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The First Five Years An Impact Study

by Rosie Crook, on behalf of Collective Encounters, December 2009

Contents Executive Summary

page 3

Introduction to Collective Encounters

page 5

The research process

page 6

Impact: the findings

page 8

Impact on individuals Impact on communities Impact on peers Impact on audiences

Challenges and changes: feedback from consultees

page 17


page 19

Appendix 1. References and Sources

page 20

Appendix 2. Full Transcripts of interviews and sessions

page 22

Executive Summary Background Collective Encounters is a small professional arts organisation based in north Liverpool, using theatre as a tool for social change and making new work for new audiences in new spaces. Delivering participatory programmes, professional work and engaging in practice as research. The company employs an Artistic Director (4/5), an Administrative Director (2/5), an Administrator (5/5), a Participatory Programme Manager (5/5), and freelance artists and supports staff as required. Collective Encounters was established in March 2004 and is both a registered charity and a company limited by guaranteed. In 2008 it was made an Arts Council Regularly Funded Organisation, but still enables most of its work through project funding. Its turn over has increased from £50k in its first year to £240k in 2007/08. In 2009 Collective Encounters secured Arts Council Grants for the Arts funding to undertake an impact study of the company’s work over the past 5 years. They commissioned me, Rosie Crook, as an independent researcher to conduct the research and compile a final report.

The Impact Study This study is a detailed review of five years of Collective Encounters’ activity, achieved by interviewing 77 consultees1, and examining evaluation data and audience feedback. Using an Evaluation Framework based on a review of arts evaluation literature2 and on the particular qualities of Collective Encounters as a company, I set out to discover: • • • •

Has Collective Encounters cumulatively had any impact on individuals and their communities, and if so, what? Where else has their influence been felt? What might they do better or differently? What, if anything, makes them special or unique?

Summary of Findings Out of the 59 past participants, current participants, artists/practitioners and audience members questioned - a total of 56 people or 94% - felt that Collective Encounters had had some personal impact on them: • • • •

65% of those consulted (including all of the Youth Theatre members, some past participants, some placement students and members of the Homeless group) felt that their self confidence, sense of self worth, and sense of who they are had significantly increased. 77% said they had had new experiences and learned new things 63% said they had met people they would never normally have spoken to and broken social and `tribal’ barriers based on district, clothing, appearance or age For the homeless group, taking part in sessions had meant being diverted from problems and addictions for a few hours, doing something enjoyable which affirmed them and which offered a “safe haven”.


A full list of consultees can be found in Appendix 2, full transcripts are available on request from Collective Encounters.


See References and Sources in Appendix 1

• • • • •

Third Age Theatre members identified: changing ideas about young people; expressing creativity they didn’t know they had; rekindling or starting an interest in theatre and drama; meeting people across area boundaries; learning; doing something that mattered because of its subject – becoming community activists. Having fun was a significant part of the experience: it emerged in all consultations with current and past participants and from all but 1 audience member. The humour and professionalism of the drama produced was mentioned by most audience members and community partners. All Community partners found a sense of shared values with Collective Encounters and valued its commitment to North Liverpool; its integrity; the solidarity it displayed towards their organisations and the benefits gained by their participants. Some participants had felt they had improved their work prospects or learning. Arts practitioners mentioned the professional and freelance employment offered; the chance to develop their practice and the inspiration of working with the communities.

Direct evidence of community change was harder to prove: this is likely to be felt by the effect of each person upon their own small area, whether school, community centre, or homeless shelter, in circles of influence. These circles are traceable from individuals. Some people had become active in their school or community – in some cases they had taken up someone else’s cause because of the contacts made in Collective Encounters. Other people felt that their increased personal self confidence had led to them speaking up about community and political issues: this was particularly the case with the Youth Theatre. Commitment to North Liverpool was mentioned by 66% of all respondents and was particularly valued by stakeholders, partners and peers –100% of them felt that it should not lose its roots in the district, although opinions were divided about whether it should also work in the whole city, city region or nationally. The approach of tackling issues that come from the community was seen as in itself transformative: community partners also see Collective Encounters as not infected by cynicism or short termism. Collective Encounters wears its values very much on its sleeve: partners appreciated this honesty. Peers were able to identify the company as part of the critical mass of arts activity in Liverpool and all peers stated that they felt the company should be better known and supported. Collective Encounters’ position in the consciousness of those involved in north Liverpool makes it clear that it has had a significant impact upon those communities as a whole as well as upon the many participants and observers who contributed to this study.

