What’s Happening to Strawberry Words?

We know this is a question many of our colleagues and clients have been asking over the last ten months. This is a quick email to update you on our metamorphosis.

The spring and summer terms of 2017 were explosive with our Living Arts Network literacy project ending in a Poetry Slam at The Old Rep Theatre and the ECMAT (University of Wolverhampton) network of academies successful diversity programme.  4 practitioners, 835 pupils, 42 teachers/Head Teachers and an audience of well over 1000 had at blast! Both projects were supported by Arts Connect.

Whilst these programmes were running fantastically, Director Rebbecca Hemmings unfortunately had to make an early exit as she dealt with a cancer diagnosis over the summer. The rest of the team under the management of Margaret Snape, led the 16 schools to massively impactful project ends.

Having recovered from surgery, Rebbecca returned to lead the company in the autumn of 2017. Strawberry Words then went onto lead:

  • Eloquence communication training on the ASTONish Leadership programme for Birmingham Hippodrome and Lara Rataraja.
  • Deliver diversity CPD training for ECMAT schools and Arts Connect
  • Continue its involvement as part of the evaluation team for Big Brum’s 2-year TIE Evaluation Project.
  • A strategy day with The Core at Corby Theatre Board of Directors and Managers
  • A strategy programme with FleetMilne Estate Agency

After having much time to evaluate and assess the company’s progress since its inception in 2014, Rebbecca felt it was time for the company to grow and mature given its rich history of training, development and consultancy in arts, business and education. Therefore, from January 2018 Strawberry Words has graduated from an arts education company to a business and education consultancy that works with schools, the creative sector and businesses.

We know former clients may have questions about our future work, in anticipation of that, you can read our frequently asked questions here.

It is our pleasure to report that Rebbecca is now cancer-free and plans on staying that way.

If we can help you with your strategy needs, arts planning, facilitation, training and/or development needs, then do pick up the phone and let’s arrange a coffee.

Hollering at Theatre Practitioners

Strawberry Words at work

Here at Strawberry Words some exciting movements are bubbling away under the surface. As many of you will know, we specialise in using drama as a tool for developing language, literacy skills and cultural intelligence. Currently, we are working on several innovative projects, of which we are very proud. As we develop, we need the team to grow with us. 

Therefore, if you are a theatre or spoken word practitioner who is a ball of energy with a passion for our passion, get in touch! Send us your CV with a little information on who you are and why working with us, is for you.

Email: admin@strawberrywords.co.uk  

We look forward to potentially working with you!

Strawberry Words

Week 6 at We’ve Got This

‘We’ve Got This’ Week 6 by Lashana Charles-Queely

We've Got This! with Strawberry Afro Theatre

We’ve Got This! with Strawberry Afro Theatre

We are 6 weeks into our wonderful ‘We’ve Got This’ drama project. This week as part of their Arts Award work,  the young people discussed the different types of art they have encountered. They talked about drama, dance, music, sculpture and photography, just to name a few. The children that attend the project are such a talented bunch, with some mentioning that they can play various musical instruments such as piano and violin, and each week they show off their acting skills and writing talent in the drama studio.

All their suggestions were noted down and then as a group they created a collage of inspired drawings depicting the various art forms they had suggested. By the end of the session, the once blank pieces of paper had been brought to life with colourful images of dancers, music notes, and poetic words.


‘We’ve Got This’ is a ten week drama programme run by our sister company ‘Strawberry Afro Theatre CIC’ and is funded by Birmingham City Council. 

***Auditions for Strawberry Afro Theatre Company***


Strawberry Afro Theatre Company
is looking for: 
Two black females and one white female professional actors, to take part in a short play on Assata Shakur as part of an International Women’s Day celebration in Birmingham. Actors need to be physically fit. Successful candidates must be able to rehearse during the day (though we can be flexible as to which days). Rehearsals take place in February and the performance is on 9th March 2017. The positions are offered on a profit shared basis.

Audition date: Friday 3rd February 2017

Please apply by sending your headshot and CV to: admin@strawberrywords.co.uk by Monday 30th January 2017 at 5pm.

