with cancer for a number of years.
Helen worked for Clean Break as Head of Finance and Senior Producer, from September 2001 until three weeks before her death in 2017. Helen’s own values, her commitment to social justice and to women’s empowerment and her love of theatre were strongly aligned with Clean Break’s company values. Her contribution to the organisation over the decade and a half she worked here helped lay the foundation for our new business model and is ever present as we weather the current storm of COVID19, particularly her pragmatism, optimism and belief in working together which live with us day to day. We have long since intended to honour her life, commitment and passion with an award, and are now delighted to do so, to keep her legacy alive.
As well as being a massive theatre lover, Helen believed profoundly in the need for change in the industry – to ensure that women with a criminal record, women facing discrimination, women living in poverty, and women with mental health needs or in recovery from addiction had opportunities to become part of the industry themselves. It is with this in mind that the Helen Pringle Award will be open to Clean Break Members past and present on an annual basis offering a £1,000 bursary to support a woman in her Further /Higher Education studies in a related field, and a mentorship by one of Clean Break’s artistic community.
Clean Break and It’s Not Your Birthday But… have joined together to launch Write 2 Connect, a letter writing project connecting women through the prison walls with women in the community.
There are currently 3,424 women in prison (as of 24 April 2020), many of whom are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day and whose visits, which can be a vital lifeline, have been suspended to stem the spread of the virus. This project has been devised in response to Covid19, and our desire to reach out to some of the most vulnerable in our society at this time.
For two weeks, women from every corner of the UK and from all walks of life sent letters with words of inspiration, hope and solidarity to women in prison. The letters were about finding comfort in words and nature, things that inspired them and words of connection and solidarity. They all shared something personal and offered hope--a gift which everyone can afford, and which can remind us in difficult moments like the one we currently face, that we are connected, we are part of a wider community and we are valued.
On Monday 18 May over 200 letters were delivered to HMP Downview. Currently, the women in HMP Downview are writing their own letters in response which will be passed on to women accessing services at women's centres. These letters will be collected and dispersed at the beginning of June.
If you would like read some of the letters from the project please click on this link
Since Clean Break had to close our doors, we have changed the way we support and engage with our Members. We have widened our networks and increased our reach, helping as many women as we can through this difficult time.
Clean Break is delighted to be taking part in the #TwoPointSixChallenge which has been launched this week to Save The UK’s Charities and we'd love to see all our incredible supporters, friends and family signing up to support us.
We’re asking you to take part in an activity of your choice based around the numbers 2.6 or 26 and fundraise or donate to support Clean Break via twopointsixchallenge.co.uk.
Think of an idea/challenge, set up a challenge donation page, ask friends and family to support you, and once you completed your challenge photograph yourself so Clean Break can celebrate with you!
1. Dream up your 2.6 challenge – there are ideas on the twopointsixchallenge.co.uk website
2. Head to twopointsixchallenge.co.uk to donate £26 – or whatever you can afford – to Clean Break or to set up a fundraising page
3. Ask all your friends and family to sponsor you and challenge them to do their own 2.6 Challenge
4. Complete your challenge
* The only requirement is that you must follow Government guidelines on exercise and social distancing. Most people are taking part from Sunday 26 April but you can do your activity whenever is most convenient for you.
If you have any questions or want to tell us you have signed up please contact Stephanie Cartwright on email@example.com or 07469 660855.
Closing our building in Kentish Town last week was a very difficult thing to do. It is a creative space for many women theatre artists, our team’s base and, most importantly, a vital community for our Members, (women with experience of the criminal justice system and women living on its fringes). A lot of our Members face harsh challenges in their daily lives, further compounded by COVID-19 and we know that Clean Break offers a safe, productive, non-judgemental space where women can grow and manifest the change they want to see in their lives.
We are working hard to ensure that our community remains vital. Through regular telephone check-ins with our Members and increasing our hardship fund, as well as working more closely with our women’s centre partners in London and further afield across England, we are attempting to emulate something of the creative port in the storm for women who have been to prison or who are at risk of entering the criminal justice system. As such we have designed a new project for women in prisons many of whom are currently in their cells for 23 hours a day. Write 2 Connect, in partnership with Its Not Your Birthday But will see letters of hope and solidarity reaching many hundreds of women in prisons and we will be sharing ways of how you too can take part in making that connection possible.
Our other main focus at this time is the long-term sustainability of Clean Break so when we reopen our building, we are resilient enough to carry the load of the new, unpredictable, normal we find ourselves in. We thank our staff and Trustees for their support and shared commitment to this.