Introduction to Collective Encounters Activity Collective Encounters has three core strands of activity: it develops participatory projects with local people, creates professional work which tackles pressing social and political concerns and contributes through research to the wider field of theatre for social change. It was established in 2004 by founding Artistic Director Sarah Thornton. While the company was made an Arts Council Regularly Funded Organisation in 2008, the bulk of its funding has always been through project grants. The past three years work has been supported by: Big Lottery Young People's Fund, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Tudor Trust and Arts Council North West's Grants for the Arts, as well as smaller one-off grants from Liverpool City Council/Culture Company. Collective Encounters provides a regular programme of participatory work for three distinct groups: a Third Age Theatre, a Youth Theatre; and a theatre group for homeless people; and runs outreach projects in addition to this. It has an office base at Liverpool Hope University’s Everton campus and regular workshop spaces at both the Cornerstone Theatre on that campus, and at the League of Welldoers centre in Limekiln Lane, Vauxhall. Performances are staged in non-traditional settings: often community buildings, outdoor public spaces or site-specific spaces: part of Collective Encounters’ ethos is to take derelict or run down sites – in one case a street of boarded up houses, in another an old mill – and transform them into full theatre venues with lights, scenery, illusion and magic. This transformative effect is both a practical example and a metaphor for the role theatre – and the empowerment it can bring - can play in the lives of individuals and communities.

People Collective Encounters is led by Artistic Director Sarah Thornton and Administrative Director, Annette Burghes; working with an enthusiastic Board of trustees who include community partners and peers. Sarah and Annette both have fractional posts. Other staffing is project dependent: the company currently employs a full time Administrator and a full time Participatory Programme Manager. These are not high levels of staffing - but Collective Encounters is adept at developing and mentoring staff the staff it has, and at recruiting and working with freelancers in all theatre fields. It acts as a significant career opportunity for students of Theatre Studies and for young professionals, mixing with writers, actors and technicians of high standing. It has employed 151 professional arts workers over the past 5 years and provided work placements for 89 students and volunteers.

Collective Encounters is represented by energetic, warm and ethical people who build high quality relationships with the people they work with. This was one of the most consistent findings of the Study and it is a major factor in how they are regarded and the influence they have.

Values and ethical practice Collective Encounters works on the basis of sharing values with its participants: the people who are involved are instrumental in developing the show; collaboration is the process used and professional input comes on the basis of participant approval. In its professional work, a similar collaborative approach is taken to developing new work. As an organisation, Collective Encounters sets high standards of probity; it deals with people openly; permission is sought for use of people’s views and testimony; there are formal contracts and agreements for placements and professional services; the organisation has the right policies and procedures to protect vulnerable people and is explicit about its research methods and ethics. Again this emerges in testimony over and over again. These values are vital in building trust with its partners, participants and audiences.

The Research Process The Evaluation Framework Each show and project, over the five years, has been separately evaluated. However there has been to date no evaluation of the company’s overall impact on its community, its participants, its audience members, its stakeholders and community partners and its artistic peers. 77 consultees across those categories were consulted for this study, using an evaluation framework based on current thinking about the arts and social impact, and following a literature review, the Impact Study asked these questions: •

What personal impacts has Collective Encounters had on the confidence, self worth, self definition and empowerment of its participants and audiences?

What is the artistic quality of what is produced, as judged by peers?

Does Collective Encounters share ethical values with its partners and participants?

What intrinsic values and benefits are demonstrable including to professional artists?

How does Collective Encounters network and build partnerships?

How rooted is it in its community?

Methodology Based on these questions, in consultation with Collective Encounters, I developed a methodology appropriate for each group of consultees. Collective Encounters staff used energy and imagination to contact potential consultees from their database of audience members and participants. Contacting people via Facebook, mobile, through friends and via letters and emails led to a very high response rate – out of 90 potential contacts, 77 were interviewed. These included: 44 current participants and their families, 8 past participants, 7 audience members, 8 stakeholders recruited from amongst community partners, funders and Board members, 2 staff, 5 artists/practitioners/placements and 4 artistic peers.3 In each case, the Framework generated a list of points to be covered. Depending on the nature of the consultee, the evaluator carried out: •

groups of current participants were surveyed using the best more practical methods (including a series of theatre games and a `Me Before and After CE’ collage activity for the Youth Theatre; a filmed discussion with the 3rd Age Theatre, and an end of session circle discussion with the Whitechapel Group of homeless people). The aim with all of these group events was to respect the comfort zones of the people being consulted, some of whom are very vulnerable.

face to face or telephone interviews (and one or two email interviews) with the other consultees.

This was a labour intensive process but led to much deeper and richer responses than simply mailing questionnaires, and was much more in keeping with Collective Encounters’ approach to creative consultation and evaluation. Clearly this has been a largely qualitative study; however, talking to audience members and past participants for the last five years does attempt to give some of the longitudinal data which is often lacking. It also allows an overview of artistic development over the period and an idea of the impact upon professional careers, employment and practice.


