Theatre project Who to Follow inspires to tackle growing drug misuse problem among Ipswich schoolchildren

The team behind the Who to Follow project. Picture: Suffolk County Council

The team behind the Who to Follow project. Picture: Suffolk County Council - Credit: Archant

A new interactive drama production is to be toured around Ipswich schools this autumn in a bid to empower young people to make positive choices around illegal drugs.

The project was spearheaded by Suffolk county councillor Sarah Adams to address a growing substance misuse problem among schoolchildren in the town, escalated by “gangs” arriving from London and targeting teenagers.

The Labour group at Suffolk County Council has put in £20,000 to fund the initiative, and has teamed up with the New Wolsey Theatre to bring it to life.

Ms Adams said: “It started when a group of parents from various Ipswich schools who realised there was a drug problem got together to mutually support each other and to stand up to say ‘some of our children have problems and we want to do something about it’.

“Everyone knows there’s gangs coming in from London and they are targeting vulnerable young people in Ipswich.

“We know that just saying ‘don’t do drugs’ doesn’t work. We know that simple message doesn’t hit home. We need to be saying ‘this is the implication, why are you making the choices you are making?’.”

The result is a theatrical installation called Who to Follow, which will present high school pupils with four independent stories concerning substance abuse, each relating to a young person’s experience, but from different perspectives.

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The spectators will be able to choose their own journey from each scenario to the next, in doing so either challenging or confirming what they believe about the risks associated with drug taking.

Ms Adams added: “If you walk down the high street in Ipswich you will smell cannabis being smoked.

“The problem has an impact on every part of society.

“We all see it in our divisions and some families are in desperate situations where they don’t know what to do any more.

“This project is about trying to make Ipswich and Suffolk a safe place for young people to grow up.”

A number of Ipswich secondary schools have already signed up, and Ms Adams said she hoped to obtain funding to develop the project further in the future.

Rob Salmon, associate director for the New Wolsey, said the arts had the power to engage students in open and honest conversations about serious issues.

He added: “Young people know a huge amount about drugs but that doesn’t stop them from doing them, so it’s not about what they know it’s about their social and emotional relationships to those experiences.

“We want to give them means to understand what that experience might be like and to make them wait longer before taking those risks.”

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