This year International Women’s Day we are asking you to join us and #ChooseToChallenge Maternal Imprisonment. At a time when the Government has just announced plans to build 500 new prison places for women and as the pandemic continues to impact on prisoners’ mental health and wellbeing, we're teamed up with Birth Companions to challenge the sentencing of pregnant women and mothers of young children.
Between International Women's Day on Monday 8 March and Mother's Day on Sunday 14 March we have a series of actions you can take. You can documentment your progress and encourage others to take up th challenge on social media. Use the hastages #ChooseToChallenge and #MaternalImprisonment
Clean Break is delighted to announce recruitment for a Participation Associate as part of the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries. This Fellowship is supported by the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries 2020-22.
We’re looking for an early career artist strongly aligned with our values, passions and beliefs to design, facilitate and coordinate impactful participatory theatre work across Clean Break’s artistic programme. You’ll have a proven commitment to excellent participatory practice in the performing arts, and to amplifying diverse and marginalised voices in theatre.
As our Participation Associate, you’ll get to work with our team on a wide range of projects involving our Members (women with lived experience of the criminal justice system and women at risk of entering it) and involving women currently serving sentences in prison or attending women’s centres. The role will be focused on designing and facilitating theatre-based workshops, developing ideas for and implementing our digital engagement with women, as well as coordinating some project activity.
Working within the Participation team, you’ll report to the Participation Manager and collaborate closely with other team members. For some projects you’ll also work directly with one or both of our Joint Artistic Directors.
Participation Associate Recruitment Pack
Participation Associate Recruitment Pack (plain text/colour free)
Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries Programme 2020-22
Equality & Diversity Policy information
Criminal Records Disclosure information
The deadline for submitting applications for this role is midday on Monday 15 March 2021.
We’re looking for a friendly and diligent candidate, who really understands the unique importance of Clean Break’s work and has a passion and drive to share this with our current and prospective supporters. You’ll have an eye for detail, enjoy working as part of a close-knit team, and be confident about making a case for support; this means telling people about what we do, why it’s important, and clearly demonstrating the life-changing impact of our work. You’ll have great communication skills both written and verbal, combining your desk-based work with meetings and events that help to bring Clean Break’s work to life.
You’ll work most closely with our Development Manager (your line manager) as the majority of your work will be based around our relationships with Trusts and Foundations. Working together, this will include writing and submitting funding applications, looking after relationships with new and prospective funders, and writing progress updates and reports. You don’t need experience in fundraising, or in an arts organisation, to do this; you might equally use the application to show you have the transferable skills to fulfil this role. This might include demonstrating things like; a love for talking to people about work that you’re passionate about; an enjoyment of writing persuasively in a variety of forms and styles; great organisational skills that help you to keep on top of research and systems.
The role is broad, and as such will be a great introduction or next step in a fundraising team. As well as working on our Trusts and Foundations portfolio, you’ll work with our Head of Development and Communications on developing our corporate relationships, with our Individual Giving Manager on events and communications, and with our Development & Members Assistant to ensure smooth administrative running of our funding partnerships.
The deadline for submitting applications for this role is 12pm midday on Monday 8 March 2021.
This plan flies in the face of all the evidence built up over years (including official Government data) about how to address the root causes of women's offending that so often include experiences of trauma, mental ill health, substance misuse and domestic abuse. These have been exacerbated as the consequences of the pandemic take their toll on the health and safety of the most disadvantaged women in our communities through increases in poverty and abuse.
In 2018 the Government published its strategy to invest in community-based support with the goal of reducing both the women's prison population and reoffending rates. This strategy is supported by the police, prison governors, probation officers, local authorities, health services and charities, including those providing specialist services for women, like women’s centres.
Building new prison places will make the collective efforts of these organisations all the more difficult, and undo progress with the strategy, including delivery of the Government’s newly published Concordat and all the commitments within it.
Building these prison places will harm women, their children, families and communities. The most recent Safety in Custody statistics show self-harm across the women’s estate is at the highest levels on record. These figures point to the urgent need to rethink these plans before the impact of prison expansion results in a steeper trajectory of this devastating upwards trend. We call on the Government to do the right thing to halt these plans, and return to focusing on the strategy that so many are committed to.
Kate Paradine, CEO, Women in Prison
Lisa Dando, CEO, Brighton Women’s Centre
Rokaiya Khan, CEO, Together Women
Joy Doal, CEO, Anawim
Niki Gould, Head of Women’s Community Services, Nelson Trust
Naomi Delap, Director, Birth Companions
Marchu Girma, CEO, Hibiscus
Helen Voce, CEO, Nottingham Women’s Centre
Hannah Shead, CEO, Trevi
Angela Everson, CEO, WomenCentre
Caroline Baker, Project Manager, Women's Work (Derbyshire)
Gemma Fox, Managing Director, North Wales Women’s Centre
Stef Martinsen-Barker, CEO, Cambridge Women's Resource Centre
Angela Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, Tomorrow’s Women Wirral
Anna Herrmann, Joint Artistic Director, Clean Break
Jackie May, Chief Executive, Women’s Centre Cornwall
Niki Scordi, CEO, Advance
Sara Swire, CEO, New Dawn, New Day
Jan Fishwick, CEO, Alana House, Parents and Children Together (PACT)
Nikki Guy, CEO, Stockport Women’s Centre
Natasha Finlayson, CEO, Working Chance
Sofia Buncy, National Coordinator, Muslim Women in Prison Project
Susanah Stennett, Women’s Services Manager, Willowdene Farm
Lisa Boyack, Area Manager for Criminal Justice Services, Changing Lives
Amanda Greenwood, CEO, Lancashire Women
Suzi Heybourne, CEO, The Magdalene Group
In November 2020 we celebrated the launch of our archive at the Bishopsgate Institute, London, with an online event called Efemera: The Origins and Survival of Clean Break Theatre Company.
