Resilience and our Conference Training Work

Keshena Bowie

Our CEO and Artistic Director, Andy Watson, has been reflecting on our resilience over the last 30 years and has written the following blog about our conference and staff training work:

Geese Theatre Company works in a very challenging sector – the criminal justice system. As we approach our 30th birthday we have taken a moment to reflect on our history and some of the many people we have worked with. Some of those stories will be gathered here throughout the year.

As we talk to people about the organisation celebrating 30 years, a common question crops up: “How have you survived?” Delivering arts projects in criminal justice settings is subject to changing ideas from government, governors, commissioners and public opinion and our core audiences are seldom in the position to become legacy donors or to pay for a front row ticket. Whilst now there is a lot of interest in the sector we are also aware that may not always be the case.

‘Resilience’ and ‘sustainability’ are current buzz words, with an increasing acknowledgment that the way the arts is financed is changing. As an NPO we receive approximately 10% of our income from the Arts Council. Another 20% comes from grant making trusts. This vital funding enables us to pilot new ideas and support our core work with people who have committed offences or who are at risk. The remaining 70% of our income is earned and we are fortunate to have a reputation where prisons, secure hospitals and community organisations will pay towards the projects we deliver with them.

However it’s unlikely that we would still be in existence if we hadn’t developed a third strand of work – bespoke conference performances and training events for professionals. These are commissioned by organisations to support their programmes, enhance their appreciation of particular issues or increase the skills of their staff. We accept commissions from a wide-range of organisations with the understanding that every commission must have a clear link to our core work.  Adopting a theatre style similar to our prison performances we closely mirror experiences that audiences may face in their professional role and encourage them to actively engage in debate about the dilemmas presented on-stage.

“It was by far the most effective and thought provoking training I have attended during my police service”

This work started early in Geese’s history. In the late 1980s we were invited to present some of our prison performances at staff events. For example, our prison production Lifting the Weight explores issues around resettlement for prisoners and was presented to audiences of probation officers to enhance their understanding of the barriers facing their clients.

A significant moment came in 1993 when we were commissioned to create a performance at the Probation Chief’s Association annual conference. This placed the company in front of every senior probation manager in the country and provided an excellent introduction to the value of arts in criminal justice settings as well as enabling us to showcase the use of theatre as a training method. 

Last year, we worked with approximately 5000 staff with commissions from Clinical Commissioning Groups, social work teams, police forces and the judiciary.

Most recently we have created Safe Stages, a performance which explores the reality of safeguarding within arts venues. Devised in partnership with a large local theatre, Safe Stages encourages whole staff teams to reflect on how to put policy into practice.  The piece challenges audiences to recognise indicators of vulnerability and abuse, identify barriers there might be to reporting and consider what a proactive, as opposed to reactive, approach to safeguarding might look like.

"An expert, engaging and ultimately moving exploration of a difficult subject. Really made the policy live...when can you come back?"

Key for us is that we only take commissions when we feel that our knowledge of our core client groups and the systems they are living within can be brought to life to the benefit of the commissioning agency.

For example, our 30 year history of working with people who have perpetrated abuse means that we have insight into their motivations and strategies which we can accurately portray on stage for organisations wishing to enhance their staff understanding of safeguarding issues. 

Equally, the model works because the relationship is mutually beneficial – by developing training work for professionals we are able spend time researching and developing our understanding of their particular sector which can then inform our core work.  

For us, building a resilient business model is not about ‘selling’ our work to anyone who might want it, but about really understanding how the specialist knowledge and expertise we have built up over the past three decades can truly add value to the development of professionals from other sectors. 

To enquire about our Conference and Staff Training work, email or call 0121 4496222