Our next season of engagement with Members begins on 20th April. We have reimagined this formerly studio-based offer and will now be offering courses three days a week online. This will be accessible to our entire Membership (circa 400 women) and to women accessing the network of women’s centres nationally (a benefit of the digital space) in acknowledgement that this is the time to reach out and try to combat the isolation women may be feeling. We are problem solving to help those Members who are not online or who depend on public spaces like libraries to use the internet, to lessen the barriers to engagement. We will also be creating a weekly interactive space for our Members to connect, try out ideas and laugh together, and our much-needed therapy sessions provided by Holloway United Therapies will also continue online or on the telephone.
We believe that there is a pressing need to create connections between us as we navigate the world we find ourselves in. Led by our commitment to the alchemy between artists and our Members, we are pleased to announce our new initiative, 2 Metres Apart, the joint commissioning of ten writers from our artist community and ten of our Member artists. We will pair these 20 artists and task them with exploring what collaboration looks like. They could choose to co-write together, to each respond to a selected stimulus, for one artist to write for their partner to perform. We have chosen not to focus on outcomes but to bring people together and maintain our commitment to nurture, employ and extend artists and our Members.
We’d like to express our solidarity with all our friends and partners in theatres across the country who have had to close their doors to audiences. We look forward to doors reopening and theatres once again being spaces of celebration, provocation and connectivity. The message from us is we are still here (especially for our Members) and we are leading with choices and commitments to return with open arms as soon as it is possible.
We hope you are all safe during this period and that there is some good that comes out of this time. We for one are striving to imagine and work towards a kinder fairer future where the women we work with are supported to fulfil their potential in a world free from criminalisation.
Erin, Anna and Róisín
In light of the latest Government advice on Covid-19, and to prioritise the wellbeing of all the women we work with, Clean Break has decided to temporarily suspend our programme of delivery and to close our building in Kentish Town. The length of closure is currently unknown and we will constantly review this in line with the latest Government advice.
Our staff team are working from home as of today and we are innovating ways in which to continue providing support to our Members whilst maintaining social distancing. We are talking to our partners, and our artists / freelancers, who are a significant part of our community, about how we can work together during this challenging time.
Please stay safe, look after yourself and each other, and keep an eye on our social media and newsletters for further updates.
We are searching for an exceptional woman to serve as Chair of our Board of Trustees, as current Chair Kim Evans OBE steps down at the end of her tenure later this year.
Róisín McBrinn, Joint Artistic Director commented:
“We wholeheartedly thank Kim Evans for being a phenomenal chair for the past seven years. Clean Break has gone through huge and exciting changes over the past few years and Kim has been exceptionally supportive, insightful and dedicated. We will miss her. We look forward to finding a pioneering woman leader as our new chair who holds our commitment to ground-breaking theatre and changing women’s lives close to her heart and work.”
Our board is currently made up of twelve women with varied professional and personal experience from across theatre and the arts, criminal justice, the women’s sector and private finance.
Tanya Tracey, current Trustee commented:
“Clean Break’s Board is such an empowering group. The best part is being able to share ideas, build relationships with the staff and Members, and see the work Clean Break makes knowing that you’ve been part of making it happen. I’d say the most important thing about being a Trustee is recognising the strengths we all have as women individually to steer the organisation whilst having different backgrounds and expertise.”
The deadline for applications is Monday 6 April, with interviews to be led by a panel of Trustees.
Set in a mental health unit inside a prison, a group of women discover the music of punk rock band The Slits and form their own group. An outlet for their frustration, they find remedy in revolution. But in a system that suffocates, can rebellion ever be allowed?
Part-gig, part-play, Typical Girls is funny, fierce and furious.
Typical Girls will premiere at Sheffield Theatres in November this year before moving to Soho Theatre in December.
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is a playwright and screenwriter. Morgan was commissioned by The Globe to write Emilia which became a sell out in summer 2018 and transferred to the West End at the Vaudeville theatre in 2019. It has been optioned as a film and she is in development on this currently. She is also developing a book adaptation for film with Lucky Chap Films and adapting her play The Wasp into a screenplay for Paradise City Films. She is under commission for stage with Headlong, Lyric Hammersmith and Royal Court. For television, Morgan is currently working on a new series called Spitfire Sisters with Fremantle and Dog Rose Productions. She is also adapting a (as yet unannounced) book for Moonage and Gaumont Pictures. She is also developing a new comedy series with Merman.
This production was originally co-commissioned by Clean Break with the Royal Shakespeare Company who also contributed to its early development.
Watch this space for further announcements on Typical Girls - tickets will go on sale shortly.
To find out more information on our current productions click here.