Clean Break’s Chair, Alison Frater was joined by our Founders, Jacqueline Holborough and Jenny Hicks; theatre artist, Paula Varjack; Clean Break Member, Ann Whitely; Joint Artistic Director, Anna Herrmann; and researcher, Dr. Sarah Bartley to discuss the founding years of the company and how the archive is now being used to shape the present and future of Clean Break. The event included artistic and academic work inspired by the archive and offers real insight into the foundations of Clean Break as well as the lives of women with lived experience of the criminal justice system. We are thrilled to release the recording of the event as a rich resource for anyone interested in our story and the fields of arts and criminal justice, and to mark this next stage of our history.
The archive encapsulates 40 years of Clean Break’s work including playtexts, interviews, original art work, and letters, all paying tribute to the radical history of the company. It can be accessed at the Bishopsgate Institute in London and will be the subject of an exhibition at Swiss Cottage Gallery in Summer 2021.
Clean Break is looking to appoint an experienced anti-racism consultant or organisation to provide expertise and additional capacity to support us in designing and implementing our anti-racism commitments.
Clean Break is undertaking a thorough internal review of its anti-racism practices and policy framework. We are seeking the expertise of an external consultant to support us in our endeavour to improve understanding and rectify the systemic ways in which racism exists in our organisation and implement change that drives out inequality in our structures and processes. We want to build on our existing good practice and alter our future to the benefit of all women, enabling us to actively behave in an anti-racist way.
In this role you will work iteratively with the Joint Artistic Director and Head of Participation supporting them to lead this work effectively, offering guidance to help wise decision making and being accessible to address issues which may arise. You will also facilitate conversations with the whole staff team as well as the Chair and Trustees to ensure a company wide approach.
Because our work is about highlighting women’s experiences and providing services to women, all of our positions are open to women only (exempt under Equality Act 2020 Schedule 9, part 1). If you are an organisation the key personnel involved should be women.
Full details are in our pack and accompanying policies, linked below:
Anti-Racism Consultant Pack
Anti-Racism Consultant Pack (plain text/colour free)
The deadline for submitting proposals is 10am on Monday 1 February.
Whatever way you spin it, 2020 has been a long year. At Clean Break, we’ve had our share of trying moments and we know from our cherished Members that most of them have found this year very challenging. However, we are proud that we have found a way through it, continued to deliver our programme to our Members and across women’s centres; to make groundbreaking art and remained true to our core values. None of this would have been possible without you, our wider community. Thank you for sticking with us while our building and theatres were closed and through your own undoubted pressures.
Our Members: We want to thank you for your resilience, the care that you have shown one another, your patience while we helped you to access our online programme, your courage to embrace that offer, your brilliant presence at our webinars and online events and for sharing your voices as artists through our project, 2 Metres Apart.
Our Funders: From the funders who know us, to those that are new to us this year; thank you. It is no exaggeration to say that without you we would not still be standing, and in a healthy position today. We would like to take this moment to say an additional thank you to the Cultural Recovery Fund, Julia and Hans Rausing Trust, National Lottery Community Fund, London Funders, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Arts Council England and Rank Foundation, who all provided transformative emergency support.
Our Staff Team: We are so proud and grateful to our team of exceptional women for their hard work, kindness and the immense skills they have shown in 2020. This year you helped to steer the organisation through furloughs, the epic achievement of reopening the building, a total reimagining of how we speak to audiences and engage with Members and triumphant diligence in achieving the financial sustainability of Clean Break. You’re amazing!
Our Artists: We’ve made two films, recorded an audio drama, made new commissions, developed our pipeline of plays, and worked with over 24 writers and artists to help us interpret this moment. You’ve delivered numerous sessions to our Members, adapted your practice in imaginative ways and continued to show your absolute dedication to our mission and vision. You are the backbone of the company. Thank you.
Our Partners: The strength of working together with partner organisations has been one of our greatest highlights this year. Alongside other women’s organisations in London, we have formed the London Women’s Services Alliance; with our academic partners, we have offered seminars, launched our archive and undertaken research; and with our arts partners, we have sent 200 messages of hope to women in prisons, created new digital work and provided much valued mutual support.
Our Volunteers and Patrons: Our volunteers always offer essential support, but this year that pool expanded to include more artists, Patrons and friends who gave their time by offering masterclasses, becoming creative buddies and mentors, speaking on panels and supporting our Development campaigns. Special thanks to Maxine Peake who was the voice of our BBC Radio 4 Campaign and Zawe Ashton who fronted our Big Give Campaign.
Our Trustees: Between multiple extra meetings, invaluable insights and steady support, our Board has been incredible this year. We thank our Trustees for their commitment, faith and kindness, particularly our outgoing Chair Kim Evans and our incoming Chair Alison Frater.
Our gratitude is abundant, and we will be channelling that into a new, hopeful year which we are approaching with optimism, emboldened by all you have done, big, small, immeasurable for Clean Break this year. Wishing you all a healthy and peaceful festive season and see you in 2021.
Anna, Erin and Róisín.
The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2020 has been an incredible success thanks to the support from our amazing Clean Break family and friends – new and old!
In just one week, you helped to raise a phenomenal £31,677 which will enable us to support vulnerable women to Respond, Rebuild and Recover from the devastating impacts of Covid-19.
