From Wednesday 3 to Saturday 6 July, residents of all ages in Bexley are invited to attend a series of activities and events in Bexleyheath Broadway celebrating the completion of Performing Places Bexley, a collaborative arts project between Central, the London Borough of Bexley, Emergency Exit Arts and local residents which has focused on improving community cohesion.
The layered community performance event is the finale of the two year Performing Places Bexley project. Between 2017 - 2019, a series of activities and events have been delivered to foster good relations between new and existing residents. Thousands of participants in Bexley will have taken part in community building events, library storytelling sessions, street performance and activities and over 60 collaborative and professional workshops and assemblies with primary schools, secondary schools and community groups, as well as attending public performances. A local Bexleyheath Business Participation programme has been designed to engage local shopkeepers and encourage them to participate in the project in a variety of ways.
The project has used storytelling to encourage the residents of Bexley and, specifically, Bexleyheath to think about how they might share space more easily and how they welcome strangers. A major narrative about a parallel universe, Par Bexia, helped participants consider the importance of ‘place’, their relationship to it and the people within it. These activities have been intergenerational, positive and, above all, fun; and by utilising shared public spaces, Performing Places Bexley focuses on improving community cohesion and addressing issues surrounding identity and migration to help ensure that Bexley is a place where different people can work and live well together.
Performing Places Bexley was conceived and overseen by Professor Sally Mackey, Central's Professor of Applied Theatre and Performance and Associate Director (Research and Projects). It expands on her previous research into ‘place’. The arts practices utilised comprised a cultural product called 'Performing Place' which has been developed and tested in previous practical research projects over 20 years including with vulnerable groups affiliated with, and engaged via, arts organisations. Numerous students and alumni of Central have also been involved in Performing Places Bexley, as well as with previous projects under the 'Perfoming Place' umbrella.
Professor Sally Mackey said:
“Performing Places Bexley has been a major programme of arts activities built around a single narrative: Par Bexia is failing – how can the people of Bexley help these people from another universe? This is a metaphor for considering how place can be successfully constituted. It’s a hugely ambitious project and has engaged Bexley people aged 0 to over-90. Working with the council of Bexley has been an example of how the arts can work effectively to support the vision of a local authority as well as create an unusual and exciting arts work.”
The London Borough of Bexley’s Cabinet Member for Places, Cllr Alex Sawyer said:
“I would encourage everyone, young and old, to come and experience the Broadway in a new way and to meet the Par Bexians, who are keen to learn about what makes Bexleyheath such a special place. The project has been a really great way to bring communities together.”
Performing Places Bexley was supported through a successful government bid for funding as part of the London Borough of Bexley’s ‘A Place for Everyone’ programme. The borough worked on the bid with partners The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and Bexley Voluntary Service Council. The fund, designed to support local authorities to better understand and respond to population changes resulting from regional, national and international migration, helps to support the development of stronger communities and to develop community building activities with local groups.
Working with the council of Bexley has been an example of how the arts can work effectively to support the vision of a local authority as well as create an unusual and exciting arts work.
Professor Sally Mackey