Greater Manchester Legislative Theatre Update

Greater Manchester Homelessness Action Network (GMHAN) has co-produced GM Homelessness Prevention Strategy in 2020 and beyond, using a creative and participatory policy-making strategy called Legislative Theatre. This community-led process is the result of a collaborative effort by the GMHAN, Street Support Network (leading on comms) and funded and co-designed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s homelessness team. The Homelessness Prevention Strategy will encompass the coming 5 years, as well as more immediate policy actions post-covid

The process has been designed and led by a cohort of facilitators-in-training, who bring wide-ranging experience with the arts, organising and leadership, and who have been directly impacted by homelessness and housing insecurity. 

Back in July 2020, residents from all 10 boroughs who have experienced homelessness, as well as council staff and service providers, came together to create 3 original plays based on their experiences. These 3 plays focused on multiple disadvantage and multiple complex needs; funding and commissioning; and structural racism in homelessness services across: issue areas currently identified as priorities within the GMHAN.

In Autumn and Winter 2020, public legislative theatre events became open to everyone. Audiences – made up of people with experience of homelessness, frontline support staff, GMCA officers and elected officials, advocates, and neighbours – were invited to improvise alternative responses to these systemic problems onstage. During the events, these ideas were collaboratively developed into specific and feasible policy proposals. Following debate and amendments, the proposals were ready for a community vote. Finally, the GMCA carried these proposals forward into the GM Homelessness Prevention Strategy and Covid step-down planning.

In the third stage of the GM Homelessness Prevention Strategy Legislative Theatre project, the facilitator team partnered with the SAWN Network and the GM Inequalities Panel. Via a series of theatre and dialogue workshops, directly-impacted community members identified issues of structural racism in homelessness services across Greater Manchester, in order to generate more equitable policy proposals. With the SAWN network, stories revealed racism and xenophobia in social services and in councils, from staff making assumptions about people’s identities to refusing to help. Mothers with small children were forced to stay in hotels or other unsatisfactory accommodation for long periods, even a year, not able to cook or otherwise create a safe environment for their children. Parents with children were also faced with police profiling and harassment at their homes, creating a negative dynamic with neighbors and other community members. 

These issues called for changes in hiring and training of social service and council staff, as well as changes in policy around temporary accommodation, among other things.  

The cohort of 5 facilitators were recruited through an open process, and have been meeting weekly over Zoom since the end of April 2020, learning the theory and history that underpins the legislative theatre practices, and leading each other through games, exercises, scene development, and critical analysis. The cohort led the 3 public processes, with support from the lead facilitator and director Katy Rubin, and ongoing planning, feedback, and training sessions will continue to 2021. One member of the cohort is also working to support the policy advocacy and research arm of the project. This training and mentorship model will ensure that these tools are owned by the community members at the end of the process; the facilitation training can be applied to leading any type of gathering, around any issue, contributing to the GMHAN’s goals of fair pay, economic equality, and innovation.

If you are interested in legislative theatre in action and how it leads to real change, please contact Katy Rubin at . You can read a summary of all the policy proposals that were drawn from all 2020 GM legislative theatre here. You can also listen to CulturePlan B podcast where Lora Krasteva of Untrained Effort talks to the inspiring Katy Rubin, one of the world’s leading practitioners of Legislative Theatre.  They discuss Katy working with Augusto Boal, her founding of Theatre Of The Oppressed NYC, and her current projects working with Greater Manchester Homelessness Action Network and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.