A full list of consultees can be found in Appendix 2, full transcripts are available on request from Collective Encounters.

Impact: the findings Impacts on individuals 1

Personal growth and confidence

One of the most universal replies in the study about the impact of being involved with Collective Encounters was that people felt their self confidence grew. 40 people (or 65%) referenced this, ranging from the Youth Theatre and homeless group where every member mentioned it, to the 3rd Age group and past participants. Ways in which people felt their self confidence had developed include: •

Doing something new (and public) In most cases this means an activity beyond the person’s comfort zone, which they themselves attribute to their contact with Collective Encounters. As well as the expected – performing, acting, improvising, speaking up in public – people identify subtle new skills. For example, being able to cook, talking to people from a different generation or district, writing a piece of theatre that is personal, were all cited by consultees as developmental experiences. For audience members, an example of impact is the amount of dialogue and the details of the play which people remembered – two, three or even five years previously. The importance of these experiences is that they allow people to reinvent and redefine themselves and to not be circumscribed by what they are now or are perceived to be. In that sense, they are genuinely empowering events. • • • • • • •

I had to do a monologue! I’ve never done a monologue...(3AT Al) Mine [monologue] was rather personal and I did wonder if I’d do it but it was all right (3AT J) The House of Lords debate [example of something important they had done with CE] (YT) Started college (YT A) Can now cook (YT K) Learning new drama techniques (YT) Doing acting and performing (YT)

The same effect applied to the emerging professionals whom Collective Encounters has mentored whether staff, freelance artists or student placements. People could list specific skills they had learned: • •

I hadn’t worked with a group by myself before. (Artist LS) It’s had a professional impact on me – two months’ employment that has built up my network in the NW, shown me how to apply for funding and manage budgets, given me a knowledge of how companies work – all really useful for my current self employment. (Artist NS)

Acquiring new skills can develop self confidence, can contribute incrementally to the peer group or home community, and can reinforce or change career and life choices. There is also clearly an impact upon the professional freelance arts network and especially a mentoring and development effect upon young people entering the theatre and drama professions. • • •

I’m learning a lot all the time: I’ve been really fortunate to go on training which will be professionally useful. (Staff member AM)) It’s been a safe place to trial the different careers in theatre – facilitation, direction, admin. They let people go and develop, let people play. It’s completely opened doors to other jobs and to future employment. (Staff member FT) It opened a lot more doors to me opened my eyes more – I can help other kids to get over their problems. (Past Participant PG)

A stronger sense of self, reinforcement of personality. This is particularly noticeable and important in the young people who are at the stage where self esteem is fragile and peer pressure at school and in the community is highest. The Youth Theatre members were quite clear about the connection between their involvement with Collective Encounters and their newly developed senses of self awareness. Of course, a certain amount of that development may be natural to the growing process anyway – one would hope that a 16 year old would feel more self confident than they did at 14 – but the point about the Youth Theatre is that it offered a safe place to work out their issues– without judgement or patronisation. Stepping outside the dominant and normative cultures of school and community, young people attending a Collective Encounters’ Youth Theatre session can literally `act out’ without fear. • • • •

I know who I am! Clumsy, bad jokes, bubbly (YT E) If you don’t like me that is not my fault (YT C) Size Doesn’t Matter – I’m happy with who I am (YT A) A stronger person. Less bitchy. More considerate. More aware. Less naive. (YT T)

Self expression, creativity and safety. Interestingly, this was seen by many participants as a complete end in itself, in a context where people have often missed out on opportunities to engage with the arts and to express themselves. These opportunities are rarely available to people from the marginalised parts of communities – the very young, the older, the homeless. For members of the homeless group, self expression was next in importance to creating a safe place, (their highest rated benefit of the group). The context of their lives is difficult and stressful, with a public existence that is scrutinised and disapproved of and often criminalised, and the playfulness and self expression – especially under experienced facilitation - was hugely beneficial. It also acted as a diversionary activity for people with dependency problems – and as a safe environment for the very vulnerable women in the

centre. The theatre sessions allowed people to make relationships with each other away from the context and pressure of the street. Some of their comments which reveal the specific needs of this group and the sensitivities included: • • • • • • • • •

The space is important, it’s safe, there’s nobody watching it [You can] speak to people you normally see but not speak to Being part of the community It’s self expression – there’s more room for that here This is my safe haven – I don’t want to go to another group – it takes time to open up It’s OUR group, our connection People can come and talk here You start expressing yourself in a way that you wouldn’t think This is part of our programme on building self esteem and diversion from substances and the client group were desperate to do it again. They think they’re John Wayne reincarnated! We had one chap who played a female Street Worker in drag – and he was really proud of himself. It makes them feel really good about themselves – people are very low and this gives confidence. Just an hour away from the drink or the substance is really significant. (Community partner Whitechapel group, PB).

