Second Chance for Change: Including the Excluded is a therapeutic filmmaking project designed to help men with mental health and learning difficulties as well as offending backgrounds rebuild their lives. Premiering on Tuesday, March 7 in the Spinning Room at Mossley Mill, Newtownabbey, the film is a result of collaboration between male patients from the Northern Trust, and the Educational Shakespeare Company (ESC), a charity which helps those who are socially-excluded or struggle with mental health issues.
Previous film and drama projects from ESC have included Mickey B (2007), a prison adaptation of Macbeth; False Freedom (2015), a film about child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland in partnership with Barnardos Safe Choices; and Voices of the New Belfast (2015), a documentary centred on individuals from other countries who now call Northern Ireland’s capital their home.
With a track record of improving mental health, reducing isolation as well as the chances of re-offending, ESC’s Second Chance For Change is a continuation of a project started seven years ago in 2010 when the charity was approached by the Northern Trust.
‘They had just seen our feature film Mickey B,’ says ESC Chief Executive Dr Kirsten Kearney, ahead of the new film’s unveiling. ‘They wanted to see if ESC could come up with a project that would work with their client group, Community and Forensic Mental Health patients, offenders with severe and enduring mental health conditions.
‘As ESC had already been working with Extern on a longer project, we knew that therapeutic filmmaking could really help their clients and help engage people who would not normally engage with services at all. From there, each film helped lift the labels that each participant had carried as well as helping them to find peace with the traumas and experiences that had shaped them as an individual.
'This is really our flagship project and one we are very proud of,’ she continues. ‘It tackles the issues at the core of mental health and people's self-medication or offending behaviour, and we have seen that, alongside further support after the project is completed, it can be a real turning point in the participants’ journey.’
With that being said, Kearney is the first to admit that the large-scale, holistic projects are not without their difficulties, particularly with something as fluid – or as she puts it, ‘organic’ - as Second Chance for Change. Resistance from mental health traditionalists used to more common forms of treatment also meant that there was an initial reticence from some professionals.
‘It can also be hard to describe the project to people before they have experienced it, given just how organic and creative it is’ she explains, before citing the last six years as ample evidence their efficacy. Between 2015 and 2016 18 ESC films had been viewed in 102 countries with 197 participants across eight therapeutic filmmaking projects.
‘There are things that would benefit the projects – for example if there was more funding we could have more people to help make sure they run at their full, one day a week, 25-week length which allows for accreditation for the participants. That makes a serious difference to the outcomes, especially where the group can bond over lunch and breaks as it creates a therapeutic community and allows really isolated people to experience and build friendships – something that is very difficult to do if you are extremely marginalised with multi-complex issues.’
For Kearney and ESC, restoring family relationships is the major success story for this near decade-long project which, above all else, could be a turning point for an alternative form of treatment and rehabilitation.
‘Ideally we would like to see the project mainstreamed into all the Health Trusts across Northern Ireland, commissioned by the Trusts as a usual part of their therapeutic offer. And we would like to train people to do this work so that we could continue and reach more and more people in need.
‘Where someone can take the film of their story, told from their perspective and sit their estranged family down to watch it and find understanding and the beginnings of relationships there, that is powerful. Also giving people a different perspective on their own situations can break people out of the habits and dangerous traps that they are in – letting someone see their behaviour on film can really wake them up and help give them the motivation to change their lives.’
The Second Chance for Change filmmaking project premieres in The Spinning Room at Mossley Mill, Newtownabbey on Tuesday, March 7 at 2.30pm. There will be refreshments on arrival, the chance to take part in a post-screening Q&A and more. To reserve your place email firstname.lastname@example.org.