Information on Strawberry Afro Theatre Company

Strawberry Afro - FinalStrawberry Afro Theatre Company exists to give a voice to culturally marginalised people in order to redistribute power and create a fairer society. We create highly physical, urban theatre performances designed to provoke, enthuse, encourage and celebrate.

We co-exist alongside our sister company Strawberry Words Drama Education. Together we plan to increase equality of opportunity for all using high quality arts.

It is our mission to ask difficult questions with regards to cultural disparities and to open the belly of the beast in order to emancipate the truth and level the playing field.

Find us on facebook: Strawberry Afro

Shakespeare Straight Outta Handsworth

“…I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I loved my English lessons so much… I would often pen heartfelt raps and practice them in my Handsworthian bedroom to the soulful jazz music I heard on the local pirate radio station PCRL”

Rebbecca Hemmings

I am extremely pleased to finally announce the launch of Shakespeare’s Academy of Excellence – the latest offering from my drama education company Strawberry Words. In short, it is an after-school theatre school (for primary and secondary aged pupils) that teaches eloquence, confidence and critical thinking using a modern and cool version of Shakespeare’s work. However, it is only now as I think about how passionate I am about this work, that I realise its true origins and the huge potential this has for positive change.

As the oldest child of 6 who grew up in Aston and Handsworth (two areas of great depravity in Birmingham, UK), to a single parent Jamaican family, who saw and experienced many hair-raising moments she most probably shouldn’t have at a young age, a brother who was (and still is) in and out of prison and who statistically should not have amounted to much as an adult, I know that my passion for drama and English Language were my key to a better future.

In school and college, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I loved my English lessons so much. Was it because my mother had encouraged me to read and listen to Radio 4 from a young age? Could it have been because I loved creative writing? I would often pen heartfelt raps and practice them in my Handsworthian bedroom to the soulful jazz music I heard on the local pirate radio station PCRL. Perhaps it was because through reading and writing I could escape the inner-city and find myself in weird and wonderful locations in no time at all? Maybe it was all of the above, I may never know. What I am sure of is my love of English did me well in the long run.

Rebbecca at age 18 with her mum and sisters.

Rebbecca at age 18 with her mum and sisters.

My keen interest in drama too was key to me climbing the social ladder, as I was an extremely shy child. I could barely talk to an adult on the phone up until the age of 16. I lived inside my head. Growing up in a house where the dull painful sounds of domestic violence made for daily background music, I learned to internalise my thoughts. However, soon after discovering my joy of living vicariously through fictional characters in my school drama lessons and then joining Central Television Junior Workshop, I began to slowly exit my shell. My smile started to appear on the outside and my new found voice regularly made appearances.

The Wassifa Caribbean Show

The Wassifa Caribbean Show

Without going into great detail, I now have a university degree, a teaching qualification, have travelled the world, been a TV presenter, run my own theatre companies for 20 years and much more. My working and social life has been bountiful. On the recommendation of the academic and Criminologist Dr Martin Glynn, I gained employment as a freelance drama facilitator for the Royal Shakespeare Company (the world’s most highly acclaimed theatre company) when initially I had never read a full Shakespearean play. It was the toughest learning experience I had ever been through. Even when they wanted to quietly let me go as I did not pick up the teachings as easily as the others (who unlike me exuded Shakespearean pride and solemnity), I persevered and did not leave without a fight because I was being opened to a whole new world, that I did not quite understand but knew that I loved! I told them about my limited Shakespearean background and pleaded for them to train me further so I could learn. To their credit they did and I thank them for that.

Prince Charles asks Rebbecca about her work with the children at The RSC

Prince Charles asks Rebbecca about her work with the children at The RSC

You see up until my time at The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), I thought Shakespeare had no relevance to me and my life but as time went on I proved myself so very wrong! The work really began to connect with me. I learned about the Capulets and Montagues in Romeo and Juliet and it got me thinking about local ‘gangs’ the Burger Boys and the Johnson crew. King Lear really struck a chord with me when I discovered what his ungrateful daughters Goneril and Regan did to him as I had heard a child of one of my mum’s friends doing something very similar to her mum. When I heard Shylocks’s speech in The Merchant of Venice, I nearly lost my mind! He said as a targeted Jew ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’ I wanted to holler and call all the Pan-Africanists I knew and tell them about it as they were always fighting for justice and equality for Black people. Shakespeare was actually writing about this stuff that I could relate to!

