Riverscross Soap Opera Project

Riverscross Soap Opera Project

Aims: To increase the active participation in society of young people with experience of mental health issues
Objective: To engage young people through drama, writing, music, design and film to create a professional industry standard continuing drama series.

Funding sources: Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity & South London and Maudsley Charity

Delivery: Snowsfields Adolescent Psychiatric Unit – 2007 - 2015
Royal Bethlem & Maudsley Hospital School, Radlet Lodge Autistic School, Newhaven Pupil Referral Unit and Oakview Hospital School – 2010 - 2015

The schools were a combination of mental health and special needs young people between the age of 6 and 19 years. Snowsfields unit was originally located at Guy’s Hospital, moving to the Maudsley site; the Royal Bethlem Adolescent Psychiatric Wards are located at the Royal Bethlem Hospital in Beckenham; Radlett Lodge is a specialist ASD school in Radlett, Hertfordshire run by the Autistic Society; Newhaven is in Abbey Wood, London run by CAMHS and Oakview Hospital is an adolescent psychiatric hospital based in Kent.

Description of the arts activity

Riverscross is a drama- and digital media-based project that results in a piece of filmed work each year, developed and scripted by the young people and then made using professional actors and filmed by a professional crew. The young people have the chance to work with and are mentored by professionals from every discipline in the process.
Soap opera, as a form, allows many creatives to work on the same product - even if this is at different times and in different places; that is why it is a perfect model to connect the varying talents and interests of a large group of young people over a long period of time.  Young people create every aspect of the series, including all the characters, music, logos, maps, design, style, storylines etc...

There are three phases to the project:

1) Drama workshops – through drama games and exercises, a community of trust is created where participants feel safe and confident enough to bring their whole self and their ideas to the activities.
- Exercises use drama, improvisation and storytelling to explore characters and situations, eg working with our imaginations, walking in other people’s shoes, modelling alternatives.

2) Co-creating a TV Soap – a professional framework is established with roles and responsibilities shared amongst the young people and staff in a joint creative endeavour. This process transforms young people with experience of mental health issues into young creatives with expert knowledge.
The ‘precinct’ is created – the fictional setting for the soap opera. Research is conducted into its historical and social make up. Characters are developed through devising, looking at how and why they change. Relationships and story lines are developed through improvisation. The graphics of the Riverscross logos and the map were all created by the young people, with the help of a graphic designer.   With a professional musician the young people created a theme tune and all the incidental music for the series, and with producers, directors and actors refined their stories for the episodes each year. In filming the episodes, young people directed the professional actors. Greenscreens were used in the Unit and schools as the young people could not be present on location due to safeguarding issues and could not be filmed due to confidentiality.

3) Screening of the episodes – young people gain recognition and feel valued. They also value the work of others in a sense of shared owenership.
Episodes are screened in high profile cinemas e.g. British Film Institute and young people and their families are invited together with invited guests and the production teams.

Details of the project participants

Details of the project participants (including target population, method of recruitment and/or referral).

At Snowsfield Unit: young people between the ages of 12 – 18 referred to the unit with a serious mental health issue – early onset psychosis or depression, severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder.

Royal Bethlem Hospital School: young people between 5 and 18 with a range of mental health problems as above.

Radlet Lodge Autistic School:  young people between 11 and 18 who are on the autistic spectrum and whose problems are severe enough to impede their everyday functioning.

Newhaven Pupil Referral Unit: young people between 11 and 18 who have a range of mental health problems that mean they cannot attend mainstream school.

Oakview Hospital School: young people between 13 and 18 with more severe mental health problems usually sectioned under the mental health act.

Project management

Darren Rapier, Artistic Director, Spanner in the Works is project manager responsible for project coordination liaising with the staff at the Unit and the schools, project staff and associated Professionals; Artistic content throughout the project; quality assurance; financial management; editing and production.

Tony Coult, Creative Associate, responsible for drama and devising workshops, writing, editing, production.
There are a range of other professionals who work with the young people at various stages of the project depending on their artistic speciality.

The project is free to participants.

The professional working framework of project staff includes unconditional positive regard for participants and staff, non-judgemental approach, valuing and accommodating all contributions, listening without preconceived ideas.
Throughout the project, the host organisations are consulted regarding lesson plans and suitability; prior to each session there is a handover briefing for project staff, relating to the current status of the young people’s condition, medication etc; activities are adapted in line with the young people’s needs; there is an informal contract with the young people regarding expectations, positive participation, behaviour, disclosure

Evaluation methods and findings

Through its working practices and approach to total involvement of service users in all aspects of the creative process, the project promotes SLaM’s definition of recovery as ‘living as well as possible’.

The Riverscross Project was funded as an engagement project. Over 400 young people have been involved in the project over the last six years.

The project team have used a Theory of Change model (attached), to articulate the outcomes of the project which are as follows:

Short term outcomes: Feel safe, express ideas, develop sense of self, interact with others
Medium term outcomes: Connect with others, feel empowered, value own ideas & others’, appreciation of difference (gender, age, culture, religion, class etc), team working skills, planning & organisational skills, understand professional role
Long term outcomes: Develop a positive identity, feel valued and that their work is valued, sense of ownership, increased confidence, increased empathy, improved communication skills, skills for work/life, ability to locate themselves in society, tackling stigma.
Theory of Change diagram
Article in Journal of Arts & Communities, Volume 1, Number 2, ISSN 1757-1936

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England