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Futures Theatre: training social workers to help change lives in Tower Hamlets

Futures Theatre is an expert at delivering bespoke, participatory training for social workers employed in local authorities.

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Futures Theatre is an expert at delivering bespoke, participatory training for social workers employed in local authorities.

Tailored to the needs of social work students, newly qualified social workers and beyond, the courses are based on real-life experiences and support reflective and empathetic practice. The training model is informed by Future Theatre’s 25 years of direct work with marginalised women and young people. The programmes recreate difficult situations social workers face and offer participants the opportunity to develop their practical skills in a safe space with like-minded peers, equipping them with the tools to tackle challenging issues and circumstances.

Futures Theatre successfully delivered training for social workers in their first year of practice in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

The challenge

Social workers in their first year of practice (ASYE) employed by Tower Hamlets Council had just had their three-month reviews and were beginning to experience the various challenges of their role. This had negatively impacted their confidence and doubts had crept in as to how to best deal with particularly testing situations.

The solution

After identifying and discussing their needs with Tower Hamlets Council and participants, Futures Theatre crafted bespoke scenarios based on real-life situations, which included a social worker having to manage resistance and navigate unexpected outcomes.

At the training session, Futures Theatre actors performed these scenarios. Participants worked directly with the actors to explore and practise different approaches to managing the challenging situations. Led by an experienced facilitator, they discussed how they would develop their responses. They then took turns to replace the actor playing the social worker and practise their own, unique solutions, receiving prompts, support, advice and constructive feedback from the facilitator and their peers.

The impact

The local authority recognised the impact of Future Theatre’s training on building the confidence and resilience of their social work students.

“Thank you so much – it shows the skill you and the actors bring to help it feel real and safe to participate.”

- Professional Development Coordinator, Social Work Academy, Tower Hamlets

“It surpassed expectations. I was really pleased with how well people interacted and I know that is largely due to your facilitation techniques, which put participants at ease and really validate what people are saying. The scenarios are really realistic and offered something different from each other in content, which was good.”

- Professional Development Co-Ordinator, Social Work Academy, Tower Hamlets

“So useful. Interesting to notice my assumptions. Actually being made to practise and ‘embrace discomfort’.”

- Training course participant

“It was useful seeing other social workers’ ways of reacting to the situation.”

- Training course participant

“Unless you have been in those situations you may not know how to react, so it was good to have a chance to prepare.”

- Training course participant

100% of participants in the training delivered in Tower Hamlets in 2023 said the interventions made by their peers in the actor-led scenarios made them think differently about their own practice. The scenario-based training model promotes active participation, which in turn leads to deeper learning and supports social workers in best addressing the varied and challenging situations they face in their role. The training is cost-effective for local authorities, as Futures Theatre can run sessions for up to 30 participants.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The training built on the success of previous programmes, delivered annually in Tower Hamlets since 2016. The strong relationship between Futures Theatre and Tower Hamlets Council meant that the training was developed and refined in close consultation between the two, to ensure it met the social workers’ specific needs and to maximise its impact.

As the Covid-19 pandemic and cost-of-living crisis have significantly impacted social care and exacerbated the issues faced by the people it exists to serve, Futures Theatre continues to evolve and adapt its training programmes to best suit the needs of current social work students, social workers in their ASYE and wider social care professionals and empower them to practise at their best.

Lessons learned

Social workers consider the training a unique opportunity to prepare and hone their skills through practical exercises and scenarios based on real-life situations. They value sharing ideas, comparing notes and discussing best practice with colleagues and professionals who work with marginalised communities in a different capacity.

Participants feel seen and listened to, appreciate the chance to watch and learn from others, and feel more confident in their abilities because of being able to rehearse their responses – all in a safe environment.


Flair May, Engagement Director, Futures Theatre, [email protected]

Further resources

Futures Theatre Website

Social worker training video

Social worker brochure: Download our flyer for more info