This generosity is already making a difference. We have been able to deliver care packages to our Members in time for the festive break. These packages are focused on care and relaxation and include vital items such as; protective face masks, essential toiletries, diaries and food vouchers for the festive period.
“It makes me feel like I haven’t been forgotten. That somebody does care for me…it just makes me feel special.” Clean Break Member
Thank you to everyone who has made this possible!
Clean Break is participating in the Big Give Christmas Challenge 2020 and this year the funds raised are going to supporting our Members in the ever-changing crisis presented by COVID-19. Over the last year our support has ranged from one-on-one check ins, practical help and advice, care packages, Health & Wellbeing workshops, and an online creative programme. All of our programme, and other services, moved online making them inaccessible to many of our Members who don’t use computers or who relied on our building or libraries to access the digital world. One such Member was Rachel, who was unable to connect when the world went online.
Rachel came to Clean Break in 2018, following years of domestic abuse which had left her with severe depression, anxiety and a diagnosis of PTSD. As a result, Rachel was withdrawn, reclusive and spent the majority of her time isolated alone indoors, fearful about leaving the house for long periods of time. Yet Rachel was keen to reclaim control and make positive changes in her life. After an initial consultation with Members Support it was suggested that Rachel first join our Health & Wellbeing Group, where she would learn how to manage some of her complex mental health symptoms, rebuild her confidence using drama techniques and creativity, and integrate into company life in a safe low pressure environment.
After a year on the programme staff began to see a significant change in Rachel; she became more talkative, developed strong, supportive relationships with other Clean Break Members, and was eager to join our Writers Circle Group after discovering her love of poetry during the Health & Wellbeing Group; poetry gave Rachel the power to unpack some of the trauma she had experienced and the space to rewrite her own narrative and start again.
However, in March 2020 Covid-19 changed everything and Clean Break was forced to close its doors. Yet for many Members like Rachel, Clean Break was one of the few places they felt safe, supported and able to pursue a brighter future. With the building closed and the future now uncertain, Rachel was thrust back into isolation where many of her unhealthy behaviours began to return; she became reclusive, lacked motivation and no longer wrote poetry, her depression deepening as the weeks of lockdown continued. Like many other Members Rachel did not have a computer or internet access and was almost totally disconnected from her loved ones and the women she had built friendships with at Clean Break. The experience triggered increased anxiety and more prevalent symptoms of PTSD.
Rachel never felt she could learn how to use a computer; neither could she afford one, or seen it as a priority. Yet during Covid-19 Rachel was excluded from many services as they went online, including Universal Credit appointments, therapy sessions, and Clean Break’s Online Members Programme. However, thanks to dedicated emergency funding, Clean Break was able to buy Rachel a laptop and MiFi to get her online and connected at a time when internet access is fundamental.
Having a laptop changed Rachel’s experience of lockdown entirely; she was able to access Clean Break’s Online Members Programme and watch new sessions of Health & Wellbeing, Theatre Makers and Weekly Writers uploaded to Vimeo each week, giving her well needed structure and the sense of being part of an online community; she has joined various sessions on Zoom, including Yoga, Drama and Reflective Circles. The weekly newsletter sent by Clean Break gave her TV, film and theatre that she could watch online kept her uplifted and inspired creatively.
For the first time in months Rachel had a routine and access to the outside world. Rachel began to feel less isolated, more motivated, and started to write poetry again. With technical support from the Members Team Rachel’s confidence using the computer grew and she soon began pursuing more of her own interests online, including cooking and baking. As a recipient of food vouchers, Rachel never felt that she had much opportunity to be creative with her cooking. However, with the newfound freedom and independence provided through her access to the internet Rachel started researching low cost recipes online and trying out some of her own creations, something that she has found to be hugely beneficial to her mental health, now that she has the time to really experiment in the kitchen. Rachel is extremely thankful for being supported with a computer and internet access; something she never thought she could have.
Help us support more women like Rachel, whatever the future has in store for us by giving to our Big Give Christmas Challenge. Your donation will be doubled if you donate before Tuesday 8 December 2020.
We are looking for a warm, caring Interim Support Manager to identify and manage the varied support needs of the women at the heart of our programmes: our Members.
You’ll bring at least three years’ experience of working in social care, welfare or mental health services, and have a well-established trauma-informed approach.
Around 50-70 Members are actively engaged across Clean Break’s work at any time, with many also participating in our core, seasonal Members Programme. You’ll ensure they have the best possible access to our activities, either online or in the building, and work with them to understand any access or engagement issues.
You’ll also work with these women to support their mental health, drug/alcohol, financial, emotional, welfare and education/career needs. And you’ll provide this support in a combination of ways: through one-to-one support, assessment, action planning, partnership building / signposting and any other appropriate support measures.
You’ll work closely with the Participation Team – Head of Participation, Participation Manager and Members Assistant – and report to the Head of Participation.
Because our work is about highlighting women’s experiences and providing services to women, all of our positions are open to women only (exempt under Equality Act 2020 Schedule 9, part 1).
Full details are in our Recruitment Pack and accompanying policies, linked below:
The deadline for submitting applications for this role is 12pm midday on Wednesday 16 December 2020.
We are looking for a friendly, practical and solutions-driven manager to oversee day to day facilities operation at our Kentish Town building for the next nine months.
You’ll ensure a warm, professional and safe working environment for our staff, beneficiaries, contractors and other visitors, and keep the building and our core systems running smoothly and sustainably.
You’ll work closely with our Operations Team - Receptionist & Admin Assistant, Cleaners, Volunteer Coordinator, Volunteers and Front of House staff – and report to our Head of Finance & Operations.
Over the nine months, you’ll also help us to work out longer term management needs for our building and the facilities on site, in a post-Covid world.
