Outside Edge: Theatre as a Support Avenue31 Jul 2023
Founded in 1999, Outside Edge Theatre Company is a participatory arts charity with a difference – they use the arts to help people who are battling addiction. Their founder, Phil Fox, was a recovering addict whose involvement in drama helped with his own recovery and he used this model when forming Outside Edge.
Outside Edge has had a number of referrals through social prescribing, and we had a chance to speak with Natalie, their Outreach and Administration Coordinator, about the important work they do.
While based in London – with their main office in Tower Hamlets – their work can take them across the UK.
Outside Edge runs multiple activities every year, all of which centre around themes of addiction and recovery. They also run drama workshops and masterclasses on different aspects of production, writing sessions, and taster sessions for new members.
“These activities,” explained Natalie, “are to help reduce isolation, improve wellbeing, and… just bring hope and enjoyment to people’s lives.”
This isn’t all they do, however.
An Avenue to Support
While the theatre aspect of their work is certainly not a means to an end, it is used as a way to develop additional support avenues for those in need. By using the arts to reach people struggling with addiction, they have created something distinct from traditional addiction services. Not only can people take part in a fun project similar to other social prescribing activities, but also get tailored, ongoing support while doing it.
Giving appropriate care to participants is a key aspect of their work, with support depending on where participants are in their recovery journey. Also, every employee receives Mental Health First Aid training which enables them to support people if relapses occur. They also help to share relevant resources with those struggling with mental health. One specific organisation is Mind, the mental health charity. They also work closely with the NHS, addiction services, counsellors, social prescribing link workers where possible, and wider organisations working with people facing mental health issues and homelessness.
Like social prescribing, Outside Edge uses a ‘person-centred approach‘ where support and pacing is a crucial aspect of their work. They ensure that people get involved only in the ways they feel comfortable, by tailoring each session to the needs of the participants. Participants can be vulnerable, so putting them first is a priority.
If a participant is further along in their recovery process, they are encouraged to think about volunteering and employment. This is also something that Outside Edge can help with.
For example, some participants have become regular Outside Edge volunteers, who run taster sessions for new members. Participants also develop valuable transferrable skills from attending their sessions – such as teamwork or confidence building – which can be the first step to finding employment. 75% of participants were helped to either find a job or return to education in 2021/22. Some past participants now work for addiction services themselves.
Although theatre is at the heart of everything Outside Edge does, there is clearly a lot of support on the periphery, too.
We also asked about the ways that Outside Edge collect information on the impact of their work. This is important not only for funding reasons, but also for the organisation to reflect on its own effectiveness.
They develop yearly reports out of feedback collected from participants. Outside Edge asks about specific aspects of recovery and how the service is impacting it. For example, in their most recent report, 90% of participants felt Outside Edge had supported their recovery.
They also collect information on a day-to-day basis. At the start of each session, people will ‘check in’ with each other and talk about how they have been feeling. This is almost like a short group counselling session where participants have a chance to speak their mind in a mutually supportive, confidential environment.
They repeat this at the end of the session, this helps the organisation and the participants themselves to get a better understanding of how the session has (or hasn’t) helped them. It also gives Outside Edge the chance to understand the kinds of support a participant might need.
Working with Diverse Groups
Outside Edge are keen to ensure their service reaches out to other communities. Although their ethnicity statistics showed that approximately 2/3 of participants were white, the remaining 1/3 were either mixed, black, Asian, or other. This shows good outreach for a service of this kind.
In addition, Outside Edge receives funding from the Baring Foundation to work on reaching a more diverse population. They undertake workforce training and are creating a participatory arts activity focused on Muslim service users in Tower Hamlets.
With regards to social prescribing, Natalie explained that it seemed like a natural extension from what they have always done. Their referral structure was already similar to that of social prescribing, and the absorption of social prescribing happened organically.
“We already had that clear path where people could access us and be referred. It’s been quite a smooth transition now that social prescribing is more prominent in the community.”
Initially their referrals came from NHS services, rehabilitation centres and other parts of the health system. The key to their smooth transition to social prescribing, it seems, is an understanding of the importance of outreach. Outreach is a big part of Natalie’s role at Outside Edge. They have a very specific target demographic, so reaching out to target areas whilst already knowing those pathways are in place is a crucial part of the job.
Outreach & Social Prescribing
Addiction and rehabilitation centres, as well as mental health charities, are just some of the places where Outside Edge advertises and runs taster sessions. In much the same way, they have identified and targeted spaces (both virtual and physical) where social prescribing is active.
They are always looking for social prescribing and link worker networks across the boroughs of London to introduce themselves. They will attend network events, which helps to spread the word. This can feel like a lot of work at the time, explained Natalie. However, it always pays off in the end.
By fostering these relationships, Outside Edge were featured on the National Academy for Social Prescribing ‘social prescribing and me‘ campaign. They are also able to go straight to organisations with referral requests.
For example, they work with One Westminster, who has a team of link workers including specialised mental health link workers. The organisation then disseminates the information to the whole team, which is more efficient than contacting individual link workers directly.
However, coming from the outside-in, Natalie has struggled with the disjointed nature of the social prescribing world. Everyone has their own space, she explained. There’s so much out there and it’s hard to keep track of things.
Outside Edge are an important example of using already established pathways to strengthen a social prescribing offer for their communities, whilst also offering wrap around support. This creates a truly holistic approach to supporting some of the Core 20+5 populations experiencing health inequalities.
Organisations and services working with potential clients can book a taster session here.
If you or someone you know could benefit from these services, you can register your interest here.
Check out the latest Outside Edge annual report.
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