A community drama project at the New Vic Theatre is giving people with experience of mental health, homelessness and addiction a voice.
Colin Hawkins, from Basford, credits New Vic Borderlines’ Next Chapter project with saving his life.
After experiencing trauma and anxiety from the death of multiple people who were close to him, Colin was referred to Lyme Brook Mental Health Centre.
His mental health took a downturn during the covid-19 pandemic and a support worker from the centre suggested he get involved with the theatre.
Colin said: “I tried all these treatments and they weren’t working. The support worker came out and spent an hour with me and right away she just got me. I pulled my face at the idea of theatre at first as I thought it was all Shakespeare but after a while, I thought why not give it a go.
“The first time I went to the Vic on a Wednesday, I was really nervous and wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d driven past the theatre hundreds of times and never realised how much they do for the local community. It turns out I had nothing to be worried about. There were people there like me with mental health issues, and everyone was kind and welcoming, putting me instantly at ease.”
Colin has been involved in the Next Chapter project since the spring, attending sessions on Wednesdays where the group chat, play games, and over the past few months, made plans for a play based on their own experiences which they rehearsed for a week before performing it on 10 October to mark World Mental Health Day.
Colin said: “It’s become my safe place, somewhere I can be myself and take the mask off that I normally wear around others so they can’t see how much mental health affects me. Six months ago, appearing in a play for World Mental Health Day and telling my story is something I would never have been able to do. But I did it, and I can’t thank the group and staff enough for their kindness and support.
“There’s no judgement. Most people here have their own mental health battles, and it has taught me that mental health professionals, just like us, have their own battles themselves. They have to deal with ours during the day and their own when they come home, and it’s given me a newfound admiration for them.”
Seeing others share their personal stories for the play gave Colin to courage to do so as well.
“Up until we started performing, I was absolutely bricking it – I practiced over and over again in my head. Before I knew it, it was my go. It was a relief in a way – I have never told anyone my story. It was brilliant. It’s taught me that I can do anything I want if I put my mind to it,” Colin said.
“When I finished my piece, I gave the microphone back, turned around and only then did I realise I had a standing ovation. I think on the way out three different people came up to me and said how much it inspired them and I thought if it’s made a difference to just one person then it’s worth it.”
Borderlines practitioner Brendan Davies said: “Colin was a bit sheepish about what all this theatre malarkey was about when he first turned up. I’ve seen his true wit and kind presence emerge as the weeks have gone by. He’s been great to get to know. Funny, caring…and now a fully-fledged actor who has graced the New Vic stage. We love him here at Borderlines.”
The Next Chapter project has been funded by The Community Foundation for Staffordshire Adult Community Mental Health Fund. The group continues to meet on Wednesdays at the theatre.