New Wimbledon Theatre works in conjunction with Merton Schools to deliver “Changing Minds in Merton” project

Most local people know about the high quality performances on the main stage and in the studio at New Wimbledon Theatre throughout the year but rather less well known is the year-round programme of educational work the theatre undertakes with its local community.

NWT Creative Learning Manager Andy Alty says about the “Changing Minds in Merton” project:

“This is a huge project which we’re running in seven Merton schools, supported by local arts charity WCTT, for National Mental Health Awareness week 11-18th May.  The idea is to use the arts- theatre, dance, photography and film- to get young people talking more openly and honestly about teenage mental health. It’s one of those “silent” issues which affects many young people in our borough- examination pressure, bullying, problems with relationships, eating disorders. All these things affects their school lives and result in depression, isolation and in extreme cases, self-harm and suicide.”

Since January of this year, Andrew and his team have been working with over 120 young people along with a Mental Health specialist to create plays, poetry and photographic work about the topic, which will then get the rest of their schoolmates talking. Andrew says, “We piloted the project last year at Ricards Lodge High school and it was seen by over 600 students. It had a profound effect on both the girls performing and their audience and it has brought about a huge change in the way mental health is seen and talked about across the whole school.”

Now other Merton schools have invested in the project and it is hoped that Changing Minds will reach as many as 5000 Merton teens. Andrew and his team are delighted at the way schools have responded. “I think many of us know someone who has been affected by mental illness. This is just too important a topic for us to let it hide in the shadows. We’re excited to see Princes William and Harry have been opening up about this taboo issue and we want to play our part in that conversation. Young people are suffering. We want to help find a solution.”

The project will culminate in an Open Day at New Wimbledon Theatre on July 4th where all the young participants will come together to share their performances and have a borough-wide conversation about how young people can work together to end the stigma of mental illness.

Changing Minds is just one of many projects, courses and workshops run by Creative Learning at NWT.

In January 2017, the Creative Learning department and the Ambassador Theatre Group opened with a brand new range of courses for adults and pre-school children. This included 22 men and women joining the first ever official New Wimbledon Theatre choir, a Musical Theatre course for adults and Verona’s Musical Balloon Band for 6 months to 6 year olds. Their new season sees these courses return and welcomes brand new courses for both onstage and back of the theatre, including their first ever Playwriting for Adults course, as well as a huge opportunity for sixty young people (aged 11-18) to perform Bugsy Malone on New Wimbledon Theatre’s main stage. Creative Learning are currently welcoming applicants to audition for this, which take place on 28 May.

For further information about Creative Learning you can visit the website http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/theatre-choir/other-events-wimbledon/

Changing Minds In Merton is supported financially by Wimbledon Foundation, The Steel Charitable Trust and local arts Charity, WCTT.

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