At long last the online workshops in schools have begun – 5 workshops over 4 schools with over 50 girls participating between now and Christmas – all organised by our tireless Post-Doctoral Researcher, Hannah Newman working with hard-pressed but enthusiastic teachers across Kent. School staff have faced problems aplenty – lockdowns, lack of time, too many emails, parcels of feathers and cardboard arriving for distribution, probably extreme stress, and innumerable timetable changes – and we are so grateful to them for going above and beyond to make this project happen.

Just over a year ago, everything looked very different and very dispiriting. Two weeks from the end of our first term doing face-to-face workshops in mainstream schools, just as we were approaching our ‘showcase’ session gathering together the incredible work the girls had produced, we were forced to suspend the programme, abandon the follow up testing and lose much of the work. I’ve worked in community theatre and I’m used to adapting quickly to things going wrong: but March 2020 was truly ‘into the unknown’.

In retrospect it was exactly the right decision to spend the next two terms distilling all we had learnt from our live workshops into a permanent online resource, usable at home or at school. We now have six fantastic online workshops, on everything from puppetry to performance art, rich in videos, visuals and ‘vibe checks’! These workshops will be made widely available after the research phase is over. And it’s clear already that some girls might actually prefer this way of working.

Practitioners, including this digital immigrant, follow up with a weekly Zoom session for participants in each school. The girls so far have been terrifically responsive and some of them are clearly more at home in the Zoom world than I am! We have had plenty of the usual Zoom fun – and everyone who has been at work over the past year knows all about it. Shyer participants appearing as distant blurs at the far end of the classroom…the slightly worried disembodied voice in the background murmuring that the ‘battery is a bit low’, followed by the screen suddenly and irretrievably blacking out, and the lengthy upbeat and hearty welcomes uttered with the microphone off!

We are learning on the job to be sure, and sometimes daunted by the challenges of Zoom, but at last the research is happening despite all the setbacks and disappointments of the past year. And that has to be worth all the work!

By Melissa Trimingham (Co-Investigator Playing A/Part & Practice as Research Lead)