Clean Break aims to use theatre to keep the issues women face in the criminal justice system on the cultural radar. In our four decades on the ground, we know that theatre intervention work that puts women’s lived experience at the centre is important, empowering, and conversation starting. We also know that the real experts on this topic are those with experience of the justice system.
In the lead up to our Young Artists Development Programme cohort performing Inside This Box at Omnibus Theatre and The Arcola we caught up with them to ask - why is making work about women in the criminal justice system important?
These voices / stories are important and valid and necessary to tell. People affected by the criminal justice system are arguably the most marginalised people in the country and their voices are often never heard and misrepresented. In this strange aggressive political era, it’s more important than ever to tell these stories, give them a stage and challenge people’s perspectives in order to promote positive political change. People often die at the hands of the criminal justice system. The more people are heard, the less people suffer at the hands of their aggressors. These stories need to exist outside of incarceration in order to make change & challenge how society treats these people. - Chloë Florence
The theatre industry is very nepotistic and crowded with the voices of people with limited experience, most of whom have never had to do laundry in their life. It's vital that work is produced by people with diverse experiences. – Lu Dennis
Everyone wants a role model right? Like someone that has walked his or her path; someone to empathise with. We have people like Martin Luther King and Obama; Black Panther breaking box office records to prove our skin colour is not going to stop us achieving our goals in this day and age. Women in the CJS also need that kind of confidence in themselves. Someone to show them that sure they have records, priors and maybe mental health that has held them back on their journey. But that’s not all they are and that is very important. Women in these situations need to know they are strong, resilient and loved no matter what label has been pinned on them. – Tia Thompson
Woman in the criminal justice system are amongst the most marginalised and forgotten groups in our society. Making work about them gives them a voice and allows their stories to be told. It shines a light on the difficulties they and their families face as they find their way through a system where everything feels stacked against them. It is important to produce work on the subject to show that the whole system reinforces the continued inequality and sexism of our society. – Lisa Marie Ashworth
There are still so many prejudices/ injustices against people who have been through the criminal justice system. People rarely seem to think how the person themselves might off been affected by that experience. I hope bringing real stories to life, we can bring a sense of understanding and compassion for women who have been effected/ gone through the criminal justice system. Breaking down systematic stereotypes, that have been placed there merely to oppress, I hope when audiences understand more, they themselves will want to help with the change. – Phoebe Douglas
Real change has to come from within. Making work about the criminal justice system by people affected by the criminal justice system, flips the perspective in mainstream culture and challenges status quo. Making work about any marginalised or silenced group by that group means that’s its informed and true to their own experiences and is informed by what they need rather than other peoples assumptions. It puts people at the heart and allows things to change from the inside out. Telling difficult and uncomfortable stories, with and about complex women. - Athena Maria
To get a real look into how important this kind of work is, come and see Clean Break Young Artists perform in Yasmin Joseph ‘s Inside This Box, showing at the Arcola and Omnibus theatres 26 – 29 February, click here to book your tickets.
After a standout 2019, we are back with a brilliant new season in 2020!
We have a range of exciting new work coming to you this season, putting Clean Break Members centre stage and exploring the challenging issues facing women in the criminal justice system.
First off, we have Yasmin Joseph’s Inside This Box, inspired by stories of coercion and the choices young women face directed by Stef O’Driscoll and staring the Clean Break Young Artists. Catch it at the Arcola and Omnibus theatres 26 – 29 February.
Written by Clean Break Member Daisy King, Not Pretty Like The Rainbow challenges the ineffectiveness and damage caused by short sentencing. Directed by Anna Herrmann and performed by Clean Break Members, this play is touring criminal justice and academic settings until 31 March 2020.
Staged in a prison van, Sweatbox, Chloë Moss’ intimate play, shines a light on women’s experiences travelling between prisons and courts. Currently touring, it will be at Essex Book Festival on 14 March and Clean Break 28 April.
We also have brilliant training opportunities for those of you working in theatre and criminal justice settings:
Unlocking Potential (19 March) invites participants to learn from Clean Break’s four decades of experience working with women affected by the criminal justice system, sharing expertise on creating safe and transformative women-only spaces.
Over three days, The Lab (30 March – 1 April) provides unique insight into Clean Break’s practice and philosophy, led by Joint Artistic Directors Anna Herrmann and Róisín McBrinn. Working collaboratively with Clean Break Members, it is a unique experience to learn in depth about Clean Break’s specialised approach to theatre and criminal justice.
We are so excited for this season at Clean Break, and we know you won’t want to miss out!
Click here to book tickets to our shows and training days.
Click here to read the full press release.
Passionate about theatre and criminal justice interventions? Have some time to spare? We want you to join our team at Clean Break!
