The Newham Plays – Middlesex University

The impact achieved

Created, produced and written by Dr James Kenworth, and directed by Dr James Martin Charlton, both long-term residents of Newham, the Newham Plays are a series of localist-focused plays rooted in Newham’s history, culture and people. Performed in site-sympathetic locations in Newham, East London, they feature a ‘mixed economy’ casting of young people and professional actors. The series, which contributed to addressing historically low levels of cultural engagement in the Borough, has originated a Pro-Localist approach to cultural engagement, in which the plays are partnered and supported by local funders, partners and stakeholders. Its key impact includes:

  • Developing skills, building confidence and boosting self-belief of over 250 young people from diverse backgrounds living in Newham
  • Benefiting local organisations, raising awareness of Newham’s sites/venues and the heritage of the Borough, and enhancing cultural provision.

The research behind it

The London Borough of Newham (population 353,134) experiences significant economic and social challenges, including poverty affecting one in two children and cultural engagement significantly below the national average. Middlesex contributed to redressing this problem by contending that a localist and grassroots approach is the most effective way to widen access to the arts, and by arguing for an increased emphasis on performance in local spaces rather than in prestige or heritage theatres.

Our impact is underpinned by a coherent body of research practice and engagement resulting from the Newham Plays – a series of four plays developed through our Department of Media’s collaboration with the community of Newham between 2012 and 2019 (only the three most recent plays were submitted to REF 2021). Through our successful, long-term partnership with three local schools, we helped approximately 250 young people from diverse backgrounds, such as Asian, Black, African, Caribbean or Black British, to develop skills and self-belief by acting in the shows and partaking in a range of associated activities. Working with schools’ drama teachers, we identified talented and enthusiastic pupils, and ran auditions and workshops as part of their drama classes. Crucially, after each show we offered a series of free drama workshops which engaged pupils in an exploration of the plays’ themes and issues.

The people involved at Middlesex and beyond

Our research team comprises Dr James Martin Charlton and Dr James Kenworth.

Their three plays submitted were partnered and supported by local grassroots organizations and charities The Royal Docks Trust, Community Links, and Ambition, Aspire, Achieve. The plays were delivered in collaboration with Gallions Primary School, Kingsford Community School, and Royal Docks Academy.

Further reading