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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Theatre paves way back from drugs
By Eleanor Williams
BBC News, Bournemouth

Vita Nova
Vita Nova aims to bring drugs education through drama

It started off as a dream for seven people. They came from all walks of life, with one thing in common - they had all been hooked on drugs.

But they had also managed to break free from that addiction and wanted to give something back to their community.

The group decided they would try to bring a different kind of "honest" drug education into schools and got together to write a script for a play about their experiences.

But the planned three-week tour nearly never happened.

As the group was rehearsing for the play, back in 1999, they were told by the Bournemouth school authorities that their performances would have to be cancelled.

Geoff Stevens, who was part of the original group, said: "They just didn't want a load of old drug addicts coming into to the schools and talking to the kids.

"Looking back at it now, I can understand that."

Vita Nova workshop
Vita Nova runs weekly drama workshops

So Vita Nova, as they had decided to call themselves, decided to take their play to the arts centre across the road from their premises in Christchurch Road, Boscombe, and then invited drama students from local schools to come to them.

"It was such a success that the students wrote letters to their headmasters encouraging them to invite us," Mr Stevens said.

Over the next four-and-a-half-years more than 70,000 saw that first play, Scratchin' the Surface.

And seven years later, the work of Vita Nova - meaning new life - is recognised across Dorset, where it brings its plays to secondary schools, youth clubs, prisons, universities, young offenders units and treatment centres.

When it started no-one could ever have guessed it would become what it has today, Mr Stevens said.

Scratchin' the Surface
More than 70,000 saw Vita Nova's first play, Scratchin' the Surface
What began as a short-term theatre project is now a registered charity with seven staff and about 30 volunteers - who not only create and perform theatre, but also run writing workshops and discussion groups.

The group describes what it does as "unconventional" drugs education.

"We will always be honest," Mr Stevens explained.

"We often get asked 'did you enjoy it' - Well, yes of course I did, that's why I carried on.

"It's like eating sweets, if you like Mars bars you'll have another one."

Jordy wrote a poem about his way back from drugs and prison life

Jordy Bosh, 48, was hooked on amphetamines and heroin for 30 years.

He has been clean from drugs since January 2005 and said Vita Nova has helped him to start over again.

"I do it for the kids. It [taking drugs] is all about choices, which they see in the plays.

"When I was I kid I didn't see I had a choice. It took me 30 years before I realised that I did have a choice," he said.

"What we give them you can't get from a pamphlet.

"Everyone has a stereotype of what an addict is and it's good to be able break that."

Another volunteer, Brian Day, who is 56 and originally from London, said he lost everything - his house, partner and his two sons, who are now teenagers - because of his addiction.

He lived as "a tramp" on the streets of Bournemouth for three years until last year when he was beaten unconscious and left for dead. He was found and taken to hospital and was then put in touch with Vita Nova.

"When I'm talking to those kids, I'm talking to my sons," he said.

"For me, if one of those kids pick up the message about what it [drugs and alcohol] does to you and think: 'I don't want that life', then I've done a good job."

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