Other views on creativity, self-expression and safety from participants: • • • •


You start expressing yourself in a way you wouldn’t think (Past participant BB) We felt silly because of the things we were being asked to do – like being given a scarf and it had to be something else. We felt a bit daft but we got into it very soon. (3AT A) It’s your way of expressing how you feel about your life – it helps you deal with issues. (Past Participant PG) We were learning from each other. The experts are the participants. (Past participant TB)

Interest in the arts and theatre

This is a key interest for arts organisations. It is part of their audience development armoury: developing an interest in accessing the arts benefits the sector in general not just the organisation in particular. Older participants talked about the attitude to theatre going which they grew up with •

When I was 25 the idea of being involved in theatre or that sort of thing wasn’t thought of. My class of people thought you had to be university educated to do that (Past Participant JM).

The attitude is still prevalent for the younger generation, according to this testimony from a community partner working with young people. This is worth quoting in full because of its articulation of an important and regular finding: •

There is a worry about going to the theatre – how people might perceive you, it’s not the `done ’thing. People feel awkward in a main theatre – it’s a huge barrier. They worry about how to react, whether they’re going to clap in the wrong place. Previous trips to the theatre were not successful for the young people; it was mostly their parents that came…With most theatre [outreach]what you get is the `bits round the edges’ of the production or they offer you some tickets. This played to packed houses… The impact was; at the time, just lots of enjoyment, things like the lights, the costumes. They could relate to the subject, the issues - even the younger ones. Later, some went on to be involved further [in drama and theatre] even to the extent

of doing a project with LIPA [Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts] in two cases. (Community partner, venue manager for show, EB) This consultee identifies some of the elements of success which are mentioned by others: professional standards, lighting, costume – a `proper’ theatre experience in a community based, safe feeling venue; issues and subject matter that people in the community really care about. These elements are mentioned over and over again in the consultation as being a vital part of Collective Encounters’ success. All the current and past participants interviewed, whatever their family history in regard to theatre, identified themselves as actors, even if only occasional ones. The 3rd Age Theatre members constantly called themselves Thespians with pride and pleasure. The Whitechapel Group members talked about “people who come here are serious about the drama” and the Youth Theatre described how their skills and their nerves had improved. Given the endemic prejudices against theatre in some communities as described above, to have 44 committed ambassadors for the art form within those communities is no small thing. • •


I wouldn’t have dreamt to go and see Hamlet in St George’s Hall before this – it rekindled my interest in theatre (3rd age participant – BB) Going to Edinburgh [attending the Festival – cited by many as the most important or most fun thing they had done with Collective Encounters] (Youth Theatre members)


A number of participants said that the issues they were involved with in Collective Encounters were of great importance to them. For older participants this tended to be that the drama reflected and reinforced existing views • •

It was a thorough reinforcement of what your beliefs are – it reminded you of the struggles ordinary people have gone through. (Past Participant TB) The first one we did – Liverpool Saga – we wanted the youth in the community to see that...because the children of today think everything around them, it’s always been like that. They don’t realise that people struggled, died and fought for what they’ve got today...the message we wanted to send out is that they’ve got to keep on fighting and campaigning otherwise they’ll lose it(3rd Age Theatre participant A)

Audience members also responded to the subject matter: •

It’s about stuff that addresses your community( Audience Member CW)

The story – it related to things that had gone on in your life (Audience member RP)


Evidence of change

This is anecdotal but has clearly happened amongst young participants in particular. For example the parent of a Youth Theatre member felt that •

It’s given her the confidence to stand up and say her opinion and do something about it. (Parent of YT member AS)

Youth Theatre members picked up on issues from their inter-generational projects too: •

Some of the younger people [from the Youth Theatre] have been to a Pensions Rally in Manchester with us as a result of being in the play.( Past participant TB)

Finally, young people who were on placement with Collective Encounters may have already shared some of the views portrayed in the dramas, but the process of engagement with the communities was clearly one of politicization: • •

I had lived in Liverpool for 7 years and thought I knew it but to go into these communities was very powerful.(Past participant/placement CS) I was a bit closed minded about community life in Liverpool –I’d always known people who were not just students but this let me see the heart of are seeing how what is happening in the city affects the people who live there. (Past participant/placement KK)

Impacts on communities 1

Circles of Influence and Community Change •

Art doesn’t change communities. Art changes people and people change communities. (Peer KM)

Self confidence within communities leads to action: people start to raise their aspirations and see themselves differently. It is very hard to identify evidence of mass movements in a community – but it is clear that the energised individuals described above must have an impact on their peers and their surroundings. This can be described as circles of influence: participants and audience members describe their increased interest and engagement in the issues behind the drama: each of them has a locale in which their changed awareness can be felt; each person affected has the potential to affect others and incrementally involve the specific communities in which they operate. • •