Rebbecca leads a workshop on Hamlet in school

Rebbecca leads a workshop on Hamlet in school

As my confidence and abilities grew in decoding the language, familiarising myself with his plots, analysing his techniques and discovering more about the man, I began to realise that Shakespeare truly is for all! It is not just for an elite group of society who speak with received pronunciation. It was also for people like me (and others) who grew up in poverty and had to learn English culture through school and TV.  

I could go on, but the point is this: the positive experiences I had in drama lessons, my English classes and The Royal Shakespeare Company all helped me to live with passion, develop my sense of self and communicate effectively. These experiences have enabled me to climb the social ladder. I am confident, self-assured and know how to read, write and speak to a very high standard (though I am not claiming perfection, I am always learning). If you are confident, literate and able to articulate well, you are much more likely to have a successful working career. This is not just my belief but is backed up by a plethora of research (The National Literacy Trust Review 2011 is just one source you might want to check out).

Shakespeare's Academy of Excellence Logo

Shakespeare’s Academy of Excellence Logo

Shakespeare’s Academy of Excellence is important to me because I know the power it has to help change the course of a life. All our child-hood experiences whether good or bad have impacted us in later life. We as parents and educators have the privileged ability to be positive leaders in children and young people’s lives and guide them in progressive directions. I cannot leave this earth knowing that I did not do my best to help others enjoy a better life regardless of their background.

At the time of writing this, I am working on creating a bursary programme for those who cannot afford the full fees. In an ideal world I would run this for free but space, people, resources and time all have to be paid for. However, I do not want money to become a barrier to learning. So I am working on truly making this accessible to all.

The really beautiful fact about this programme is that we have been running its sister: Shakespeare’s Kids Academy in schools for the last 3 years very successfully (you can see the testimonials on the Strawberry Words website). Teachers and pupils love it because we really do make learning Shakespeare cool and relevant!

Shakespeare's Academy of Excellence

Shakespeare’s Academy of Excellence

So, there you have it, my reasons for creating a theatre school that I am working on becoming a staple offering in the UK for years to come. Welcome to the world: Shakespeare’s Academy of Excellence! Straight outta Handsworth!

Click here to enrol.



Seeking Black Male Actor

Strawberry Words is seeking a Birmingham based black male actor for a Black History Month 16 performance. This is a paid role (funding pending).

DSC00758_JPG - Copy


The person we require:

  • Must have knowledge and experience of physical theatre
  • Must be able to improvise
  • Must be available on 25th & 30th September 2016
  • Must have professional experience
  • Should be between 18 +

Do get in touch with your CV and photo a.s.a.p by emailing: admin@strawberrywords.co.uk by 12th August 2016.

Ten Ways to Deal with Racism in with Children in Primary School

Ten Ways to Deal with Racism in with Children in Primary School

By Rebbecca Hemmings


Uplifting, Empowering and Awakening!

Children are born without prejudice but as they become more influenced by the outside world, they begin to form views about it. Some believe that since this is the case, racism should not be discussed for fear of planting ideas in children’s minds but actually what is more likely to happen is that as the child grows and learns, any racist views held will be strengthened if not challenged. Prevention is better than cure. Therefore, we have created a list of our top tips for talking about racism with children. This is targeted at primary schools but most points can also be utilised by parents/carers and for young people.

  1. Have conversations about culture – do not be afraid to discuss the obvious. There are people with different skin colours,  who eat different foods and dress differently but ultimately we are all equal and valid members of society.
  1. Acknowledge racism. Children need to know that it exists and that treating someone badly because of their skin colour is wrong. What constitute racism? What words are not okay to use?