Because our work is about highlighting women’s experiences and providing services to women, all of our positions are open to women only (exempt under Equality Act 2020 Schedule 9, part 1).
Full details are in our Recruitment Pack and accompanying policies, linked below:
The deadline for submitting applications for this role is 10am on Monday 14 December 2020.
This year Clean Break is taking part in the Big Give Christmas Challenge, raising vital funds to address the inequalities that Covid-19 has exacerbated for our Members.
The pandemic is presenting us with a new, unknown and frightening world to navigate. There is an increased risk that vulnerable women will suffer from isolation, domestic violence, poor nutrition, a deterioration in mental and physical health, and relapse into drug and alcohol abuse. There is often a knock-on effect on the children and families of these women. Without the necessary support mechanisms in place, women and their families will struggle to rebuild their lives and recover.
With you help we will be able to deliver tailored, creative support to our Members including; one to one support, care packages focusing on self and family care, creativity and nutrition; health and wellbeing workshops and technical support for those struggling with digital world. All designed to provide our Members with the skills to develop self-confidence, resilience, minimise anxiety and create long term positive, health habits.
Please help us support more women to stay safe during lockdown and rebuild and recover from the impact of this ever-changing world.
With many thanks to our Champion Funder, Monday Charitable Trust, our Pledge Donors and our Patron Zawe Ashton.
“Working with Clean Break … has been one of the most life changing professional and personal experiences of my life. To see first-hand the positive changes in women’s lives… is astonishing. Art therapy and drama therapy is real. The change they make is REAL. Society would benefit from a lot more Clean Breaks. They deserve support, they deserve visibility and the utmost respect.”
When Covid-19 struck earlier this year, Zawe reached out to Clean Break to see what she could do to support our Members, who are some of the most vulnerable women in society impacted by the inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Our online Members programme has been specially designed to provide creative and positive stimulus, to combat isolation and mental distress and foster creativity whilst living through the current challenges. As part of this offer, Zawe has delivered a series of Master Classes about 'Conscious Storytelling' and provided ongoing mentoring support to those on our Young Artists Development programme supporting them creatively, nurturing their talent, and staying connected.
Posy Sterling has been a Clean Break Member since 2015 and is a graduate from Italia Conti. Most recently, she performed in Clean Break’s national tour of Sweatbox by Chloë Moss and in the 2020 film adaptation of the play (currently in post production). With Clean Break she also performed in Belong at the Arcola Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith.
Join us on Wednesday 2 December from 6-7pm to hear Zawe and Posy exploring the impact of creativity on mental health and talk about their experience of working together over the last few months: what they produced, the impact of creativity on mental health, and the challenges and triumphs on their journey. This will be followed by a discussion about what draws them to the arts, their relationship with Clean Break and the opportunity for you to ask questions.
This event is part of Clean Break’s Big Give Christmas Challenge 2020, a fundraising campaign to help more women stay safe and well during lockdown. Tickets are free but every donation given to us between 12pm Tuesday 1st December – 12pm Tuesday 8th December will be DOUBLED!
Sonya joined Clean Break as a Member in 2011. She wrote a short play for the company in 2013, HOURS TIL MIDNIGHT, and was given a full length commission the same year. She performed in MEAL TICKET for Clean Break at Latitude Festival in 2014 and her play, BLIS-TA, is currently being made into an audio drama.
Sonya was such an inspiration to all of us at Clean Break. Beyond her brilliance as a writer, Sonya’s kindness, good humour and compassion touched many of us and she became a vital part of the Clean Break family – for staff, Members, Board and artists. We know that the friendships she formed in those early days of joining the company, walking alongside other women in recovery, sustained her and many of her peers over the past decade. She showed us all how to heal and affirmed the power of theatre and our imaginations in this process.
Even throughout her illness, Sonya had a resolute compassion for others – she wrote prolifically about women in prison during lockdown, wanting their stories to be heard and seen. To this end she was an amazing advocate for widening representation in theatre – and ensuring that stories from the margins are propelled centre stage. We will continue this work with Sonya in our hearts.
She will be hugely missed.
Our thoughts are with all those closest to her, especially with her son Fred, at this painful time.
Rest in Peace Sonya
We are recruiting for an Individual Giving Manager to join our development team who will be responsible for maintaining and increasing support from individual donors, working strategically to nurture relationships, identifying new prospects and creating imaginative fundraising campaigns and events.
We’re looking for an excellent communicator with a strong understanding of what inspires individuals to support a charity like Clean Break, and great ideas for keeping our donors engaged. The ideal candidate is someone who loves crafting new initiatives and campaigns but who also understands the importance of excellent database management and well-informed research.
This is a permanent position and is normally office based in Kentish Town North London with occasional London-wide and national travel; however, due to Covid-19, it is likely to be home based initially.
We strongly believe that your lived experience enhances what you bring to a professional setting. We want women from a broad range of diverse backgrounds with a cross section of skills, experiences and narratives to extend and develop how we work.
We are particularly interested in hearing from;
These women are underrepresented in the UK’s cultural workforce, including in our charity, and we know that many face barriers when looking to join it. We want to change this.
To find out more about the role, please download the Job Information Pack.
The deadline for applications is 6pm on Monday 23 November.
Can you tell us a little about what you did before Clean Break?
I’ve always been driven to work with people who are without privilege and who live in places where the resources are quite deprived. I feel the injustice and have always wanted to help those who are vulnerable and might need assistance, whether that’s been in the community or in schools.
Immediately before I came to Clean Break, I was working as the education lead for a youth offending service, trying to keep young black boys (in the main) from being excluded from school.
