Community? What do you mean? An investigation into how differing understandings of the term 'community' shapes care leavers' move to independence


Principal Investigator: Dr Sarah Goldingay; University of Exeter
Co-investigators: Dr Katrina Wyatt, University of Exeter Medical School; Dr Robin Durie, University of Exeter
Collaborators: Mr Clark Baim, Exstream Theatre Company; Ms. Fiona MacBeth, Exstream Theatre Company; Mr Ian Stewart-Watson, Devon County Council
Duration: 2012

We explored the ways in which a performance-led approach to community formation and personal development can inform care-leavers’ move to independence. Using a case study approach, working with two groups of participants: young people leaving care and their support workers in Devon County Council’s Children in Care team (DCCCCS). The project was co-designed and co-developed with participants from both groups and our colleagues from Exstream Theatre Company. In this action–research project all researchers acted as participant-observers. It had two key objectives: first, to better understand how the term ‘community’ shaped the processes that the participating young people engaged with, and second, to take a practice-led approach to explore if, and how, performance-based methods and principles could be used to support the participants as they left care. A number of findings challenged our early assumptions, in particular the complexity of working with people with unstable and unpredictable lives. By working with the young people and DCCCCS managers and support workers, we developed a new way of using the creation of a theatrical performance, a deeply-supportive, peer-enabled environment and a theatre company, to enable a space in which participants could re-imagine both their sense of self and community. The development and implementation of this model raises further research questions relating to how new communities might be formed, as well as suggesting a number of uses that may inform the future development of the Connected Communities community engagement strategy.