Established in 2018 at Leeds Refugee Forum in Lincoln Green by Tamsin Cook and Keziah Berelson, Mafwa Theatre uses drama and the arts to create work that brings local people together.
Working out of Patrick Studios, the theatre company runs a weekly drama and arts workshop in the area. Their latest project, part of our ‘My World, My City, My Neighbourhood’ programme, is an eco-friendly community garden where local people can enjoy the health and social benefits of gardening and green space.
Mafwa Theatre was born in 2018 when myself and Keziah, a fellow University of Leeds graduate, wanted to find a way of working in theatre which was both sustainable and of benefit to our community. My background is in community theatre and Keziah’s in refugee and asylum support; we brought the two together and now we run weekly drama and arts workshops for women in the Lincoln Green area of Leeds. We initially opened to the local community in 2019 so that the women who are part of the workshops and are refugees and asylum seekers were able to practice speaking English with local people from the area. Three years later, we have a brilliant group of women who come every week, still to practice English but also to improve their mental health, support others, make friends and just to have a laugh.
When we first heard about LEEDS 2023, we knew it was going to be a gamechanger for the city and that it was something we wanted to be involved in. Our work is very focused on Lincoln Green, and we’ve always been really keen to encourage people out of the city centre to this part of the city and show them how unique and brilliant it is, and LEEDS 2023 gives us the perfect opportunity to do that. Throughout the pandemic, it became apparent just how highly women in Lincoln Green value green spaces, both in the immediate local area and more widely following visits to Kirkstall Abbey and the Yorkshire Dales. ‘My City, My World, My Neighbourhood’ gave us the opportunity to explore this creatively.
We thought about how we could help nature to flourish in an urban area and then developed our ideas by hosting creative workshops called ‘Sow and Speak’ where we invited people to have a brew and chat about the local area, while planting a seed in a pot to take home with them. Later in the year, we’re going to work with a photographer to capture what will essentially be a ‘green map’ of Lincoln Green and create a photo installation in the local area. In time, we hope that the legacy of this project will result in transforming a disused local playground into a new community garden where local people can meet and play.
Working as part of LEEDS 2023 is opening new doors for us all the time. Through our ‘My City, My World, My Neighbourhood’ project, we worked with children from Shakespeare Primary School who were so enthusiastic about planting seeds and growing things. The kids were also really vocal about how much they loved the idea of a new playground and wanted more places to play in the area, and it made us think about how we as an arts organisation could work with schools to replicate our work across other parts of the city.
We’re so excited for LEEDS 2023’s yearlong celebration of culture. There is an emphasis on LEEDS 2023 bringing people out of the city centre to explore new neighbourhoods which they might not ordinarily visit, which will be invaluable for organisations like ours. There are lots of hidden stories like ours to celebrate and we’re looking forward to introducing plenty of new faces to our wonderful corner of Leeds.