How did you hear about Clean Break and when did you start working with us?
I saw an advert for the role of Student Support Manager in The Guardian when I was on maternity leave and applied, but it was just too soon - my baby was still so young - so I retracted my application. However, they didn't appoint, and I got a call a few months later asking me whether I was still interested.
I did some checking and spoke to a friend who used to be head of arts and leisure at the Council and she said Clean Break was absolutely brilliant and to go for it because it was the perfect job for me…that was 17 years ago!
How did you feel when you first starting visiting prison?
What really struck me was the state of them; physically how repulsive and degrading and awful they were, the number of rats, it was disgusting and inhuman.
There’s something about seeing a woman in prison – an older woman, a pregnant women - it's just another level of everything, compassion, embarrassment for us that as a society this is what we do that, you know, feeling their shame but also seeing their joy that someone's come in, who hasn't got keys, and who's coming to talk to them, to work with them, to laugh with them.
But it was all those hurtful stories about being strip searched with male officers present, being told they have to take a shower, to have a pregnancy test, it was all those awful unimaginable things that really struck me and stayed with me irrespective of the race of the woman, it was a woman being treated like that.
When I say that, I don't want to just say that women are victims, there were real moments in those prisons where I saw joy, I saw nurturing, I saw caring, looking out for each other, I also saw a lot of resilience, a lot of togetherness, a lot of sisterhood in there. I saw moments where I thought my God, I'm in awe of you because even in this environment you have managed to create a maternal space.
Can you speak about some of the pivotal moments and reflections you have on the Criminal Justice System over the past 17 years?
I think one of the one of the biggest moments was Baroness Corston’s report in 2007 when there was a political will to show what was happening in women's prisons. She did her homework, she spoke to women in prison, and her recommendations were completely on pointe.
Another pivotal moment was the impact felt by the introduction of trauma informed work and organisational gender responsiveness by Stephanie Covington in 2014. Although representation wasn’t being addressed at the time, Stephanie also recognised that racism (in itself) is traumatic so when you think of the experience of imprisonment being traumatic, these two traumas are compounded for those women of colour who are in prison. They then have the debilitating lack of opportunity when they get out, so they carry that trauma with them throughout their journey.
There were more women’s prisons back when I started working at Clean Break, but even though we have less now, it is so stark that there are over 2,000 more women in prison. During this time, I’ve seen the decimation of the probation services, the rise in short term sentencing and the disregard for many of the recommendations from David Lammy and Baroness Corston.
Did you see systemic racism in prison?
During my visits, many Black and mixed-race women were telling me how differently they were treated. How they don't get the privileges, “I'm often being told I haven’t done that right even if I was halfway to earning it”. The privileges would be withdrawn. They would never get any of the good jobs (like gardening) which would allow them out into the fresh air. They would have their leave removed so they couldn’t see their children or wouldn’t be given release on temporary licence. These are things that were subjective to the senior officer and then backed up by the governor. It’s all about power. I met one or two people in prison I thought “you're an amazing prison officer,” and then there were many more that I literally shuddered at the thought of them having any power over anyone except themselves.
What these women were telling me was borne out by David Lammy’s Independent Review.
I don't really feel like the situation has changed at all; that's not what I'm hearing from the women who have done projects with us recently. I mean there's no more strip searches and things like that because of Baroness Corston and hopefully its more trauma informed, but we're still seeing the deaths in custody, we’re still seeing things that show there's a lot of work to be done. Prisons are not a place to make money from and once we start looking for profit from those places there will be a cost, but it will be a human cost!
Can you tell us about any of the women you have met during your time at Clean Break (and how racism affected their lives)?
I have three short stories about women who were innocent.
I was really struck when I met a young Black woman back in 2004. She was 23, had a partner – who hadn’t been living with her – but moved in when she became pregnant. Within a couple of months he had changed, no longer the man she had been romantically in love with. Despite her objections, he brought Class A drugs into her home, she couldn't do anything to stop him. Her family lived many miles away and she felt that by telling them she would be putting them at risk. The police raided the house and found the drugs. He was already in trouble and had other charges against him, so he told her that she needed to take the rap for him. He threatened her and the baby so in the end she decided to do what he said. They imprisoned her at five months pregnant, with a completely clean record, and they didn't even question as to whether the drugs could have been her partners. I asked why she thought this had happened, and she said she thought that “they were just happy to get someone.”
She had the baby in prison, and they handcuffed her all the way to the maternity ward, she was in so much pain and distress and yet still they restrained her. That baby remained on the child protection register until she was 18 even though her mother never took a drug in her life and was innocent of the crime. Her world was turned upside down, but she showed enormous strength and resilience and she is doing incredibly well and is now helping other people to turn their lives around
I met another woman in prison, she was older, in her early 50s. She had been a carer for 28 years, devoutly religious. She was part of a team caring for someone in their home when money went missing. There was no evidence that she (or any of her colleagues) had taken the money and when I asked why she thought the finger was pointed at her, she said “I can only think it's because I'm Black”. She was arrested, went to court thinking it would be thrown out, but instead got sentenced for six months.
The sum of money was £10! That floored me, it floored me! She is one of the calmest women I've ever met, she just said “I'm going to be praying, you know I'm sure they're going to find out that I didn't do it, I’m not a dishonest person I would never do that.”
She was a really positive influence on the other women in prison, praying with them, giving them recipes. She was released after two and a half months, spent some time with us at Clean Break and then moved to the Midlands where she could start again to rebuild her life and her reputation.