  1. Expose them to people of different cultures as much as possible. This goes further than just talking, it is important to know that people who come from other cultures are real. Visit a multi-cultural city centre, a place of worship or invite people to your establishment.
  1. Do your research. If you don’t know much about other cultures, how can you expect your children to know? Read books, speak to people of other cultures (the best way), go on a diversity course, visit another country.
  1. Be aware of your own prejudices (we all have them). Ask yourself some honest questions: what do I really think about Pakistani people? What judgements do I hold on Polish people? What gets on my nerves about Jamaican people? If you find your views are quite negative, challenge them by digging deeper and finding out the root cause of your belief. Quite often you will it is based on an isolated experience and is not indicative of all people from that culture. If you do not challenge your own prejudices, you could unconsciously pass these onto your children.
  1. Be aware of the images by which your children are surrounded. If they are mono-cultural, you might want to ensure that they truly reflect the diverse world we live in. This applies to posters, books, dolls etc. It is well documented that most children associate images of white people as positive and people who are brown as negative (Example: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/US/05/13/doll.study/)
  1. Ensure that your children are proud of their heritage and identities. Having a strong sense of who you are, builds confidence and self-esteem and children are less likely to be negatively affected by racism.


  1. Treat them with respect. Children are much more likely to understand the idea of justice if they are treated with respect on a regular basis. In turn, the likelihood of recognising unjust behaviour and opposing it, increases.
  1. Teach the consequences of racism. No one likes to think that racists incidents occur but they do and in the eyes of the law racism is a hate crime, illegal and punishable. What are your school procedures? How far is a parent likely to go if their child becomes a victim of racism?
  1. Create a plan of action. If a child witnesses or is a victim of racism, what should they do? Who do they report it to, what will happen as a result? What is the difference between a silly mistake and a genuine hurtful and deeply offensive racist remark? Create a plan they understand and are happy to follow.

If all else fails, give us a call and we can discuss the types of anti-racism work we facilitate in schools. We have a range of workshops and performances which range in the level of depth of topic. Our cultural awareness training course for teachers (originally created in partnership with Birmingham City Council), enables teachers to learn more about the cultures of their pupils and to understand prejudice in more detail.

Strawberry Words Refix Logo


Email: admin@strawberrywords.co.uk

The Growing White Elephant (Part 3)

(Continued from part 2)

But why aren’t more of these people playing a strategic role in Birmingham Arts’ and Cultural Institutions? This is the white elephant!

WellID-100152039 I posed this question on my Facebook and Instagram pages and immediately I got a response from Daniella Genas Ogunbanjo (mentioned in part 2)

“…because they are not interested in us and I’m fed up with this ‘BME’ thing. They lump us together like there aren’t major cultural differences…The problem is so multifaceted it is impossible I feel to even tackle”.

We went on to talk privately and we spoke about the number of people we know who have and are facing similar issues with ‘the system’. I have also been speaking to a number of individuals who wish to remain nameless but also felt it essential I know how they are struggling to find ways of furthering their careers in the arts. One person spoke about not knowing herself, where ‘everyone’ had gone.

I spoke to a theatre producer who now mainly works outside of the city. This person told me: “I know so many Black and Asian creative professionals who are qualified and over qualified in many cases – who have applied for various senior management creative sector jobs in Birmingham and have not even been given an interview or have had interviews to be told that you that there was a better candidate for the job. Until you see who that person was who got the job, a mate of the interviewer.

So based on that many BAME professionals included myself have just focused on working outside of Birmingham. Easier and you get noticed quicker.

The Birmingham creative industries/establishments are not interested in people like us taking their jobs – they want us to attend their meaningless forums and their events like powerless participants.”

In my opinion this is a crisis for Birmingham. For whatever the reason is, arts leaders in the city are driving BME artists away! This current state of play works for no one in the long term. Artists and producers are inconveniencing themselves by working further afield and arts organisations are losing a group of highly qualified and skilled people! I’m pulling my hair extensions out, just thinking about it!

