Speak up
Ongoing Project

Engaging Marginalised Communities through Culture

By drawing on psychology, memory science and theatrical co-production, our research has enabled over 12,000 young people and women to deliver new stories about their experiences.

Project summary

The Challenge

Marginalised groups, such as young people not in education, employment or training, and women in rugby, felt that their voices were not being heard.

The Approach

Working with theatre companies, curators, social arts, training and sports bodies, Hull researchers used creative arts to improve self-expression.

The Outcome

Over 12,000 marginalised young people and women were given a voice, able to deliver new stories about their experiences.

Funded by

Project partners

The Challenge

The so-called “not-knowns” is a group of young people from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire who are persistently hard to reach and at risk of falling off the social care register as they leave full-time education. This group is extremely vulnerable: they are not in education, employment or training, they are not registered to vote and do not have a permanent place of residence.

Similarly, women in sport were reluctant to tell their stories, demonstrating their initial self-perception as unimportant in the sport.

The full research team

The Approach

Research Impact at Hull - Enhancing Heritage and Creative Industries

The Hull project team worked with two specific marginalised groups: (i) young people (aged 17-21) from workless communities and (ii) women within North of England Rugby League. Together with social arts organisations (Space2), training providers (Hull Training and Igen Training), professional national sports bodies (Rugby Football League), theatre companies (Park Bench) and curators (Social Museum and Art Gallery), the researchers focused on the relationship between autobiographical memory, playwriting and memory science.

The different nature of the two groups helped to advance methodology used by Dickenson in a previous project, which developed the exploration of autobiographical memories as a means to share narrative co-production in playwriting.

The research methodology explored the following:

  • Memory science’s accessibility and usability for groups who are culturally under-represented or suffering from ‘cultural amnesia’ (i.e. the forgetting and repressing of memories).
  • How to embed into community projects the idea of participating in writing social identities to change personal stories.
  • The implications for applied arts of the adaptability and malleability of memory.

The ‘Not knowns’ workshops explored ideas of memory and autobiography, enabling the group to participate in creative arts experiences. The Not Knowns, a play of their life stories, was produced by Park Bench, and toured in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Performances were accompanied by participatory workshops and an electronic educational resources pack.

Ref: Crossing the Line (2018-) was the project’s second phase. Its centrepiece REF! play was inspired by Julia Lee’s biography, one of the first women to referee men’s Rugby League matches in England and Australia. The project explored the importance of the role of the arts producer as co-creator, working with women involved in rugby league in Northern England and incorporating theatre, workshops and SMART Gallery in processes of memory activation and memory recovery. The play was performed in community settings and Rugby League Clubs, was combined with post-performance audience discussion hosted by Lee and Dickenson.

The Impact

Through the project, over 12,000 marginalised young people and women were given a voice, able to deliver new stories about their experience. Hull Training and Igen Training reported that the young people gained confidence, developed team skills, and were able to articulate their stories through creative expression. The project inspired young people to take part in more creative activities, resulting in Down the Dog, a group-authored and performed play, and one participant enrolling on a theatre/media course.

The impact has also been felt by educators and artists, and in fields including cultural, sports and heritage policy. The project changed practice by creating new partnerships between playwright practitioners, arts organisations and community arts practitioners, training organisations and their young people. The training providers were inspired by the positive impact on young people to undertake more teaching and training through creative arts approaches.

As the project evolved from ‘The Not-Knowns’ to Ref! the impact became more intergenerational, geographically extensive and diverse, generating substantial and ongoing change.

Summary of Impact:

Artistic development:

  • 11 creative practitioners were directly involved in the Not Knowns phase
  • developing new methodologies for playwriting, memory science and participatory arts practice.
  • developing emerging practitioners

Training and skills development for individuals, communities and providers

Education: work pack for educators and published case study

Curatorial practice and Community heritage: establishment of a ‘Smart (Social, Museum and Art) Gallery’, Bradford Museum

It's helped me make decisions about my future narrative personally and professionally and has had impact on my own career since... It's changed the way I approach my work

Sarah Louise Davies


Ref, a play inspired by the true story of a northern woman Julia Lee written by Sarah Jane Dickenson

REF! Crossing the Line engaged over 10,000 people, and has had a positive impact on many of those who were involved. Dawn Fuller, Joint CEO of Space2, describes her involvement in the project as a “truly life-changing encounter and experience”, while Julia Lee herself gained the confidence to set up her own business.

“I knew nothing about Rugby – a real education”

“gives girls confidence to achieve”

“we can change things for the better.” REF! audience members

A large network of women invested in the REF! project by sharing stories and material artefacts for the planned Bradford museum archive. Lee’s involvement in the project garnered unprecedented local, regional and national media interest, including appearances on TV and Radio 4.

The co-creation of a SMART gallery enables communities to craft their own creative outputs for public viewing through the gallery. This opens stories and histories to active community control, asserting the importance of individuals’ shared experiences.

REF! harnessed the power of women’s contributions to Rugby League, including the creation of a dedicated website: https://www.womeninrugbyleague.org.uk

Future impact on culture and sport

The Production will be performed in the Houses of Parliament. Sponsored by the All-Party Parliamentary Committee for Rugby League (2022).

The material from the complete project will also be realised as a significant section in the Rugby League museum to be opened in Bradford 2022.

Publications and Outputs

Dickenson, S. J. Not Yet. After the Fall, Europa Nach 1989. Ein Theater Projket Des Goethe Instituts.

Mazzoni, G. Memon, A. (2003). Imagination can create false memories. Psychological Science, 14, 2, 186-188.

Mazzoni, G., Scoboria, A., Harvey, L. (2010). Non-Believed Memories. Psychological Science, 21 (9) 1334–1340.

Conroy, C. Dickenson, S.J., Mazzoni, G. (2018) ‘The Not-Knowns ‘Memory, Narrative and Applied Theatre’. Research in Drama Education. (RiDE) Vol: 23 NO 1, pp56-72. Inc Dickenson, S.J. The Not Knowns. (Play: Supplementary material.)

Dickenson, S.J. (2015) ‘The Playwright and Applied Drama’. RIDE: Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 20th Anniversary Edition Vol 20, N0 3, pp285-287.

Prenki T. (Ed) (2020) Conroy, C. Dickenson, S.J. ‘Culturally producing and negotiating women’s Rugby League histories through applied performance’. TheApplied Theatre Reader. Routledge 2ndEdition. Chapter 10

Dickenson, S.J. (2019) REF! Barbican Press