Ashley is first class

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DRAMA and music have the power to strengthen community relations – just ask Ashley Murphy from Morecambe.

Ashley, who graduates from The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) on Wednesday, July 25, with a first-class honours degree in community drama, is using the two art forms to build bridges between young people from the town and the Polish immigrant community.

His scheme started life as a final-year community-based course assignment and explores issues of travelling and migration. Keen to continue his work, he has decided to keep the project going.

The 22-year-old devised the initiative after realising that, in recent years, anti-Polish sentiment in Morecambe had grown. Ashley runs the project through the town’s music and education charity More Music, for whom he works part-time as a music leader. It was while there he realised that positive action was needed.

The former Heysham High School pupil said: “I first noticed a problem while I was working with a group of young people at More Music. One young person, while pointing to another, said to me, ‘He can’t rap. Why’s he allowed in?’ I asked why, and he replied, ‘He can’t rap, he’s Polish’!”

Originally called the Welcome Project, the scheme works with a group of some 20 young people, using music and drama as tools to bring the two communities closer together and to build confidence.

Ashley explained: “I wanted young people from both communities to have the opportunity to look at travelling to another country as a positive, not something that generates negative views. The Welcome Project challenged these and we created an evening of film, music, poetry and theatre.

“I feel proud we were able to create work that not only functioned artistically but also raised issues and started debate – and I’m continuing to do this.”

The Welcome Project and the participants are now part of More Music’s larger Youth Leadership group, which is run by fellow community arts facilitator Rachel Parsons. The main aim of Youth Leadership is to raise the aspirations of young people, particularly those not in work or education. Working with young people from both communities and using different art forms, Ashley runs workshops and provides training in facilitation, confidence building and public speaking.

LIPA’s community drama programme trains students to be confident and innovative facilitators with the knowledge and practical skills required to work across the spectrum of applied community drama practice.

LIPA is located in Sir Paul McCartney’s old school, the Liverpool Institute for Boys, which underwent a multi-million-pound renovation to turn it into a state-of-the-art performing arts higher education institution. It was founded by Sir Paul and Mark Featherstone-Witty and opened in 1995 with the aim of providing the best teaching and learning for people who want to pursue a lasting career in the arts and entertainment industry, whether as performers or those who make performance possible.