Alison Lloyd Williams is interested in theatre in education and development and, more recently, disaster recovery. She has worked on school and community projects around the UK and in various African countries and is currently a researcher in Sociology at Lancaster University, developing the use of theatre and performance on the ESRC project, Children, Young People and Flooding. From October, Alison will be undertaking a JSPS research fellowship in Fukushima, Japan, working with children to explore issues of recovery from the 2011 nuclear disaster and bring their ideas and perspectives into discussions about community resilience building.
Children, Young People and Flooding
In 2015, groups of children and young people from areas recently affected by flooding in the UK gave a series of performances to audiences of key stakeholders involved in flood risk management. These performances, which centred on a giant game of snakes and ladders, invited the stakeholders to go on an interactive ‘flood journey’, drawn from the children’s own experiences and presented from their point of view, using sound, projected images and drama. The audience, which included members of local and national government, the education and health sectors, the Environment Agency and the Fire and Rescue Service, were encouraged to ‘walk in the shoes’ of flood-affected children and young people, experiencing the highs and lows of flooding and the long recovery process. At the end of the performances, the children presented ‘Flood Manifestos’ to the audience and asked them to read and respond on pledge cards to their calls for change in flood management policy and practice.
These events were the outcome of a series of research workshops that took place during Lancaster University and Save the Children’s Children, Young People and Flooding project (2014-16), which aims to understand the experiences of children affected by flooding in the UK and bring their voices into flood risk management. Children have generally been invisible in discussions about how societies can prepare for and recover from disasters. Where they are ‘seen’, they tend to be constructed as passive victims, an inherently depoliticised position which defines them as acted upon, rather than actors, during a disaster. As one of the young people we worked with put it, “Children are treated like a minority. Their views, feelings and experiences are rarely heard and often forgotten.”
In this presentation I will argue that the arts-based methods we used during our project, unusual in the comparatively new field of disaster studies, helped the children to find a language to articulate their “views, feelings and experiences” and communicate these to adults working in disaster management. The use of theatre also gave the children a platform from which to challenge assumptions and present themselves as political actors, whose knowledge and expertise can help inform how all of us can become better prepared for the ‘ups and downs’ of flooding. As one young person challenged the audience, “Things need to change because it will happen again.”