There is a collective difference from individual actions – but it has to be long term, sustainable. Trusted relationships are essential. (Community Partner JC and AR) They pick up subjects that are important to the people because they have been here long enough. Their desire for change means that they are more interesting. What I value most about them is that they are positive in their response to the demand for consistency, sticking with the community and being committed. (Stakeholder/community partner RL)

There is a further impact with the use and transformation of community spaces by Collective Encounters. Bringing artists into the heart of a community: •

Just having them [CE] here has a really good effect. People using the Centre feel part of it – they hear the music, they see rehearsals. It breaks down the barrier to theatre – people wouldn’t have gone otherwise. (Community partner LB)

Whilst creating the spectacular stage sets in the derelict buildings or boarded up street presents a striking example of transformation: • The set up was amazing [Smoke and Mirrors] – walking into the Mill was incredible especially for Centre members who’d worked on the docks.(Community Partner and Audience Member LB).

• Smoke and Mirrors had phenomenal production values. The Mill was one of the most professional site specific performances I’ve seen. (Stakeholder ACE officer RH) • The lighting was really good. The rig was perfect...every time my colleague and I see the building, where it was set, we say “ Do you remember?...” (Audience Member RS)


Solidarity with community organisations

This is a significant part of Collective Encounters’ effect. Community partners described with approval some shared values with Collective Encounters: they use community venues for their activities which boosts and supports those venues; they share an ethos of lack of cynicism and commitment to the area; they deliver on their promises and they treat the participants who come from the centre with respect and warmth. The quality of relationships built not only by the big productions but also by the weekly rehearsals and contact with Collective Encounters’ facilitators and project managers is a large part of the respect in which the organisation is held. • •


I liked the way Collective Encounters understands communities and has empathy with them. They are always led by community needs not arts organisation cynicism.(Community Partner and Board member MH) They are opening up a different experience of theatre. It is a multi layered experience for our students – the parents can then become involved and it enables the teacher to have a different relationship with the student – be able to transcend teacher status and get 100% support from the children and their parents. They provide a real opportunity for children regardless of gender, ethnicity or social situation to participate in high quality theatre. (Community Partner and teacher CS)

Breaking down barriers

Because of the way Collective Encounters works, it is practically impossible for people to get involved in any project without meeting and encountering people who are widely different from themselves. In some projects, such as (dis)connected, this is formalised into a piece which explores inter-generational stereotypes. In the ongoing participatory projects, people are working all the time in a protected atmosphere but that does not mean that there aren’t initially suspicions and there are often tensions which have to be resolved. Collective Encounters deals with this by the quality of the facilitation and the ethos of valuing all people and contributions equally. Some of the barriers mentioned by participants as having been broken down; • • • • • • • • • •

Young people and people of the 3rd Age People from another district Kids who dress differently and look `posh’ Kids who are straight and kids who are gay Students and resident permanent communities Theatrical amateurs and professionals Audiences and performers Writers and improvisers Experts and participants Pupils, teachers and parents

Community organisations and arts organisations

The nature of Collective Encounters’ practice is such that being involved in its drama making processes has the effect of getting people to work and experience beyond their own niche. One experience stands for many: •

When we first met up I immediately went to the woman who was my age but Fiona put us in a circle and we were playing silly games...when you laugh together it breaks the ice – and after a couple of weeks we’d be walking up the road together with the young people. It really opened a door for me – it was nice to reconnect with young people. (Past participant LW)

Again this is incremental work – and is massively important in healing broken communities.

Impacts on Peers 1.

Other organisations: Participation and Collaboration

This part of the consultation elicited less clear-cut results. There are some good and abiding partnerships, such as that with First Take productions, who feel they share an ethos with Collective Encounters and have collaborated to a small degree and shared participants, but would love to develop joint projects together. The company is also apparently highly regarded by LARC and SMAC –consortia of arts organisations working in Liverpool. There seems some confusion however over exactly the role and positioning of Collective Encounters in the Liverpool arts setting: • • • •

In North Liverpool their peers see them as the main game in town. They would struggle to work beyond the city because of capacity reasons – unless they develop a partnership with a bigger organisation. (Stakeholder/ACE officer RH) It’s important for the people of North Liverpool that CE is included in all groups. They have an important role in the networking process – over the next 5 years the people who have been `out there’ in partnership and collaboratively will be in a really good position. (Peer AO) It would be good to see richer and more open manoeuvring between arts organisations over a 5 or 10 year period. (Stakeholder/funder RM). Building stronger communities is their key area. They have a role in providing high quality artwork on the back of Capital of Culture and in representing the community of Liverpool – its edginess, uniqueness, individuality. Their process of group authorship is really important – giving people control and responsibility.(Peer JF)

If one measurement of impact is the ability to network, Collective Encounters is proving very successful with some provisos: most peers and some stakeholders felt that a deeper relationship should be sought with the City Council and one or two peers wanted more networking and positioning with their organisations and CE.


