THE dangers of County Lines drug dealing are to be made real for hundreds of youngsters taking part in an innovative drama experience.
More than 1,000 pupils are to take part in a project run through the South Cumbria Community Safety Partnership aimed at combating the increasing problem of County Lines, which sees drugs gangs from cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, London and Liverpool targeting the vulnerable, including young people, to sell drugs.
Police say towns South Cumbria are being targeted and that parents should not be complacent about their children being affected by the issue.
The ATiC Theatre project, run over two weeks, will see Year 9s from schools take part in an immersive drama experience led by the Brewery Arts Centre in an exhibition space at the Cooke’s Buildings in Barrow and in an unused unit in the Westmorland Shopping Centre in Kendal. Three young professional actors will perform with two graduates from Brewery Youth Arts.
It is hoped that the performances, and workshops afterwards, in Kendal from Monday May 13 to Friday May 17 and in Barrow from Monday May 20 to Friday May 24, will make the youngsters aware of the dangers and allow them to explore, in a supported environment, how they would react to being confronted by the issue in real life.
There will be follow-up visits in schools from the County Council Child Exploitation Team.
Temporary Superintendent Matt Pearman said: “This is a fantastic project that we have been involved with for two years now. Performance is a safe and inclusive platform to explore and learn about complex issues such as county lines drug dealing.
“Young people from any back ground can find themselves in a situation where they could potentially be exploited, and we hope that these workshops will increase participant’s knowledge, and confidence to know how to respond to such situations, and to increase confidence in reporting anything that makes them feel uncomfortable to police or a responsible adult.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall said: “It is essential that we provide young people with awareness raising workshops and hard-hitting productions about how to spot the signs of county lines and organised crime gangs to help prevent them from being exploited.
“The threats from County Line gangs and organised crime networks can cause local misery. They often exploit vulnerable children and adults to move and store drugs and also use control, coercion, intimidation, threatening behaviour and violence.
“By being proactive in raising awareness of County Lines, we can make sure that young people know the impact it can have on our communities, how to stay safe and also how to be more aware, ultimately protecting themselves from becoming exploited.”
Tricia Gordon, Creative Learning Development and Participation Manager at the Brewery Arts Centre, said: “Using theatre as a way of making young people aware of things that are happening in their world is a tried and tested method. Arts experiences provide the opportunity of a safe environment for young people to be supported as they discuss, share thoughts and feelings and question their choices. It has been a privilege working with our partners these last two years to bring these innovative projects to the young people of South Lakes and Barrow.”
The creative team is made up of director Paula Penman and writer Lee Mattinson, an award-winning playwright originally from Workington, as well as sound designer Lee Affen and filmmaker Jon Randall.
Lee said: “The task of interrogating County Lines and finding a way in which to articulate its terrifying mechanics has been enormous. What we’ve arrived at is an immersive experience which crescendos as quickly and climaxes as explosively as the problem itself.”
ATiC is a cultural educational partnership bringing high quality, immersive theatre and workshops to local schools on issues affecting Cumbria young people around staying safe and health and wellbeing. It is a partnership investment initiative between the South Cumbria Community Safety Partnership, cultural education charity, Curious Minds, Arts Council England’s Bridge Organisation for the North West and the Brewery Arts Centre.
Commenting on the project, Curious Minds Deputy Chief Executive, Caz Brader, said: “We are delighted to be part of this exceptional initiative, which builds on the success of last year’s production, Ruby, with its focus on mental health and wellbeing. ATiC champions the voices of young people whilst also exploring real and pressing social issues in accessible and innovative ways.”
South Cumbria Community Safety Partnership is part-funded by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner and is made up of a range of organisations including South Lakeland District Council, which acts as the accountable body, Barrow Borough Council, Cumbria County Council, the police and fire services and voluntary organisations who are helping to tackle crime and disorder and promote community safety.