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