Growing professional standards and practice

Collective Encounters employs professional artists on both its professional and participatory programmes. In professional work artists have functioned as researchers, co-creators and

performers. On participatory projects they are there as a conduit for the ideas of others, to help draw them out and shape them into something beautiful, exciting and engaging. Collective Encounters has employed 120 arts professionals and provided placement opportunities to 89 students and volunteers. Where ever possible Collective Encounters uses Liverpool and North West based artists: many of these already have a national reputation and Collective Encounters offers interesting and unusual work opportunities to enable them to innovate and explore. • •

Creatives can have a good journey with Collective Encounters if they understand their ethos. They’re popular – people are keen to work with them. (Artist/peer NB) We enjoy working with them and welcome any future collaboration. We have a shared approach. (Peer/Artist JF)

The company is also committed to providing exciting employment opportunities to emerging artists to increase the skills base in the region; and their role in developing career opportunities for young professionals was acknowledged by many consultees (see Impacts on Individuals above). Several of the young professionals who had worked on Collective Encounters’ projects felt they had had a life changing experience which gave them a deeper understanding of the city: •


Working on Harmony Suite was an eye opening experience. I’d lived in Liverpool for 7 years and thought I knew it but to go into those communities, those streets of boarded up houses, was very powerful. When I meet Scousers now I feel like they realise I have had a genuine insight into the community and an understanding of its problems and issues.(Past Participant CS). I was a bit closed minded about community life in Liverpool – you don’t want to just see other students you want to see the heart of Liverpool. This opened my eyes - it was the reason why I fell in love with the place and stayed. I was seeing how what is happening in the city affects the people who live there. (Past participant KK).

Artistic quality

As mentioned above (Impacts on Individuals; Impact on Communities) the excellent quality of Collective Encounters’ work is vital to consultees; as are the trappings of theatre (with an emphasis on high quality production values) that it takes into communities. The vast majority of consultees thought the artistic quality of both performances and workshops was excellent. This is very important to Collective Encounters, as the company prides itself on achieving a balance of both quality process and product. As mentioned above, both professional and participatory shows are resourced by professional artists and these have included: actors/singers, writers, composers, musicians, creative consultants, choreographers, dancers, designers, visual artists, film makers, multi-media artists, sound and lighting designers. Comments on artistic quality: production, direction and freelance artists: • • • •

They are full of integrity and bags of artistic quality (Stakeholder/funder RH) The sense of theatre is always maintained; it’s `pure theatre’ not just issues. CE never lose track of the sense of theatre. (Stakeholder and Community partner CS) Sarah is a brilliant director – outstanding. I love the fact that she takes rundown buildings and transforms them. (Artist BF) They have a talented pool of writers and musicians : great contacts. They have the higher end quality of contacts in Liverpool. People appreciate what they are trying to do because it

is valuable and not just entertainment. They are highly committed to taking theatre to people who don’t know that they want to see it! It’s not just box ticking.( Peer TL) Quality of facilitation and staff: Collective Encounters’ facilitators are valued for their energy, empathy, observation and ability to think on their feet in a session: • •

Fiona is fantastic. I saw the young people having lots of fun because of Fiona’s approach and personality, having fun and acting the goat along with them. (Stakeholder/community partner TF) The quality of the project was great because of Abi – she made people feel at ease got them to gel and take part in teamwork. She seemed to be very aware of their issues and needsshe diffused some of the `banter’ – did an icebreaker ,stopped it getting out of hand. (Stakeholder/Community partner PB, Whitechapel Group)

Quality generated by the company’s ethos: • All members of the company have a strong drive and determination for the company’s work to succeed and have so much consideration for the people they work with and perform to. (Stakeholder/Board member JW) One or two consultees were able to trace a development over the five years, commenting that earlier productions were not always as confident as later ones; and that more ambitious projects were clearly more challenging than the more straightforward ones. One past artist articulated some of the complexities inherent in making Collective Encounters’ professional work: •

In the early pieces we were trying to square the `process versus product` circle. You are also trying to create something that celebrated communities as well as acknowledging change and recognising both sides of this issue – the older generations sometimes have a rose tinted view of old Liverpool but you are building long term relationships with the community so you must be diplomatic (Artist NK)

Overall it was felt that the fact that Collective Encounters conceived and staged such ambitious projects was a very positive feature of the organisation, and was testament to the quality of the Artistic Director.