We are seeking volunteers in a range of areas – from research to gardening – to help us out in our Kentish Town base.
Grab your chance to build skills in a welcoming environment and contribute to exciting work that aims to make a positive change in the lives of women with experience of the criminal justice system.
We have opportunities to volunteer right across Clean Break. If you have an expert skill you’d like to share, or even just think you’d make a fun team member, then we have a space for you.
Are you a keen researcher? You could be working on our 40th Anniversary Heritage project, sorting through archival materials and helping staging our exhibition in Autumn 2020.
Prefer the great outdoors? We’re looking for someone to help with the upkeep of our garden, so it can be enjoyed by everyone.
Want to build your administrative skills across fundraising, marketing and participation support? We’re looking for someone to help our Development Team.
If you’d like to find out more about volunteering for Clean Break email Samantha McNeil, our Volunteer Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7482 8600.
We are excited to share the news that Caoimhe McAvinchey’s Applied Theatre: Women and the Criminal Justice System has been published, and is available to buy now.
This in-depth new book gives an unprecedented look into international theatre work in criminal justice settings, featuring essays and interviews that delve into the political and material conditions that influence this work. These academic pieces are interwoven with extracts from Clean Break’s performance texts, including Inside Bitch (2019) and Killers (1980).
The book also features a study on Clean Break Theatre Company’s productions as collective casework by writer, researcher and previous Clean Break General Manager Molly McPhee, focusing on our 2010 play Charged.
From cabaret to radio plays, theatre to film, the studies this text explores the value of theatre when it is informed and created by those with lived experience of the criminal justice system, when these women are treated as expert witnesses of a system they have directly experienced.
Our team is delighted to be included in this text, and we are so grateful for the opportunity to have the voices of Clean Break’s members recorded, listened to, and documented alongside so many radical and influential theatre organisations working in criminal justice settings.
We are excited to announce that Clean Break Members will be taking part in The Lullaby Project in 2020.
In our first collaboration with the Irene Taylor Trust and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, this project will combine the best in music expertise, criminal justice intervention, and rehabilitation through the arts.
Participants in the project work with professional artists to write a personal lullaby for their children. They produce a high-quality audio recording which can work as a memento for parents and children, as well as helping to cement the bond between them.
In a safe, non-judgmental, creative environment, participants join together with other young people in similar situations. The process of writing lullabies is a great cathartic tool for parents, helping participants to use their creativity to express their own experiences, explore emotions, and reinforce their self-esteem.
Participants will build something beautiful and which speaks to them and their child on a personal level. Participating in The Lullaby Project is a brilliant opportunity for our members to give a voice to their feelings about parenthood, and find a creative outlet to give them strength, support, and intimacy with their child.
Parents with experience of the criminal justice system from Clean Break and Sounding Out will be performing on Tuesday 3 March, 2.30pm, in Angel. Click here to find out more.
What a year 2019 has been! In case you didn’t know, CLEAN BREAK TURNED 40 THIS YEAR and we did all we could to make more noise than ever before, reach more audiences, find ways for our Members to take up more space, use their voices and to make great art that forefronts their lives, while also trying to change the dismal circumstances around women and criminal justice.
We kicked off with Inside Bitch, our co-production at the Royal Court co-conceived by Stacey Gregg and Deborah Pearson and devised with Lucy Edkins, Jen Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar and Jade Small. This was a particularly important production for us, signalling the realisation of our renewed vision to place our Members at the heart of all our work. Then we took to the road with Sweatbox by Chloë Moss which took place in a decommissioned prison van and toured around the country. The van was also the venue for a beautiful installation by artist, Miriam Nabarro, using archival materials as part of our Heritage Project. There will be more chances to catch both in 2020…
We ended the year with our largest ever production, co-producing [BLANK] by Alice Birch with the Donmar Warehouse, directed by Maria Aberg. Beyond multiple rave reviews, we are proud to say that this production alone reached over 14,000 audience members.
We also produced Belong written by Members, River and Carys Wright, directed by Anne Langford and performed by our Young Artists at Arcola Theatre and Lyric, Hammersmith, as well as our first ever collaboration with Cardboard Citizens and performance artist Paula Varjack culminating in an original site-specific performance All the Lights Are On, at our Kentish Town studios. Another opportunity to see our Members take to the stage happened when a group of our Members formed the community cast in Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of Merry Wives of Windsor. Two of our Members had their new plays showcased at the Bunker in October; watch this space for these plays’ future lives!
