Practical Bravery: DAVID WORKMAN



In this episode of The Possibility Club podcast, we’re exploring the spaces where creativity becomes a conduit for connection, and where theatres and arts venues become the heartbeats of the communities they serve.

Our guest is the Head of Participation at Southwark Playhouse, orchestrating a symphony of projects that resonate with thousands yearly, from all ages and backgrounds. His work is about creating a mosaic of experiences that reflect south London’s diversity, challenges, and aspirations. Through strategic development, he weaves the threads of local needs with the theatre’s aims, securing funding to turn vision into reality and offering tangible opportunities for emerging talents.

Let’s explore the conversation where art and community come together to rewrite stories, with David Workman

Key quotes:

“Some of the wards are some of the poorest in London, if not the UK. But that’s slap bang up against brand new developments.”

“No-one has to engage with us, I’ve got to reach out to them.”

 “The minute we went out and ran a workshop in a community space, we had a lot more people come along. We went into their territory and said we want to be part of this community.”

“I still suffer quite regularly from imposter syndrome, thinking I got here, how did I get here? But I guess I’ve been doing it for fifteen years now, so maybe I should get over that.”

“All I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt by doing. Not necessarily through studying it per se, but doing it, getting it right, getting it wrong, learning on the job.”

“Last year we opened a second venue, so we now have two venues in Elephant & Castle, and within our new venue we have a dedicated participation space, which is all of my work. Realistically I’m not going to be able to fill that space twenty-four seven with all the work I do, but I want to make that space usable. So we’re partnering with charities working with refugees, adults with dementia, young people at risk of exclusion. They’re already doing great work — which there’s no point us trying to replicate, I’d rather support and amplify that in the community, rather than trying to muscle in.”

“I don’t that there’s one approach for everything you do. You have to be adaptive, you have to adapt to different communities, different demographics, one size will not fit all. But also I work with a lot of artists and if I employ someone because of what they’re going to bring to that project, their own approach, their own artistic practice. I’m not keen on imposing on a practical side how that might be.”

“The community is changing. There’s very little point me not changing how I approach my work.”

“It’s a way of softly building those relationships with the community, really.”

“We’re not funded by the Arts Council and we never have been and we’ve sustained and grown that over thirty years. Our model is, in a year we’ll stage between twenty-five and thirty shows and we have spaces of different sizes. By not having money from the Arts Council it gives us more flexibility but more risk. But we get the balance right, generally.”

“I’m a glass half full person. I approach things with a ‘let’s see what happens’ kind of approach.”

”There’s always going to be a need, a desire, for live art. Post-pandemic it took a long time for that to come back, and I think it’s still doing that. People have to weigh up the costs of coming into London. You have to take a punt on something. But there’s lots going on and there are a lot of exciting voices coming through.”

This episode was recorded in February 2024

Interviewer: Richard Freeman for always possible

Editor: CJ Thorpe-Tracey for Lo Fi Arts


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