Big House stages play based on care leavers’ experiences at Hackney Downs Studios

Laura Isherwood (centre in wheelchair) in Phoenix

Laura Isherwood (centre in wheelchair) in Phoenix - Credit: Archant

Care leavers dealing with issues like homelessness, drug and alcohol problems and having their children taken away are staging a play based on their own experiences.

Laura Isherwood in Phoenix

Laura Isherwood in Phoenix - Credit: Archant

Phoenix brings the all-too-often fractured lives of those leaving the care system into sharp focus, and will be showing at the Hackney Downs Studio where the Big House theatre company meets every Saturday.

Established this year by Maggie Norris to work with young care leavers aged 16-25 from all over London, it is the only theatre company in the UK which uses the transformative powers of drama to help care leavers.

Former heroin addict Laura Isherwood has been given a “new lease of life” since joining the company six months ago.

“I was down and out before I found this place,” said Ms Isherwood, 23, who lives in Well Street and was nine when she was taken into care.

“I was going out robbing people and beating people up, selling drugs, just trying to make ends meet so to speak, I was getting arrested a lot.

“Now I’ve learned how to channel my emotions, how to communicate on a level where I’m not shouting at people, I’m not abusing people.

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“I have learned that fighting isn’t the best way to solve a problem and I’ve learned how to be professional in a professional environment.”

Lack of parental support, social isolation, bullying, neglect and abuse contribute to care leavers being vulnerable to homelessness, unemployment and under-achieving at school.

Care leavers account for 40 per cent of under 21s in prison.

The Big House uses a unique combination of drama workshops, individual and group therapy, mentoring, life and employment skills to address these issues.

“When you are dumped in this big wide world, you have no idea what to do,” explained Ms Isherwood.

“There’s no guidance from social services, we aren’t given a manual, we’re not explained what life is.

“It’s good to come into a working environment knowing you can come out with a lot of experience, a lot of friends and a lot of things that will be useful in your life.”

She said: “If it wasn’t for The Big House I’d probably be in a ditch somewhere or in a nuthouse and I’m really glad I’m not.”

Most of the 12-strong cast who were selected on the basis of need have never performed before, and includes two other care leavers from Hackney, Cocoa Rose and Mirian Mendes, and Nekesha Biggs from Islington.

The show runs from Tuesday November 26 until Saturday December 14 at Hackney Downs Studios in Amhurst Terrace, Upper Clapton.

Tickets cost £15 of £5 for concessions.

For more information see