The actors work with the charity Baked Beans, which was founded by Jade and Nikko Hardrade-Grosz in south London 25 years ago as a summer drama project. The name, the idea of one student, Tony, references Heinz 57 varieties – reflecting the variety of needs and disabilities supported. Baked Bean proved so popular that it expanded and more than 150 people now join educational and theatre-based classes every week.
The charity launched Beans In Education 15 years ago. This touring drama group performs short plays designed to educate the audience about the realities of living with a learning disability. As word spread, the initiative grew to offer a packed programme of training workshops for the NHS, universities and councils across the country, centred around current issues.
Teacher Hannah Wescombe, who supports the actors to develop the training said: “Using improvisation and theatre techniques, we create performances, workshops and films that educate, entertain, and inspire. We pride ourselves on devising and performing work that makes our voices heard. All the topics come directly from our actors’ lived experiences. As we explore and devise scenes, we slowly begin to script them. We aim to deliver performances that shatter misconceptions, challenge stereotypes, and push the boundaries of society’s view of learning disabilities.”
Beans in Education bases all its shows on real life experiences, covering themes including capacity, health inequalities, communication styles, consent, sexual and financial abuse and much more. Although these topics have a serious message, they are all explored appropriately with lots of engaging Baked Bean humour.
Actors performing in the shows speak positively about the experience. According to Sammy Butcher: “It’s important to me because my voice gets heard in places it usually wouldn’t.” For Carolinge Ogudenji: “It’s a supportive environment to learn, share ideas and have fun!” Marcus Taylor added: “I get paid work and get to work in professional environments.”
Government legislation introduced last summer means mandatory training for the health and social care workforce around learning disability and autism, to encourage safe, compassionate, and informed care.
All Baked Beans shows and workshops for health professionals have been jointly written and produced with NHS staff teams, creating tailored performances to tackle specific issues.
Senior lecturer at Kingston University School of Nursing, Marina Russ, said: “We really value our work and partnership with the Baked Bean charity. They work with us on developing and delivering clinical simulation sessions across our programmes, as well as doing live performances for our students and collaborating.
“The students and academic staff love working with them, and their input is invaluable in supporting students’ understanding of the needs of and how to work with people with learning disabilities.”
Over the coming year training is planned with St George’s Hospital teams including paramedics, the Cancer Alliance, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Trinity Hospice and the Maudsley NHS Trust.
The charity’s staff members come from a mix of backgrounds and include theatre graduates, care workers and teachers. Jade Hardrade-Grosz who leads the charity has worked in the care sector for 26 years with a background in theatre and the care sector.
The actors’ talents have been recognised and they have seen them cast in films and tv dramas, including the 2012 film of Les Misérables and The Crown on Netflix.
Actress, Claudia Finch, who starred in both, said: “It’s the best thing I’ve done, and I think about it a lot. I can’t wait to do more!”
Every year the company stages a number of large-scale theatre productions and more than 60 community engagement and outreach events. Shows have covered issues including bullying, housing and austerity.
Baked Beans has won the Wandsworth Arts Fringe Audience Choice Award two years running for their work in their festival.
For 2023, funding from the Wimbledon Foundation Community Fund will set up a student parent carer forum with guest speakers on topics such as advocacy and finance offering support for people with learning disabilities. The charity has received NHS community grants funding in recent years.