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‘Conversation is an activity to be valued in itself – not just for where it may lead’


We are pleased to publish a ‘guest post’ by Lauren Ash – currently an MA Theatre and Performance student at the University of Manchester. Lauren completed a placement with the Learning & Participation Department at the Octagon Theatre (Bolton), working closely with Melodramatics – the women’s theatre group in New Bury (Bolton). Melodramatics is one of the initiatives that came out of the Octagon’s long-term partnership with Bolton at Home (see previous posts – ‘Humanising our public spaces’, ‘Humanising our public spaces – part 2’ and ‘A unique partnership’).


The quote in the title of this post is from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith’s book Informal education: – conversation, democracy and learning (2005: 39). It sums up an essential element to informal learning which I came to realise during my placement with the New Bury Women’s Group as a Community Theatre Group Assistant.

Conversation is a fundamental part of the New Bury Woman’s Group, a community group originally set up by social housing charity Bolton at Home for women who had been affected by domestic violence. Bolton at Home work in partnership with the Octagon Theatre to deliver weekly drama sessions to this community group who are on the verge of forming a theatre company and now welcome members who have not necessarily been affected by domestic violence. The group was initially started by Bolton at Home in conjunction with their 2011 arts vision aim, ‘to deliver a quality arts service that meets customers’ needs and contributes to the regeneration of our neighbourhood’. Bolton at Home identify areas where arts projects, such as the New Bury Women’s Group, can benefit its customers and invests time and money into setting up community groups and projects in order to achieve their arts vision.

The New Bury Women’s Group are currently working on a script focused on the issue of domestic violence which they will perform later in the year – Seeing Red, to be performed at the Octagon on 21st and 22nd September – book here. The topic of domestic violence has been identified by the group as they wish to raise awareness about this issue. The group will be performing their production to raise money for charities that offer help to people affected by domestic violence and to promote awareness of these organisations. Weekly sessions are led by a drama facilitator from the Learning and Participation department at the Octagon Theatre, and I was recently able to lend additional support to the group as Community Theatre Group Assistant.

My main objective during this placement was to facilitate and support the group during activities and conversations. Throughout my placement I came to understand that conversations are as important as activities and conversations can become activities in their own right. Conversation is a social activity that is fundamental to human behaviour, it allows individuals to establish relationships and connections to others. When conversations are conducted in a manner that allows the participants to feel comfortable and valued these connections are strengthened. The use of both everyday conversation and focused conversation within this group not only improved the group’s relationships but, due to the nature of the conversations, also enhanced their product, the script.

This placement has not only given me an insight into working with community groups such as the New Bury Women’s Group but also has enabled me to recognise the benefits of conversation. The invaluable knowledge I have gained through this placement has allowed me to reflect on how this can be applied to benefit both my personal and professional life.


Jeffs, T. & Smith, M. K. (2005) Informal Education: conversation, democracy and learning. (3rd ed). Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.

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