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Burnley East GPs prescribe theatre for local school children

Children from three schools in Burnley wowed an audience of parents, and community leaders when they put on three shows about health and wellbeing last week.

In a unique partnership between Burnley Youth Theatre, and 7 GP practices in Burnley East Primary Care Network (PCN), and children from St Peters Primary School, Whittlefield Primary School and Heasandford Primary School put on performances about physical health, emotional health and ambition as part of the “Building Emotional Resilience in Young People" pilot.

The performance held at the UCLAN campus, Barden Lane, was the culmination of eight weeks of rehearsals by the children, supported by Burnley Youth Theatre.

The creative arts project came about following a review of the needs of patients in the Burnley East area.  Representatives from the local GP practices felt that the physical and mental health, resilience and aspirations of young people needed support following a stakeholder event held in January 2018. Following this, local Burnley East PCN GP leads Dr Yasara Naheed and Dr Alice Mervin worked with local schools, including Head Teacher of Whittlefield Primary School, Helen Kershaw, to develop an idea using theatre to improve the confidence and resilience of young people in the area. 

Learning about the craft of acting and participating in theatre based learning has been shown to help young people feel confident and participate in group activities as well as build resilience in everyday life. Theatre can also help young people explore issues in a fun, creative and safe way.  Over the 8 weeks, the children learned about how to manage cyber bullying, internet and social media safety, the importance of healthy lifestyles including emotional wellbeing and resilience. They also learned about the value of ambition and aspirations.

Dr Yasara Naheed, GP at Thursby Surgery and one of Lead for the GP practices in Burnley East said:

“Emotional resilience is the ability of an individual to deal with stressful situations. More resilient people are able to cope and adapt to the challenges of life without any long term or lasting problems.  Unfortunately in our life, we are always faced with difficult decisions, new experiences and challenges.  Things can and sometimes do go wrong but it is important that we prepare our young people so that they are equipped to deal with these situations.”

“The children from each of these schools were brilliant. It was fantastic to see them create really professional and creative theatre to explore their concerns around physical and emotional health and ambition. I was impressed at their commitment, creativity and the buzz that they created.  More importantly they all seemed to gain extraordinary levels of confidence and knowledge about coping with the challenges that life throws at them.  I thought that it was fabulous to see children from different schools becoming and staying good friends too.”

Helen Kershaw, Head Teacher at Whittlefield Primary School said:

“This has been such a powerful activity for the children to have been involved in.  At the very beginning some of the children were very nervous and unsure about getting involved, but by the end of this, even the most nervous of the children was skipping quickly to get on the bus to go to Burnley Youth Theatre!   The children have all very clearly benefitted from their involvement in this, and I think children, parents, and teachers alike have been moved and inspired by the boost in confidence and the increase in health awareness in the children involved. 

“What was clear from the beginning, was that everyone focusses on their area of work but it is very rare for say teachers, GPs and the police to not only talk about areas of common concern, but also to work together to deal with our concerns.  I am delighted that the three schools, the GPs, local police, and Burnley Youth Theatre were able to come together and support the health and wellbeing our children.  I have heard so many children say so many positive things about this, but the one that stood out to me was when a child told me that this was the best day of their life.”

Councillor Charlie Briggs, the Mayor of Burnley watched the show and applauded the efforts of the children and everyone involved:

“I was particularly pleased to see that my very first school, Whittlefield Primary School is involved, and I was so proud to be in the audience.  Children are our future. If we can help them learn to be more confident and resilient, and look out what they can do to have better physical and mental health – we will have created a good foundation for them and the future. 

"I was heartened to see the enthusiasm, and hard work of the children. They say that you learn more when you have having fun and enjoying yourself.   It was clear that they not only had learned a lot about being healthy, resilient and coping, but they really enjoyed themselves and gave excellent performances too.”

At the end of the show, The Mayor gave the children prizes for their hard work.  Prizes included donations from Burnley Football Club in the form of football shirts, boating session on Thompson Park Lake from Burnley Borough Council as well as gifts from Alderson and Horan, Oddies, Wilkinson and other local businesses.