Lockdown has been difficult for many of us. Opportunities to learn a new skill, connect socially online with friends or spend quality time with close family will simply not have been an option for some. For lots of people, this kind of isolation continues what life was like before we went into hibernation.
Martin’s story* starts in that place. Aged 18, in neither education, work or training, he spent most days alone in his bedroom in Nuneaton. His father worried for his future – leaving school two years earlier and with no prospects, his horizons looked bleak.
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His Dad referred him to Grapevine’s Community Powered Advocacy service, commissioned by Warwickshire County Council to take a fresh and innovative approach to helping ‘vulnerable’ people.
His advocate Ben recalls: “We sat and had hot chocolate and chatted about the project and how he might want to work with us on it, how it might help him. His father said they had tried lots of other support but it hadn’t worked.”
Early conversations revealed Martin’s ambitions to learn to drive, pursue an interest in wrestling and join a martial arts class were all bubbling away under the surface, he just didn’t know where to begin to fulfil any of them. It was time to start putting one foot in front of the other.
First came an email account, followed by supported meetings with advisors to initiate Universal Credit payments. Ben was the person who took Martin to the library to access a computer resource, complete forms and practice good time management for the first time. Some of life’s obstacles were clearing, becoming more manageable.
Ben continues: “I got to know Martin a bit more, what he liked and disliked, his dreams and ambitions. He discussed a liking for theatre and acting.”
A ‘young producer’ opportunity came up on a forthcoming arts festival… but so did the issue of travelling to attend the planning meetings. So Ben began ‘travel training’ and moved Martin from a reliance on taxis to independent journeys by train and bus. A volunteer position at the local Abbey Theatre was secured.
Then lockdown arrived and everything changed.
Andrea Pieri Gonzalez, Engagement and Participation Producer at China Plate Theatre, explains: “The programme had to move online. This has been a big shift, both for us as a company, but also for the Young Producers.
“Ben has been a huge motivational support to Martin, providing one-to-one support with the online platform we were using, building his confidence using this, as well as supporting him to join communication channels with the rest of the group so he can keep up-to-date.”
Working within a collective of 16-21 year-olds, China Plate supported Martin to be part of the programme – actively adapting individual tasks assigned to him and removing barriers that might otherwise exclude him.
From Zoom training, to navigating how to get your voice heard in a group chat on WhatsApp, to more general encouragement, Ben helped prevent Martin from slipping away. Now he can see his contributions become a reality – the Young Producers’ Reclaimed Fest is happening this weekend!
Ben concludes: “I continue to look for opportunities – he is keen to try acting – and I have a few places lined up once lockdown lifts.
“Martin now has ideas about his future. He is more confident to try things and accept challenges in order to get him connected.”
Follow China Plate’s festival this weekend (26-28 June) here.
*Martin’s name has been changed to protect his identity.