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Theatre in schools supports NSPCC to tackle unhealthy relationships 

Published: 25 July 2023

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Two actors performing an aggressive argument

Credit: Jen Todman

A play developed by York St John University’s performance department explores challenging themes around domestic violence through drama and workshops with secondary aged children. 

Performance students and theatre alumni at York St John University have taken to the stage to raise awareness of interpersonal domestic violence in a play titled ‘It’s Not Love’. Commissioned by the NSPCC as part of their Together for Childhood ‘Give it to get it’ Healthy Relationships campaign, the play explores challenging themes around what constitutes healthy and unhealthy relationships. 

‘It’s Not Love’ follows four characters negotiating domestic abuse within families, between friends and in intimate partner relationships. The play is tailored to students in Years 7 to 9 and was first performed at Norton College on Monday 3 July. The performance, question and answer session and drama workshops, allowed the young people to explore the impact of the decisions that the characters make, investigate potential allies and intervention moments, whilst exploring questions about healthy and unhealthy relationships. 

Feedback from students and teachers was overwhelmingly positive, reflecting on what they had learnt from the performance and workshop. A Year 8 student described the impact of the day as giving them “opportunities to discuss important topics with friends and using drama to do this." A teacher involved in the delivery of the day added that the play was a “very challenging topic to explore but was done with professionalism, and targeted right for the age group.  Students were engaged and invested in the story.” 

'It's Not Love’ was co-created and directed by Rachel Conlon and Jules Dorey Richmond, senior lecturers at York St John University and experienced theatre practitioners. The pair have extensive research, collaboration and development experience, both with the NSPCC and young people. Previous projects developed in collaboration with the NSPCC include the ‘It’s Not OK’ play, which raised awareness around child sexual abuse and exploitation, and reached an audience of over 45,000 pupils, practitioners and teachers. 

Rachel Conlon said: “We’re proud of this work and the part that it plays in raising awareness of unhealthy relationships. The recent inquiry by the Women and Equalities Committee highlights the importance of relationships, sex and health education for both girls and boys, and we work hard to make content that’s relevant and engaging for our young audiences. 

“The work is also such a meaningful and valuable opportunity for our students and alumni. Having the chance to be paid to work on live commissions and engage in real world learning in the community as part of their degree really enhances the students’ learning experience and employability.  We also offer theatre alumni the opportunity for paid work on our social justice initiatives following completion of their degrees. 

Jules Dorey Richmond said: “We have been working with our colleagues at the NSPCC since 2015 and have built a strong partnership and good track record of creatively responding to NSPCC campaigns. Our collaborative approach to delivering effective, exciting and high-quality work resonates with and engages young people. The partnership has gone from strength to strength, and we very much hope that it continues to do so.” 

Helen Westerman, Head of Local Campaigns at the NSPCC described the relationship between the charity and York St John University as continuing to flourish, helping the NSPCC to “provide more imaginative and creative ways of reaching audiences with safeguarding messages. We can rely on York St John University for high quality, well thought through pieces which add value and depth to our campaigning work at a local, regional and national level.” 

The ‘It’s Not Love’ play will be toured in schools in Grimsby and East Lincolnshire from the Autumn into 2024 and with plans to extend the tour to Leeds. 

Find out more about performance degrees at York St John University. 

Learn more about the NSPCC’s Together for Childhood project. 

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