The third story is about a white woman who was also really young, she was doing an MA in criminology. Her boyfriend didn’t live with her, but without telling her, had stashed Class A drugs at her home because it was a safe place to hide them. He got arrested whilst out with friends and the police raided his flat, and on finding nothing, raided the home of his girlfriend. They found the drugs and questioned her, and although her boyfriend confessed that she knew nothing about them and took the full blame, they charged her, she went to court and she was sentenced to 20 months in prison.
She said the judge said to her that he “wants the full weight of the law to fall on top of her because there is no way a middle class, intelligent young woman like her should be going out with people like him, people like that.” She said the only word he didn’t say was white, she said he didn't need to. Her boyfriend was Black, he also went down, they still charged him, but it just wasn't enough they wanted her to be punished as well, to see the consequences of association.
These are just three stories, there were loads of women I talked to who said that “I'm innocent, I haven't done anything, I've been coerced!’ It's interesting to think how those cases would be looked at now, with a different pair of eyes but who would look back at these stories now and not say that that's a form of injustice?
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month (laughs) I do have to smile, I mean it's one month to celebrate good food, rich culture, fresh new ideas and I suppose it's also a chance to see many more black faces, new and old on our screens.
I look forward to hearing all the Members ‘sharings’ because there are people who have a myriad of different experiences that are connected to me. It’s an explosion of form, they are full of such rebellion and resistance they are emotive. I can feel quite sad but equally uplifted and empowered there's just more colour on the screen, things just get more colourful, noisier, vibrant and lively!
I'm joyful too because one of the biggest tools against oppression and suppression is humour and you know that's to be found in loads of places but one of the times I see it more is during Black History Month.
But then I think it's all crammed into one month! I mean we're not going to go and hibernate for 11 months, we need to be seen, we are a part of everyday that is the truth. We need to be seen and we need to be heard. I have this analogy which actually was part of a proverb someone told me and it's a bit like during the month we can sing and dance, do whatever with lots of pride and then during the other 11 months we've still got to dance but we’ve got to watch our side and what that means to me is in that month we're out there but when I say dance it means we still have to live, it’s a metaphor for living but we’ve got to watch our side we’ve got to be much more careful those other 11 months.
It’s important that people don't feel that they've been given a month to say every single thing that happens to them or what they'd like to see across the year and then are told to shut up.
What are your hopes for the future?
That’s a big question! I have so many so I’m going to break it down into a few bullet points!
And finally, I would just like to give thanks for all our wonderful powerful talented community of women, our Members, staff, artists and volunteers – and my last thoughts are for all our continued health!
Photography: All The Lights Are On, Tracey Anderson
Paulette Randell MBE is one of the most influential women in theatre and television. She has directed at many of the UK's leading theatres, was the first Black woman to direct a dramatic play on the West End, was the Artistic Director of Talawa Theatre Company and is behind many of your favourite shows on TV. Her path through the industry is also closely linked with Clean Break having met one of Clean Break's founders at drama school. For the company, she then went on to write 24% in 1991, direct one of Clean Break's seminal plays Head-rot Holiday by Sarah Daniels and was Chair of the Board of Trustees.
As part of Clean Break's Black History Month celebrations we invited Paulette to have a conversation with our Development & Members Assistant, Demi Wilson-Smith. The basis of their conversation was 24%, inspired by the percentage of Black women who made up the prison system in 1991 and focusing on the impact the criminal justice system had on young Black women. With the impact of that play as a spring board, in this interview they discuss intergenerational activism, culture, being Black women in theatre, the criminal justice system, the future for Black voices and the search for Paulette's missing play.
Clean Break is to host a Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries Fellow as part of a programme to get more people from low socio-economic backgrounds into cultural careers. Across the UK there will be 50 exciting opportunities to develop a career in the arts, with each role playing an important part in the host organisation. Clean Break is welcoming applications for the role of Participation Associate, which will involve working across Clean Break’s Members programme, Young Artist Development Programme and Prison residencies.
Even before the pandemic wreaked havoc on career prospects in the arts, those from middle-class backgrounds were 2.5 times more likely to end up in creative occupations than their working-class peers. This is a situation which has not improved since records began in 2014. Social mobility is a greater issue in the cultural sector and wider creative industries than across the economy as a whole. The wider creative industries have created over 300,000 jobs over the past five years, yet the number of creative workers from working-class backgrounds has increased by just 33,000. Just as with the impact of the 2008 financial crisis, it is expected that those who are already finding it difficult to make their way in the arts will be the worst hit by the impact of covid-19.
The Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries aim to redress the balance by funding 50 paid, year-long artistic and creative Fellowships as well as an organisational development programme run by people make it work to embed inclusive practices for the host organisation, with three members of the host team taking part, including a board member and a senior executive.
This is the fourth edition of the programme, which has been running for over 10 years and has 125 alumni to date, many of whom have forged successful careers. This edition of WJCB is the largest yet, with support from Arts Council England’s Transforming Leadership Programme, Garfield Weston Foundation, Art Fund, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, and PRS Foundation.
Click here to find out more about the programme
Click here to find out more about the thinking behind the programme
Click here to see which other organisations are involved
The Applied Theatre Reader brings together new case studies of practice by leading practitioners in Applied Theatre and academics in the field and beyond.
This new edition covers the breadth of applied theatre practice with essays on playback theatre, digital technology, work with indigenous practitioners, inter-generational practice and school projects. Contributors come from across the UK and world including South America, Australia and New Zealand.
Clean Break was asked to contribute a chapter and chose to focus on the ethics of representation when making public facing work about the experiences of women in prison. Joint Artistic Director, Anna Herrmann worked with Prof Caoimhe McAvinchey, who has been a long-term supporter and researcher of Clean Break, on the chapter. They brought the creators of Inside Bitch on board to talk about the process of making the play as collaborators—some of whom had lived experience of prison and others who did not.