Impacts on Audiences While only 7 consultees were audience members with no other involvement with the company, many of the other consultees had seen one or more of Collective Encounters’ shows and discussed their experience as an audience member. 5 audience members had seen a Collective Encounters show for the first time and were not `regulars’ at this type of theatre. All bar one audience member mentioned the professionalism and high quality of the productions, but the main feedback was a sense of identification with the subject matter. This is one of the main areas of Collective Encounters’ impact. Recognition was a common reaction: people talked about feeling that their lives were unfolding on stage. This empowered the audience members to the extent that they could be responsive and interact with the performers – a crucial element of each performance. •

The kids’ participation was the amazing thing – the kids had noticed the issues and also come up with the solution [My Perfect Place].(Audience Member CW)

• • •

Opinions are constantly sought from the audience – it can change the drama and it’s really empowering. (Audience Member LB) You felt you were getting into another place and time...they were quite political but I didn’t expect so much humour. (Audience Member AL) It related to things that had gone on in your life. You felt part of the play because it was in the street and you’re in the street with it. It represents `proper people’.(Audience member RP)

As with participants, because of the nature of the audience, they in themselves act as ambassadors and conduits of the impact of the drama upon their communities. It was interesting to note how much detail audience members could remember about the earliest productions – five years after they saw them. The strong visual element of the productions, the transformation of the setting in which they are staged, the humour and the familiar storylines are mentioned repeatedly as being the reason for the production sticking in the mind.

Challenges and Changes: feedback from consultees. All consultees were asked a question along the lines of “What could Collective Encounters do better or differently?” For stakeholders, funders and Board members this became about the future business planning for the organisation; for participants, artists and audience members it related more closely to practice. The majority of responses were that little or nothing should change. However some people had opinions about Collective Encounters’ future priorities and practices.

Sustainability This was raised by three stakeholders/funders and two peers. Not unusually amongst smaller arts organisations, Collective Encounters is very dependent upon the leadership and clear vision of the Artistic Director. This is both a strength – in that it gives clarity and focus – and a potential concern to some. There was a worry that the combination of the demands on a key person, with the usual concerns about the economic stability of an organisation that has to depend heavily on project funding, could make the organisation vulnerable. One consultee, describing Collective Encounters as “very well run by experienced people” still felt that they needed “a better, more permanent home - more office presence and more presence in the area [Liverpool]”(Stakeholder/funder RH) Another, in praising their “range and depth of field” also felt that Collective Encounters “needs a core and stable organisation. At the moment, its finances mean that there are not opportunities for commissions, big launches, repeat fees, royalties , etc” ( Peer NB)

Another felt that CE might struggle with “the capacity to do different things. They are very successful at fundraising but their capacity is linked so crucially to funding.” (Stakeholder/Board member ME) Three peer/stakeholder consultees felt that Collective Encounters should seek a long term partnership with another organisation: 2 of these felt that a university was a good choice, the other thought it should be a similar theatre company. The aim of such a partnership would be to build capacity and broaden influence.

Capacity Capacity was also identified as one of the reasons Collective Encounters was not well known in the local authority despite having run a very highly praised consultation for them. Others thought the issue was more complex than just not having enough people or enough time - it was more about finding the right people to approach. None of these points will be news to Collective Encounters! It was clear, however, that there is a lot of desire to see the organisation become sustainable, based on a great respect for what it does and a desire to see it continue. There were a number of comments about the high quality of Collective Encounters’ staff and the ability the organisation has to develop and mentor them and the need for this kind of succession planning to continue.

Commercial opportunities Two stakeholders/peers mentioned the potential for spinoffs or commercial products arising from Collective Encounters. Ideas included guest and conference presentations by Sarah: •

“They have an excellent cultural commentator in Sarah: the creative expression of her findings would be good to see.” (Peer NB)

Other commercial products might be: • •

“The participatory work; classic touring shows like the Blood Brothers model - but they would need clarity about the artistic vision of that and you would have to think – how do you sustain the ethos?” (Peer NB) They should go into schools as much as possible – but don’t go down the Theatre in Education route- always use lights, keep the professionalism!(Stakeholder/Community Partner CS)

Marketing and visibility In one or two cases the amount of marketing done was questioned - mostly in terms of the perceived visibility of the company generally. This comment came from one or two stakeholders and from participants in the 3rd Age Theatre and one audience member who all felt that the work

they had seen or hosted merited a wider audience. Two peers mentioned it as well in the context of Collective Encounters delivering a product which was not well known enough for its quality especially in the context of arts organisations in the city. The general sense given was that productions deserved more showings and bigger audiences and that awareness of Collective Encounters both across other communities outside North Liverpool and within the City Council could usefully be raised. Another peer felt that they should look at the design of posters and flyers •

