Outside Edge Theatre Company

Outside Edge Theatre Company (OETC) offers free drama activities to help people affected by addiction live healthier lives. They have partnered for over 20 years with local authority commissioners in West and North West London to co-produce evidence-based, peer-support activities that improve wellbeing to prevent relapse. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - community engagement section of our online Culture Hub.

OETC’s holistic, asset-based approach promotes the Five Ways to Wellbeing (connect, take notice, be active, learn and give) to help service users, plus their families, carers and champions, to build Recovery Capital, which are the internal and external resources required to achieve and maintain recovery. Inclusive weekly drama activities encourage beneficiaries to develop healthy habits, discover new talents and reclaim centre stage in their own lives.  Last year they had 276 service users, delivered 228 free drama activities and produced 12 performances.

The challenge

Over the past few years deaths and hospital admissions related to substance misuse have risen in England and Wales, yet across the country many councils have reduced spend on treatment services. In the face of an increased need and reduced resources, and with no evidence directly linking arts and recovery, OETC and commissioners must combine experience from different sectors to communicate the value of an arts-based health intervention.

The solution

Commissioners and OETC are working together to evaluate the efficacy of the drama activities and determine how this service fits into the other treatment and peer-support aftercare offers in the area. Together they are developing a bespoke evaluation framework to capture the holistic impact that the unique activity has on service users. They have reached out to Imperial College’s School of Public Health to assist with this evaluation process.

Photograph of the outside edge participants performing

The impact

OETC’s provision of a range of substance misuse recovery programmes is cost effective and delivers a range of benefits for the individual and wider society. By using the former National Treatment Agency’s value for money tool, the local return from investment on drug treatment and recovery programmes is £1 investment = £6.07 return.

In addition OETC provision is part of a wider community asset-based approach to an effective recovery programme that promotes a range of activities which includes; improved health outcomes, signposting, multi-agency collaboration and work with families.

With 94% of OETC service users reporting that the drama activities are supporting their recovery and 91% not abusing substances in the past month, the theatre company has a significant impact on local residents’ health and wellbeing. They also have 23% more ethnic diversity and 20% more diverse sexualities in their service user cohort than the national statutory services.

These achievements, and the success of the commissioning partnership, has been acknowledged by the three Councils who commission OETC being nominated for and winning a 2020 Hearts for the Arts Award for Best Arts, Health and Wellbeing project.

How is the new approach being sustained?

OETC’s recovery and aftercare service is part of a partnership approach to effective drug and alcohol treatment. The aims of which are prevention of problematic substance misuse and enabling long term recovery. Outside Edge contributes to the development of the partnership and the whole treatment system.

Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster City Council and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea commissioning teams have sought to move away from offering OETC year-long contracts to multi-year direct awards in recognition of the company’s unique offer and its need to project income to secure sources of overhead funding. This longer-term commitment will also facilitate the development of a more robust and substantial cross-sector evaluation framework that can be shared with other services.

Photograph of the participants performing

Lessons learned

“As Commissioners we have found that OETC’s approach is a unique model as a dedicated and continuing service for adults. It is a company that continues to grow and innovate and attracts a more diverse user group than national averages for people in treatment. The feedback from service users demonstrates that workshops are strengthening their recovery and meeting individual goals.” – Hammersmith & Fulham commissioning team

“OETC is conscious of the need to reach more of our residents who might not already be engaged in drug and alcohol treatment services.  It has been quick to recognise the opportunity that social prescribing and the newly appointed link workers offer.” – Hammersmith & Fulham commissioning team

“OETC supports our aims of a strength based substance use system which can meet the needs of a range of service users.  Data from OETC demographics suggests this unique service is meeting the need of service users who are younger, working or seeking employment.” – Westminster City Council and Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea commissioning team

“From our recent review the majority of OETC service users agree that the workshops have helped their recovery, including improvement of both mental and physical well being, helps them to remain abstinent  and provides a safe social space where they can connect to others.” – Westminster City Council and Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea commissioning team


Matt Steinberg

Relevant documents

Previous year’s annual report and accounts