A HARD-HITTING interactive theatre project laying bare the dangers of exploitation and County Lines drug dealing has been hailed as a success.
One thousand and thirty five students and approximately 30 schools staff saw the performance of County Lines – delivered by the Applied Theatre in Cumbria project in Kendal and Barrow – and took part in a workshop afterwards. There will be follow-up visits in schools from the County Council Child Exploitation Team.
The project was run through the South Cumbria Community Safety Partnership and was aimed at combating the increasing problem of exploitation and County Lines, which sees drugs gangs from cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, London and Liverpool targeting the vulnerable, including young people, to sell drugs.
Police warn that anyone can be at risk and parents should not be complacent about their children being affected by the issue.
The feedback from students following the performance and workshops showed that an overwhelming majority would now think differently about the decisions they make in the future and they had learnt about the risks of being coerced and manipulated into dangerous situations by people they don’t know well*.
The performance was created after hearing real stories about County Lines from the Police, Children’s Services, the Coroner, drug and alcohol services and young people from across South Cumbria. It focussed on a young female, who was already in the drug supply chain, and the consequences for four young people she befriended and used to help develop her network and sell drugs in this area.
Students entered unusual venues for a theatre performance and found themselves immediately entering a world of false promises and enticing propositions that led to disastrous consequences for the young actors who mixed amongst the audience throughout and moved them from room to room.
One student from Queen Elizabeth School described it as “…fantastic and at some points I thought it was real.” and another from Furness Academy said “I really enjoyed it, the actors made everything seem real…I have never attended a performance quite like this, moving around from scene to scene with the actors and having them in our crowd talking to us was actually awesome and very unique.” A teacher from Dowdales School commented “An excellent production yet again…a very powerful message from a great cast and very engaging for year 9. Thanks for inviting us to take part.”
Temp/Superintendent Matt Pearman from Cumbria Constabulary said: “We have had some really good feedback from the young people involved in this project and from officers who have supported the workshops.
“Exploitation of vulnerable people can affect anyone and it is important to continue to discuss and raise awareness of how easy it is to be sucked in to criminal activity.
“This is an issue that affects the whole of the country and Cumbria is by no means immune. This project has provided a safe and non-judgemental platform for a large group of people to openly explore complex and difficult themes. To make good or bad decisions and find out the consequences in a safe environment has been beneficial to participants.
“I hope the knowledge and lessons learned through this project will be shared with family and friends, to continue raising awareness, empowering vulnerable people to say no and report any concerns to police.”
The immersive drama experience was led by the Brewery Arts Centre in an exhibition space at the Cooke’s Buildings in Barrow and in an unused unit in the Westmorland Shopping Centre in Kendal. Three young professional actors (Rachael Gill, Jack Lloyd and Elijah Young) performed with two graduates from Brewery Youth Arts – Lydia Davies and Niamh Barlow.
The creative team was made up of director Paula Penman and writer Lee Mattinson, an award-winning playwright originally from Workington, as well as sound designer Lee Affen and filmmaker Jon Randall.
Writer Lee Mattinson said: “The reaction to County Lines has been overwhelming. With such a short development process and a wealth of coercive tactics to include, it was often difficult to see the play objectively. To read that this wasn’t the case for our audience members – that they laughed, gasped and asked all the right questions in all the right places – makes for a very proud creative team.”
Councillor Suzie Pye, South Lakeland District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Health, Wellbeing and Financial Resilience, said: “The County Lines performances through ATiC are an excellent example of how a range of partners working together through the South Cumbria Community Safety Partnership can make a real difference in our communities.
“Everybody involved in putting on these performances and the workshops afterwards should be congratulated for their quality and success in highlighting the dangers of County Lines drug dealing to hundreds of youngsters in South Cumbria. This is an issue facing our communities now and this project is an excellent example of how different authorities, agencies and organisations can come together to combat it.”
Peter McCall, Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “This is a hard-hitting project which really brings home the realities of County Lines crime and the appalling impact it can make on young people, who are most at risk of being caught up in this type of organised crime.
“The criminals within the larger cities deliberately identify vulnerable young people who are more easily swayed into criminal activity – whether it be the promise of money, material possessions or the thought of a glamourous lifestyle – all of which come crashing down when they are caught, become addicted themselves and are subsequently punished for their crimes.
“The feedback from the students is great and I am glad that they are now more aware of the signs of County Lines and the danger that accompanies it. I hope that this type of interactive, preventative education continues and that we can eventually win the fight on drugs in Cumbria. The police will continue to pursue, arrest and seek to prosecute drug dealers, most importantly though projects like this help to prevent our young people being drawn into dangerous and destructive county lines crime.”