“Take some public and audience views – do the posters and flyers represent what is shown, give an accurate picture of the show? For example there’s often a lot of humour but the posters look very serious and if you’ve got an audience that doesn’t see much theatre they might be put off...” (Peer TL)

Conclusion The research identifies clear areas of impact attributable to Collective Encounters: •

Personal development: growth in confidence, skills and experience in individuals

Interest in the arts: increased interest in accessing theatre from both individuals and groups

Community cohesion: breaking down barriers between sections of the community

Politicisation and communal confidence in taking action caused by the collective impact of personal journeys

Support and growth to professional arts practice by the direct provision of employment and opportunities for artists

Artistic achievement in the provision of high quality and innovative theatre productions and site specific works

Providing a research and evidence base for theatre for social change

Enrichment of the cultural scene within Liverpool in general and North Liverpool in particular

Appendix 1: Bibliography – informing the research The following texts were used to identify key simple points about impact: for example, what defines a good arts organisation in terms of impact, artistic quality, personal and communal development? This gave a shortlist of criteria which were used to measure Collective Encounters against and allowed us to identify where we might interrogate the evidence with these indicators in mind. This is the list of criteria used: •

Local relevance and local distinctiveness - sense of place: how much is the work rooted in Liverpool and North Liverpool?

Arts context - how does the organisation network with cultural organisations and where does it stand in the peer group?

Access and participation – how inclusive is it? How is work devised and how genuinely participative is the process?

Economic impact – does it create opportunities for practising artists and those in training?

Intrinsic value/artistic quality – what is the assessment of artistic quality and quality in general of both the participatory and professional work?

Arts engagement – how successful is it in encouraging engagement with the arts and theatre in particular?

Partnership – how well does it work in partnership and how far does it share values and ethics with its partners?

Impact: personal – what personal impact does it have (personal and social life, confidence, self esteem, etc)?

Impact: civic or communal – what communal impact does it have (community impact, politicization, empowerment, community cohesion)?

Governance and future: where might it go and what else might it do?

The Texts: •

Liverpool First – Cultural Strategy 2008

Liverpool City Council Local Area Agreement 2008-10

Arts Council of England What People Want from the Arts March 2008

Sir Brian McMaster Supporting Excellence in the Arts: From Measurement to Judgment, January 2008

Francois Matarasso Use or ornament? The social impact of participation in the arts Comedia 1997

Arts Council of England Arts Audiences : Insight 2008

Arts Council of England Encourage children today to build audiences for tomorrow

Arts Council From indifference to enthusiasm: patterns of arts attendance in England April 2008

Dr Bill McDonnell and Prof Dominic Shellard Social Impact Study of UK Theatre ACE/University of Sheffield 2006

John Holden Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy, Demos 2006

Appendix 2: Consultees The consultees are arranged in the categories in which people were interviewed which reflect their main type of contact with the company. Many people have more than one relationship with Collective Encounters of course – for example many past participants have also been audience members. The researcher would like to express huge thanks to the interviewees for their frankness, enthusiasm and patience. For copies of the transcripts please contact Collective Encounters on 0151 291 3887 or

Current Participants •

Homeless group: 24 members

3rd Age Theatre, current members: Ann, Margaret, Alma, Joan

Youth Theatre, current members: Emma, Chelsea, Omar, Amber, Chelsea B, Sammy, Danny, Kayleigh, Sarah, Matty, Adam, Tommy, unknown member

Parents of Amber and Adam (June)

Alison Smith (parent of Samantha)

Past Participants and placement students •

Lindy Warburton

Barbara Billington

Philippa Goodwin

Kelly King

John McGurick

Dolly Lloyd

Tom Best

Lucy Senior

Audience Members •

Robert Shannon

Colly Whitty

Lucy Brown

Eddie Bowman

Aisling Lyne (also artist/peer)

Robbie Pyke

Elizabeth Gris

Stakeholders/Community partners/Board members •

Pauline Bayson

Julie Walker (Board)

Maria Hornsby(Board)

Jane Corbett

Anne Roach

Bill Chambers (Chair of Board)

Roger Morris (funder)

Carmel Shields

Tony Forshaw

Adeyinka Olushonde

Ruth Little

Leslie Black

Richard Hall (funder)

Mike Eccles (Board)

Peers and artists •

Nick Birkinshaw

Kathy McArdle

Jane Farley

Tim Lynsky

Nick Kelly

Bob Farquhar

Natasha Seldon

Anarosa De Eizaguirre

Chris Shelley

Staff •

Anna Maxwell

Fiona Thompson

Collective Encounters: An Impact Study  

A study of the impact Collective Encounters' work has had on an individual level.