Kabosh Theatre Company's '1 in 5'

Watch video as cast and crew visit the Limavady Workhouse to learn about the historical effects of poverty in Northern Ireland

In 2008, the NSPCC released a series of postcards highlighting the current levels of child poverty. The statistics read, ‘one in six people live below the poverty line in Northern Ireland’. I was disturbed by this incredibly high statistic. I immediately thought that this was something that needed to be discussed and began thinking about how artists could respond to this.

Shortly after, I attended a talk by Goretti Horgan, a lecturer at the University of Ulster who works with the anti-poverty network in Derry~Londonderry. Horgan had said that levels of poverty tend to be particularly high for a post conflict society where it is very difficult to break the cycle of poverty. It struck me that this was a hugely important subject to be tackled in our society.

The plans began for a project where a group of artists from all different genres – music, film, sound, playwriting, acting, directing and various others – could come together and create a multi-sensory piece of theatre that was absolutely unique.

Such a project could raise issues about poverty but also challenge people, make them think differently, entertain them. It needed to have the potential to travel elsewhere, to make sure that as many people as possible were exposed to these issues.

We subsequently discovered that 2010 was the European Year of Combating Poverty & Social Exclusion. I knew then that this was the year to pull together all the possibilities for this project. I wanted to ensure that Kabosh created something distinctive – something that could actually raise awareness of the increasing threat of poverty in Northern Ireland.

I began researching artists that would be right for this project. During that research, I was particularly interested in the historical role of women in regards to setting up workhouses as charitable institutions throughout Ireland and elsewhere.

I decided that there were several female playwrights that I wanted to work with, so I very consciously made the decision to feature a group of female voices in the final piece. When writers come together and collaborate on something that is bigger than themselves, it inevitably adds a certain excitement, makes them think about the style in which they write. It makes them articulate where they are coming from.

The next task was to find the right place to house the project. One of the writers, Nicola McCartney, contacted me and told me there was a former workhouse in Limavady that I simply had to see. The Roe Valley Hospital, as it is now known, remains one of the best preserved buildings of its type in Ireland.

It was taken over and restored by the Limavady Community Development Initiative. LCDI were set up in 1987 by a group of local people concerned about high levels of unemployment in the area.

Within this former workhouse, the LDCI have housed groups that need support and need space. There is everything there, from meeting rooms and an adult learning group, to a group for older people in the area to learn crafts and take part in reminiscence work.

We went to view the workhouse and met Damien Corr, the manager of LCDI. Corr has a huge wealth of knowledge on the history of the building that completely comes across in the work that he does today. We knew that this was the location for this project.

Three years on, the show is now finally going ahead. The statistics now read ‘one in five people live below the poverty line in Northern Ireland’. There is no better time to present this vital piece of work. Whilst elements of this project will travel, this will be the only time to see it as one collective piece in this historic venue.

1 in 5 comes to the Limavady Workhouse from November 25. Visit the Kabosh Theatre Company website for more details.