Theatre Peckham and Words of Colour secure funding to inspire Southwark students through creative writing

Award-winning Theatre Peckham and Words of Colour have secured four years funding to inspire Year 8 (12-13 year old) students to reimagine a better future in the year ‘2074’, through creative play and writing mediums.

The Futureland project will collaborate with schools in Southwark, London, to produce a digital resource and creative programme to engage young people from underrepresented backgrounds in literacy, oracy and creativity.

Over four years, nearly 200 students will participate in 10 creative play sessions, learning to express themselves through different creative writing mediums. On completion, they will devise a final performance, showcasing their new skills and visions for a better future.

Funded by The Mercers’ Company, trustee to The St Paul’s Schools Foundation, young people will be mentored by acclaimed and award-winning writers, such as Alex Wheatle MBE, and creatives of colour to create poetry, prose and scripts to develop their literacy skills. They will also be encouraged to engage in creative conversations on societal concerns, from the environment and gentrification to legacy and heritage, as well as explore creative wellbeing.

Joy Francis, Executive Director, Words of Colour, said: “We are excited to partner with Theatre Peckham on Futureland as we are passionate about creating inclusive spaces for marginalised young people to believe that their ideas matter. Research by BookTrust, led by Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, shows the detrimental impact of young people of colour not seeing themselves reflected in books, especially when considering career pathways. This is reinforced through the education system’s lack of diversity within the curriculum. We hope Futureland creates a meaningful dent in this unacceptable reality.”

The initiative is centred in Southwark as it’s a London borough with the sixth highest rate of child poverty across all UK boroughs. In Theatre Peckham’s local wards, this is visible in the huge barrier to housing, local services with high levels of crime.

Suzann McLean MBE, CEO and Artistic Director, Theatre Peckham, said: “Theatre Peckham is grateful to receive this grant as there is a pressing need to address the declining literacy skills among Year 8 students in Southwark. Our partnership with Words of Colour on the Futureland project is a deliberate choice driven by our shared mission to provide access to quality arts education through a culturally diverse lens. We aspire to improve the life chances of young people from underrepresented and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Together, we can build a brighter future for young people, empowering their self-expression and their ability to thrive.”

Futureland fills a gap in the UK curriculum in its ability to explore writing by writers of colour, who are critically underrepresented and under-studied across the curriculum. Reports from the National Literacy Trust show that more children from global majority backgrounds than White backgrounds say that they don’t see themselves in what they read (40% vs. 30.5%). This is particularly true for children from Black ethnic backgrounds.

Jack Burkill, Associate Assistant Principal, Harris Academy Peckham, one of Futureland’s participating schools, said: “Harris Academy Peckham are delighted to be working with Theatre Peckham and Words of Colour on Futureland. We believe that our school is made stronger by its rich and varied community and are proud that Futureland will create a platform for previously unheard voices. Our school is a microcosm of Peckham itself, and with that in mind, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to work collaboratively to create a curriculum that truly represents the diverse nature of our cohort.”

Award-winning YA writer, playwright and scriptwriter Alex Wheatle MBE, who has worked with children in school settings nationally for decades, added:Futureland is a wonderful initiative to engage young people in deprived areas, and for them to express their hopes for the future in art form.  I believe it will benefit their wellbeing as well as meet their need to be heard. Creativity and forward thinking are necessary tools to tackle the modern world for young people, and I strongly believe this project fulfils that requirement.  I for one am very much looking forward to what material the young people involved in this project create.”

Futureland officially begins in March 2024, and the writers and creatives appointed for the first year of the programme will be announced in the Summer.

Photo credit: Devin Avery