Students hoping to tackle stigma around homelessness in Leamington with play

The Way Ahead Project. Left to right: visitor Charlie, volunteer Ljupka Stojanovska, project worker Emma Bird and project manager Yvonne Mckinnon.
The Way Ahead Project. Left to right: visitor Charlie, volunteer Ljupka Stojanovska, project worker Emma Bird and project manager Yvonne Mckinnon.

Two students living in Leamington are hoping to tackle ignorance and stigma around homelessness in the town with their production.

Francesca Robson and Nicole De Barra, who are students at the University of Warwick, are directing a production called ‘Root’ which is being presented by Journey Theatre Company and Codpiece.

The cast of Root. Photo supplied.

The cast of Root. Photo supplied.

The pair are using the production to tackle the ignorance surrounding homelessness in Leamington as well as raising awareness about the issue and Leamington-based charity The Way Ahead Project.

They said: “We are students living in Leamington and walking down the Parade we couldn’t believe how many homeless people were on the street. It is so easy for students to be ignorant to it because we are here to study and can see it as a temporary home.

“We found out about The Way Ahead Project and we have started volunteering there and hope to go more and build a bigger connection with them.

“Root will be highlighting issues that are raised during our time working with individuals seeking advice or shelter at The Way Ahead Project.

“We want people to experience this production physically through things such as dance, physical movement and voice recordings.

“We want to create this at a level which can be articulated for people that struggle to understand these issues.

“It is such a big issue and people think ‘what can we do?’ and this is about making it tangible and physical so we can get through to our audience by penetrating the problem and explaining it and making people less ignorant to the issue.

“We also want to tackle the image of homeless people being dirty or drug users. They are human beings like us and we want people to be able to go ‘oh my God I have a tangible and equal ground with these people.”

Yvonne Mckinnon, project manager at The Way Ahead Project, said: “I think the production is a great idea and there seems to be a lot of different areas getting drama productions – including homelessness.

“Recently there was a production called Streets Apart in Stratford and it raised awareness especially for the homelessness issues in Stratford.

“When Francesca and Nicole come in they are going to be able to get involved with the service users themselves and hear their stories first hand and be able to tell them. This will hopefully help break the stigma of that notion people have towards homeless people of ‘just get a job’.

“I hope the production shows people in the community that they are just human beings like us going through a troubled time. They’ve got complex needs and a majority have a lot of issues.

“When you see these people first hand you see how different they are to just a ‘man on the street’. When you get to know the person for who they are there’s a lot more to it than ‘just get a job’ or ‘stop using drugs’ or ‘stop drinking’.

“There are lots of different categories of homelessness and this production will also help break the stigma of homelessness being just one idea. The production can only benefit people that don’t really understand the problem.”

Root will be performed at the University of Warwick on June 15, 16 and 17.

The Way Ahead Project

The Way Ahead Project in Leamington provides food, support and services for people who are homeless or vulnerable.

The service, which is based at the Salvation Army in Chapel Street, will be the one of the key focal points in the production Root and although tickets are free there will be a collection for the service at the performances.

The Way Ahead Project relies on donations and volunteers.

Yvonne McKinnon, project manager, said: “We are always looking for regular volunteers. We have found people are always looking to volunteer but they don’t realise how complex it is until you get here but people’s hearts are in the right place.

“You have got to be able to want to help and not expect anything in return because it can take someone years to change and take the first step.

“We help them build up their self esteem and self worth and it really can take years to break through those barriers.”

As well as needing regular volunteers the service currently needs laundry detergent and softener, tea and coffee, sweet cereals, cordial and biscuits.