Patients from local mental health hospital take to the stage with Chichester Festival Theatre

A group of service users from The Chichester Centre, a low-secure mental health hospital, have written and developed an original piece for a special one-off performance at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester on Saturday 18 May.

The original script titled ‘The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter’ has been developed over the past eight months by service users from The Chichester Centre, with support from staff at the hospital and practitioners from Chichester Festival Theatre.

The group, which is delivered through Chichester Festival Theatre’s Learning, Education and Participation (LEAP) Department, meet and rehearse on a weekly basis as part of the hospital’s Occupational Therapy programme, helping service users in their recovery. To complete the project five service users are going to debut the original piece at the Minerva Theatre this month to a small number of public and invited guests.

The LEAP department offer a year-round programme of practical workshops, tours, performances and more, with opportunities for all ages and abilities to get involved.

Louise Rigglesford, Community Partnerships Manager at Chichester Festival Theatre, said:

“Over the past three years we have worked with The Chichester Centre group on a wide range of theatrical skills, including puppetry, improvisation and character development. The stimulus for this particular piece came from one member of the group who has a particular interest in Japanese culture. This service user felt so inspired by the sessions that they wrote the script in their own time and brought it into the group to share.

“Many of the participants who take part in these groups comment on how relaxed the sessions are. They also tell us how much they appreciate having a place where their imagination and creativity is respected. 

“The group has helped the participants to develop a more positive sense of identity, to feel confident when initiating and sharing new ideas, and to be more comfortable when speaking to others. The skills they have developed will be easily translated into a variety of social situations for when they leave hospital, whether it is at work, going into education or when building relationships with friends and other people in their life.”

The Chichester Centre, which is run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, is a purpose built hospital for adults who need rehabilitation and treatment for mental health difficulties in a secure environment. 

Roma Carter, Senior Occupational Therapist at The Chichester Centre, has been involved in the project from the beginning:

“For some individuals, the opportunity to engage in activity based, creative groups has allowed them to develop and demonstrate a greater degree of concentration, social skills and processing skills that has not always been as evident in the general ward environment. 

“The performance is a culmination of months of creativity, commitment and energy from a number of service users, and I will be so proud to see them perform on the Minerva Theatre stage.” 

When asked what their experience has been like, the participants said: “the group has given me permission to be different”, “it gave me a sense of belonging”, “the group is an excellent means of expression whilst I am a patient”.

There are a limited number of tickets available for the performance on Saturday 18 May at 10:30am, which can be booked at the Chichester Festival Theatre website, www.cft.org.uk.