In the article you’ll hear from Lucy Edkins, Jennifer Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar, Jade Small, Deborah Pearson and Stacey Gregg about the project alongside critical writing about Clean Break’s practice.
Clean Break has two articles focusing on its work in Prison Writing and the Literary World: Imprisonment, Institutionality and Questions of Literary Practice. The book tackles international prison writing and writing about imprisonment from a literary and critical perspective. It offers scholarly essays exploring prison writing in relation to wartime internment, political imprisonment, resistance and independence creation, regimes of terror, and personal narratives of development and awakening that grapple with race, class and gender.
This first essay about Clean Break is by Prof Caoimhe McAvinchy from Queen Mary University on Clean Break’s Theatre of Necessity. The second is by Joint Artistic Director, Anna Herrmann; Playwright, Deborah Bruce; and Clean Break Member, Clare Barstow who participated in Clean Break’s participated in many theatre-writing workshops in prison. This article focuses on Clean Break’s theatre-writing workshops in prisons, focusing on the aims and challenges of working in a prison setting. The different perspectives in the article aim to heighten the understanding of the transformative power of writing in prison settings. It showcases the healthy and nurturing culture of Clean Break’s work where women are valued for what they bring, where they are inspired with hope and creativity, and are treated with respect.
We are incredibly grateful to have received a lifeline grant from Government’s £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund to help face the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and to ensure we have a sustainable future.
This grant is crucial to our survival and will enable us to continue to support freelancers, artists and our Members, women with experience of the criminal justice system or who are at risk of entering it. We are committed to supporting those who have been deeply impacted by the pandemic by continuing to practice and deliver our work.
Clean Break is one of 1,385 cultural and creative organisations across the country receiving urgently needed support. £257 million of investment has been announced today as part of the very first round of the Culture Recovery Fund grants programme being administered by Arts Council England. Further rounds of funding in the cultural and heritage sector are due to be announced over the coming weeks.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said:
“This funding is a vital boost for the theatres, music venues, museums and cultural organisations that form the soul of our nation. It will protect these special places, save jobs and help the culture sector’s recovery.
“These places and projects are cultural beacons the length and breadth of the country. This unprecedented investment in the arts is proof this government is here for culture, with further support to come in the days and weeks ahead so that the culture sector can bounce back strongly.”
Chair, Arts Council England, Sir Nicholas Serota, said:
“Theatres, museums, galleries, dance companies and music venues bring joy to people and life to our cities, towns and villages. This life-changing funding will save thousands of cultural spaces loved by local communities and international audiences. Further funding is still to be announced and we are working hard to support our sector during these challenging times.”
Leadership Team, Erin Gavaghan, Anna Herrmann and Róisín McBrinn, said:
“There is a long road ahead for all of us, but this support gives us hope. We thank everyone who has supported Clean Break so far this year; we are here and continue to be here because of you.”
Today, Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party and local MP for Holborn & St Pancras, visited Clean Break to celebrate the re-opening of our building for our Members. Located in Keir’s constituency, our building is a vital centre for support, connection and creativity for the vulnerable women with whom we work.
During his visit, Keir met Joint Artistic Directors Anna Herrmann and Róisín McBrinn and watched Clean Break Members Jade, Funke and Posy, filming Sweatbox, a play whose nationwide tour was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Keir Starmer: “It is great to be at Clean Break to see them welcome back their Members.
“Much of the focus on the arts during this pandemic has rightly been on the huge financial challenges facing the sector. It’s also important to remember the huge impact that this period has had on people’s wellbeing, and I know that Clean Break and other theatre companies have been very eager to get started again.
“I am very glad that Clean Break have been able to re-open safely so they can continue with their important work.”
Clean Break Member: "It's been more than 6 months since lockdown and I was very worried that maybe I wouldn’t be able to go out again... but today when I came back to Clean Break I kind of felt like, oh yeah I can do this. It’s given me hope."
Róisín McBrinn and Anna Herrmann, Joint Artistic Directors: “Lockdown has been particularly trying for our Members, many of whom have been impacted by the negative effects of poor mental health, isolation, impoverishment and a lack of access to technology. Our priority has been to respond to our Members’ needs, with care packages, weekly phone calls, and online theatre programmes. But they deeply missed the lifeline that Clean Break provides. It is so important to us all to be back in the building together and we are thrilled Keir could join us at this time.”
Photo credit: Olivia Chancellor
We had a number of strong applications, and both Kei and Esther showed such passion and commitment to pursuing a career in theatre and the arts, demonstrating clearly how this Award will support them with their next steps, that we decided to make them joint winners! We wish them all the best with their chosen studies and look forward to seeing them develop as artists with support from their mentors across the year.
Esther and Kei will both be taking up further education courses with the bursary, established to continue Helen’s profound belief that women with a criminal record, women facing discrimination, women living in poverty, and women with mental health needs or in recovery from addiction should have opportunities to become part of the theatre industry.
Esther said: “I feel so honoured to have been one of the first to be blessed with such an opportunity and I am very grateful to Clean Break for all their support with helping to nurture my talent and for standing by me through thick and thin. From the bottom of my heart I want to say a massive THANK YOU to Clean Break for choosing me to give the Helen Pringle Award to.”
Kei said: “Thank you Helen. Thank you Clean Break. I will receive the award with great appreciation, and make it as an opportunity for me to be able to shine.”