In truth, I cannot say I know the answers to this intricately difficult and delicate issue, but what I know for sure is that there is a lot of pent up frustration in the black community (in particular). Many are tired of ‘being the role model’, perpetually ‘raising the issue’ and facing barriers. I feel, no one person or group of people are to blame, it is a collective issue to which we all must find the answers. We all have to keep the lines of communication open. Arts venues have to be willing to do more to find and engage diverse communities. Members of these communities need to feel ID-100302490free to have conversations with arts organisations as well as talk amongst themselves.

I spoke with Gary Topps, he is clear that he wants Culture Central to be Young, digital and diverse’ from the outset. His ears and mind are open. For those who are serious about making change, the final suggestion I have is to start having those difficult conversations and be willing to listen to the answers no matter how painful they might be. I for one, will not be stopping at just writing this blog.

On a final note, it would be great to walk into a similar event and not be alerted to the fact I am black because of the lack of other diverse groups represented in the room.

The Growing White Elephant (Part 2)

(Continued from part 1)

So, you may or may not have heard about an exciting new organisation that is now forming in Birmingham callecanstockphoto4690657d Culture Central. Its aim is to:

“…to raise the profile of the city’s world class culture and to build upon the considerable successes already achieved through cultural bodies working collaboratively.”

Gary Topp is the new CEO. As one of the keynote Speakers, he expressed that his focus is on making Birmingham ‘Young, digital and diverse.’ Do you know what? I believe him. He seems sincere, not about the fluff and in touch with reality. I am hopeful of change.

This notion of social innovation for the city was backed up by Darren Henley, the CEO of The Arts Council England (ACE). He communicated his concerns about the lack of diversity (all protected forms including, disability, age, race, sex, religion, etc… as well as those from low social economic backgrounds) in arts and cultural organisations. He spoke of the Talent Plan which looks at arts activities ACE wants young people to be involved in 25 years from now. Their vision is of a nation of culturally literate citizens. The Arts Council can dream (and I do that willingly with them) but they are restricted by the fact that funding comes in 5 year cycles. 

I digress, so back to that elephant. Rob Elkington (CEO of Arts Connect) then led a Q & A session with Darren Henley and we were asked to speak to the person next to us about the questions that have arisen from Darren’s talk. I happened to be sitting next to Dorothy Wilson MBE who is the CEO and Artistic Director of mac Birmingham. (She will shortly be retiring after 26 years at mac). After brief introductions I told her my concern lay with the lack of diversity (and for me my major concern is that of ethnicity, not that I do not care about the other forms of diversity but as a black person, this is what is at the fore of my mind) amongst leadership within arts organisations in Birmingham. She agreed that this is an important question and just as we were being brought back to Rob’s attention, and asked what questions we have, Dorothy said to me, ‘You must ask your question’. So up went my hand and I spoke.

I expressed my concern and honestly commented on the fact that there were very few people in the room that looked like me and I am worried. My direct question was: ‘How can we change the diversity of arts management within the city?’ If I am being truthful, I got a politician’s answer. Which in essence was not the clear concise reply I wanted; could I really have expected more? I was told to keep doing what I am doing with regards to being a role model for others and to keep raising the issue. In addition, Mr Henley said ACE now has the power to take away funding from organisations that do not embrace diversity. On the one hand it is a good start but on the other, I wonder what experience diverse staff members will have at the hands of disgruntled arts leaders who are practically forced to employ us?

On the subject of ‘asking’, the fact that I brought this point up meant that I got many people talking to me throughout the day about this. Brilliant! I got the sense from these individuals that they too were genuinely concerned about the problem. However, what I was also asked several times were questions such as ‘Is your team of workers diverse?’ to which the answer is ‘yes’. Also, ‘If I was to ask you right now for 6 names of more people like you, could you name them? Like err.. yes:

