Care-leavers stage their story in a car-park

Lead actor Aston McCauley, prepares to play care-leaver Callum in The Big House’s Phoenix Rising. Source: The Big House

A theatre troupe of recent care-leavers will begin a month-long run of a play about the experience of leaving care on Wednesday, performing in the carpark under Smithfield Market.

The Big House, a theatre company and charity based in Mildmay Community Centre, works with care-leavers aged between 16 and 25.

“We look at how easily young people coming out of that ‘corporate parenting’ phase can flail out of control and how we can support them better,” director Maggie Norris told Islington Now.

10,000 young people leave care every year in the UK, a number which has doubled in the last decade according to the National Audit Office. Approximately 39% of care leavers aged between 19 and 21 are not in education, employment or training, compared to a national average of 16%.

According to Norris, care-leavers in Islington are particularly susceptible to the borough’s gangs. “The reason people want to belong to a gang is because they don’t have a family. A gang gives support, it gives protection, it gives money, it gives camaraderie, it gives affection. But of course they’re being exploited.”

49% of men under 21 who have come into contact with the criminal justice system have been in care (NAO, 2015).

The Big House aims to fill “a gap in provision around care-leavers’ emotional well-being” while also supporting them in getting into work or education. A group of 15 young people has worked with Norris to produce the show, receiving long-term support and “building a community amongst themselves.”

The new play, Phoenix Rising is a reworking of the group’s 2012 debut production Phoenix, which received critical acclaim. It is being put on in memory of original cast member Dwayne Kieran Nero, who died this year. Nero had suffered from multiple sclerosis.

The show tells the story of a young man named Callum who has just left care and faces poverty and social isolation. Like Nero, he is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His love of athletics is key to the staging of the play, with the runway in the car park under Smithfield market serving as a running track.

Phoenix Rising runs from 8th November to 2nd December.