The award was judged by a panel of Clean Break staff and Helen’s daughter, Ashley:
“Clean Break was introduced to me through my mum and I am now so honoured to help introduce who she was to others. No words will ever describe how proud I am to be her daughter and of the work she did that was never just a job, but a passion she held. I know that she would want nothing more than for her legacy to be used to further advance and support other women.”
We hope that this will be the first of many opportunities for our Members to extend their creative practise and for Clean Break to support the next steps on their journey.
[BLANK] has been shortlisted for the James Tait Black Award for Drama 2020. The £10,000 prize is awarded to playwrights and celebrates new plays that demonstrate "an original theatrical voice and make a significant contribution to the art form". More than 80 entries were submitted for the 2020 award, the highest number of submissions since the award was established in 2012.
Clean Break and the Donmar Warehouse co-produced [BLANK] in Autumn 2019 to a sell-out run and rave reviews. Written by Alice Birch and directed by Maria Aberg the production was an experimental mosaic of 60 scenes of women and children effected by the criminal justice system. The scenes were selected from a compilation of 100 scenes illustrating fragments of the criminal justice system Alice Birch wrote after her time as resident writer with Clean Break. The offer to a director or production was to choose as many or as few scenes in order to construct their own narratives and make sense of the sprawling impact of the criminal justice system on the lives of women and children.
This year’s shortlist of 3 plays were all written by women. Also shortlisted is Yasmin Joseph, with her hit-play J’Ouvert which premiered last year at Theatre503 exploring the culture and politics of Notting Hill Carnival. Yasmin worked with Clean Break earlier this year when she created Inside This Box for the Young Artist Development Programme, which was then produced at the Clapham Omnibus and Arcola Theatres before a limited digital run in July.
The judging panel’s chair, Greg Walker, who is Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at Edinburgh, said: "This year’s astounding shortlist works with timely themes in exciting and fresh new ways. When considering the award, we ask our judges to nominate dramas that make them look at life a little differently, and this year’s James Tait Black nominees more than fit the bill in this challenging year.”
The winner will be announced in September, via an online ceremony.
Our building in Kentish Town is more than a collection of offices and studios. For our Members, staff and artists, it is a safe haven and the centre of a vital community. Many of our Members have been vocal about how much they miss being together at Clean Break. With knowledge of this and of the difference it will make to their mental health and overall wellbeing, we have been putting energy and resources into reopening our doors to ensure a safe welcome back for them. It is with great hope and optimism that we announce we will be opening the building (in a socially distanced manner) to commence a Members Programme of theatre making and support from mid-September.
Throughout the summer, we have been engaging with our Members and women attending women’s centres via an online Programme. We take some comfort in the fact that we have extended our reach through Zoom and Vimeo offers, delivered by our women artists, beyond what we have the capacity for in the building. However, we know that there is no substitute for human contact, laughing together in a real space and the offer of a shared meal. We also know and understand that not all our Members will be able to return safely or feel comfortable enough to do so, and will therefore, remain vulnerable and potentially isolated. And so, we will continue to offer online workshops alongside our activities in the building to ensure that no one is left behind. We will also be inviting new Members to get to know us before stepping inside our building by hosting online information sessions – dates will be announced soon.
We have been offered extraordinary support from our wider network of artists, Patrons and friends during lockdown. We want to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers who have worked on our Creative Buddy Scheme; to those of you who wrote messages of support to women in prison as part of WRITE 2 CONNECT; and to our phenomenal Patron Zawe Ashton and our friend Polly Frame who have both given hours of their time to mentor our young artists. Not to mention the brilliant Maxine Peake, who presented our BBC Radio 4 Charity Appeal in June and helped shine a light on the experiences of our Members and the vitality of our programme to many new listeners. And to our amazing funders and donors who have been flexible, generous and considerate during this period, we say a special thank you. The support has been overwhelming, particularly from ACE, National Lottery Community Fund and some of our loyal trusts and foundations. But the need for help continues as the pandemic brings new challenges to our Members, and our resolve to create life-changing theatre grows.
A few weeks ago we shared our response to the killing of George Floyd and also writings from our Members about the impact of racism on their lives. Since then we have facilitated a series of online conversations - Reflective Circles - where our Members have talked together about how they are impacted, what their experiences are at Clean Break and what they would like to see us doing moving forward. As part of a clear strategy to step up and be actively anti-racist across our programming and organisational structures, we are listening and implementing what we learn.
Amongst the things we had to cancel when lockdown started was our programme of workshops and training for those interested in our unique practice, developing new skills, and gaining a deeper understanding of our approach. We have reimagined these offers and will deliver courses online later this year. Watch this space for more details!
And what about our audiences? We miss you! We hope that some of you were able to catch INSIDE THIS BOX, our young artists production streamed online for one week in early July, brilliantly edited by our partners Eastside Film. We hope you have also caught up with the blogs by a few of the 24 artists on our 2 METRES APART project, who have been collaborating online and continuing to invest in what is so special about Clean Break - the alchemy of our Members and the women artists we work with. We look forward to sharing with you the legacy of these collaborations at a future point when we can enjoy live performance together again. To this end we are currently working hard to confirm new dates in 2021 for the rescheduling of TYPICAL GIRLS by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. This big, bold show with songs, co-produced with Sheffield and Soho Theatres was originally planned for this Autumn.
Changes have been immense for all of us since March 2020; included in this was bidding goodbye and thanks to our outgoing chair Kim Evans and a big welcome to our new Chair Alison Frater. As lockdown eases, and we begin to come together again in small ways – Clean Break continues to be here for our Members and all women who need us, our community.
We look forward to reimagining new ways that we can continue to amplify the voices and stories of those who are often unheard. The need for our work is as vital now as it has ever been.
Erin, Anna and Róisín