Barbara Walker (visual artist), Pauline Bailey (visual artist), Oluwatoyin Odunsi (Creative Producer), Tru Powell (Aston Performing Arts Academy), Sharon Jones (Theatre Producer), Daniella Genas Ogunbanjo (former CEO of Aspire4U), Andrew Jackson (CEO of Some Cities/photographer), Vanley Burkecanstockphoto8625641 (photographer), Tonya Bolton (CEO of ICU Transformational Arts), Sean Cope (choreographer), Ronke Fadare (choreographer), Elishah St. Juste (actress and drama facilitator), Dawn Spence (drama facilitator), Lola Adodo (dancer and choreographer), Moqapi Selassie (poet), Jendayi Selassie (dancer and choreographer), Cherrelle Skeete (TV & Stage Actress), Sandra Golding (dancer and choreographer), KMD St. Juste (music producer), Peter Reed (musician), Toffee Sealey (CEO Tru Street Dance & Hotspot Arts), Wassifa Showcase (International Music and TV producers), Byron Jackson (Opera singer), Abigail Kelly (opera singer), Martin Glynn (writer, poet and academic).

Sorry, maybe that was a little more than the 6 you thought I might struggle to recall. I do also apologise to those I know who will be cussing me because I left their names off the list (I have to stop somewhere), forgive me.

Now, these people are far from emerging artists, they are seasoned professionals and for one reason or another, most are not being fairly represented in our city (some are doing great in places such as mac Birmingham, Birmingham REP and The Old REP Theatre, The BBC and so on). But why aren’t more of these people playing a strategic role in Birmingham Arts’ and Cultural Institutions? This is the white (pardon not the pun) elephant!

(Concludes in Part 3)

The Growing White Elephant (Part 1)

We have a huge problem in our city and it is getting bigger. Are Birmingham’s arts organisations fit for purpose? The short answer is ‘no’. Well not entirely, not when it comes to delivering high quality arts for and with all. I know that may hurt some of you reading this, so I must warn you if you are scared of being asked difficult questions and hearing some really honest opinions, then you might not to want to continue reading this and go find a sandpit.

This originally started out as a quick blog to reflect on my wonderful (on the whole) experience at the Arts and Learning Strategic Planning Day in Birmingham (I’ll explain more later). However, the more I thought about and researched the major problemscanstockphoto14942428 that were highlighted during the day, the more I wrote. Therefore, this has now become a 3-part blog (or an essay in its entirety). I make no apologies as the issue I raise, has far reaching consequences and is currently affecting our city in a huge way.

To put the origin of this post into context, I should explain that I am the Director of a small drama education company called Strawberry Words based in Aston Birmingham. I have 20 years’ experience of working in drama education which include: several years running my company Harvey Arts and working for the former Sister Tree Theatre Company, four years at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Education Department, several years freelancing for Birmingham City Council’s Education Department, a year TV Presenting on The Wassifa Caribbean Show (Big Centre TV), Radio presenting for 6 years (Newstyle Radio). I am also an African Caribbean woman. I say all of this to demonstrate that I am firmly rooted in the history of Birmingham’s arts provision and I also have excellent links within the African-Caribbean community.

Strawberry Words

That would be me: Rebbecca Hemmings

After having had a three year break from the arts education scene (to have my daughter and other amazing stuff) I started Strawberry Words in 2013. Since then, I have been busying myself, establishing, defining and refining the organisation. Now two and a half years into that process, I am only now reaching out and learning more about where Strawberry Words’ sits in the wider arts ecology of Birmingham.

As part of this journey, I attended the Arts and Learning Strategic Planning Day at Birmingham City University on 29th April 16. It was a day organised by Arts Connect on behalf of Culture Central and Birmingham City University. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The promotional information spoke of “exploring the idea of working together to improve the quality of provision, extending reach and addressing cold spots within the city”. I thought ‘great, that sounds like a brilliant opportunity to get to know who is currently doing what and how we as an organisation can extend our own reach.’

There must have been about 90 people in this gorgeous conference room from which we had a scenic view of the stunning and ever-changing landscape of Birmingham City Centre. Before now, I had not noticed just how colourful, vibrant and unique all the structures and buildings are; beautiful! This was juxtaposed with a somewhat less varied scene within the room. Let’s be frank: I counted maybe six people who were from a black or minority ethnic background, everyone else was, go on hazard a guess… Give up? They were white.

I will let that thought marinate but you know I am not going to leave it there. Read more in part two.