We launched our monologue book, Rebel Voices at Donmar Warehouse in May with a group of 12 amazing actors including our founder, Jacqueline Holborough. This was one of four chances to hear from our Founders across the year – the others included at Shakespeare’s Globe, alongside Southall Black Sisters founders and directors, sharing reflections on women, activism and power since both companies began. And there was Here. There. Then. Now. in September, again at Royal Court, where we were privileged to be joined by nine of our past, current and future writers.
We also ran workshops at HMPs Downview and New Hall, launched training days for emerging artists and theatre makers at our studios and continued delivering workshops at four women’s centres across London. And we were delighted to be part of #FlytheFlag with our talk at Garden Court Chambers with Clean Break Patron and QC Sonali Naik, and Trustee Deborah Coles.
It’s been a special one which has only been possible due to the remarkable support of our partners, funders, Trustees, Patrons, volunteers and our phenomenal staff team who every day demonstrate their belief in theatre and their commitment to social justice. And of course due to all the amazing theatre artists, writers and creatives we have worked with – you are inspiring - and to our Members, who share their strength, vulnerability, ambition and potential every day in the face of adversity.
We want to thank all of you across the board for being part of our year of celebration and for showing us an unparalleled amount of good will and generosity. Our attention now turns to the year ahead. We are stepping into a new decade with an invitation to #ImagineAnotherWay. We believe it is vital in the current times of uncertainty for us all to hold on to hope and use the power of our imaginations to vision the world we want to live in. Please join us in this endeavour and make change possible.
With many warm wishes
Anna, Erin and Róisín.
As we bring our 40th year to a close, we asked Clean Break Members to put forward questions to two of our Patrons, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and Dame Harriett Walter DBE, reflecting on the past four decades of women, theatre and criminal justice. The result is the below video in which the two discuss the culmination of the systematic failures that lead women to be incarcerated and the effect of theatre on the lives of those who rarely have their stories told.
We have spent 2019 looking back at what the past 40 years have meant for women in the criminal justice system and played a part in bringing the stories of these women to the stage, in a bid to change hearts and minds.
As we prepare for a new decade in a turbulent time for the UK we want to look forward and affirm that change is possible. We want to invite you to reflect, discuss and share how we can move forward and change women’s experience within the criminal justice system. We're asking you to #ImagineAnotherWay.
So for now, we ask that you watch the video and reflect on where we’ve been and what’s to come. We’ll be back in January with a provocation so that we can collectively #ImagineAnotherWay.
A huge thank you to everyone who donated to our Big Give Christmas Challenge 2019 – a very special campaign, in this our 40th anniversary year. Your donations helped us to raise over £30,000 and we could not have done it without your support and encouragement.
The funds raised will help women with lived experience of the criminal justice system or at risk of entering it to find their voice, build their confidence and skills, and transform their lives. Alongside this we will create platforms for their voices to be heard within society through public-facing theatre projects and productions, which directly engage a broad cross section of the public.
"Having a space to hear other women’s voices, such a diverse group of women, has been inspirational. I have never allowed myself to write creatively so having a place to start to learn to express my voice and be encouraged in such a nurturing environment." Clean Break Member
Our work has helped so many women affected by the criminal justice system – they have regained their voice through theatre, writing, and communication. With your incredible support we will bring our program to even more women and amplify their voices.
We're looking for a Receptionist and Admin Assistant to join our team in Kentish Town!
The Receptionist and Admin Assistant will provide a high level of customer service and support the operation and administration of Clean Break’s systems.
If you would like to join our team click the link below to read the application pack and find out how to apply.
Ready, set, GIVE!
The Big Give Christmas challenge has launched – DONATE NOW to Clean Break and your donation will be DOUBLED.
We need to raise £30k by 12pm Tuesday 10 December to ensure we can help more women with experience of the criminal justice system find their voice.
Whatever you can give will mean the world to Clean Break and our members. If you donate just £10 – we’ll get £20! If you can spare £50 – we’ll get £100! If you have £500 to donate – we’ll receive an amazing £1000!
For us, your donations mean we can use theatre to help women with lived experience of the criminal justice system or at risk of entering it to find their voice, build their confidence and skills, and transform their lives. Alongside this we will create platforms for their voices to be heard within society through public-facing theatre projects and productions, which directly engage a broad cross section of the public.
Our work has helped so many women affected by the criminal justice system – they have regained their voice through theatre, writing, and communication. With your help we can bring our program to even more women and amplify their voices.
Please donate now and help us reach our Big Give target – and don’t forget to spread the word! Do you know someone who might be interested in our work? Why not give Clean Break a helping hand this Christmas and share our fundraiser with anyone you can!
Remember: the clock is ticking! You have just 7 days to donate to Clean Break, have your donation doubled, and help us smash the Big Give Christmas Challenge!