Theatre group for the homeless fuels fresh hope for former Leeds rough sleeper
Two years ago Richard Preston was desperate and destitute, sleeping on the floor of a homeless shelter without a friend in the world.
Now the 25-year-old aspiring actor is preparing to take to the stage in a play at a Leeds arts centre – as well as inspiring others who have struggled with homelessness to get involved in music and drama workshops.
He said the sessions run by Urban Sprawl, Yorkshire’s only homeless theatre company, had boosted his confidence and given him the chance to dream of a better life.
Richard, who joined the group in February 2011, said: “I’d never done drama in my life and thought ‘I can’t possibly be any good at this’.
“But they asked me if I’d done it before. And since then I’ve done quite a few plays.”
He revealed how his ambitions had grown, saying: “I want to be on stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and on TV as well.”
He is now a peer mentor for Urban Sprawl, which delivers arts-engagement programmes for and with people affected by homelessness.
It produces at least two original theatre productions each year, as well as other activities such as performing as the Urban Stage Band.
Because of the chaotic lifestyles of many of the people using the service, most performances feature a mix of clients, volunteers and staff.
Lucy Meredith, the group’s publicity manager, said: “Some people will come down and then we won’t see them again for six months.
“Some people have stuff they have to deal with but they always know the door’s open for them to come back.
“It builds people’s confidence, once they know they can stand up on stage and do something like that. And some people might even have a career in this if they keep going.”
Richard, who found himself out on the streets and estranged from his family after a row, is expected to be one of them.
Urban Sprawl, which is based in Leeds, meets on Monday evenings at Multiple Choice, a substance misuse agency in the city; and Fridays at St George’s Crypt. Their next production will be Wrecked, at Seven arts in Chapel Allerton on October 19, as part of the Love Arts Leeds Festival.