From Freshwater Director, Helen Wood

On our partnership with Trent Park House

The Secret is Out

11 Jan 2024

In 2023 Freshwater turned 1100 pupils into ‘Secret Listeners’ as part of an exciting collaboration with Trent Park House Museum in Enfield.

During the Second World War German-speaking refugees were recruited as secret listeners and they worked in the basement of Trent Park House, recording the conversations of captured German officers taking place in rooms above and making important intelligence discoveries. But due to the Official Secrets Act their fascinating story remained hidden for over 70 years. As reports and transcripts were declassified the extraordinary contribution to the war effort of these unsung-heroes was revealed.

Prior to Trent Park House Museum opening, the museum team wanted to engage the local community, particularly children and a year ago, invited applications from drama-in-education companies. Having collaborated with non-school venues on several occasions (including the Verulamium Museum, the Battle of Britain Bunker and Dulwich Picture Gallery), we jumped at the opportunity to submit a proposal and were delighted when Freshwater were chosen to develop and deliver the new school sessions. We were told that our openness to dialogue with educators, sensitivity to challenging histories and proposed approach were very strong. The work began.

During the spring of 2023; we worked through archive material (transcripts, recordings, articles, books and videos); we wrote the sessions (one for KS2 and one for KS3); we sourced and hand-made the props; we developed pre and post session activities; and we piloted the workshops. In the autumn the roll-our began and we prepared to deliver more than 30 workshops in Enfield schools.

On a chilly day in December I headed to Southgate School, a large secondary school in Cockfosters, keen to see one of the workshops being delivered . . .

The group of Year 9 students entered the workshop space with some uncertainty. There was  awkwardness, giggling and a determination to keep to gender groups. When these 13 and 14 year olds were reminded that they’d come to a drama workshop quite a few concerned looks passed between them.

But the minute Joanna, Freshwater’s workshop leader, put on a military jacket and became Colonel Kendrick, and addressed the students as new secret listener recruits, things changed. “Soldiers, you have been chosen for your excellent alertness and ability to listen,” announced Colonel Kendrick, and through the power of drama and role play their alertness and listening went up notches. As they took part in drama exercises that tested their hearing skills, demonstrated the bugging devices and interrogation techniques the students became more and more engaged. Apart from one or two the initial shyness had gone.

The final exercise focused on a personal testimony from one of the secret listeners: Fritz Lustig. As the students held their powerful freeze-frame images that they had devised we listened to the secret listener, by way of a recording, describing his experiences. It was a moving and thought-provoking end to the workshop.

I chatted to some of the students as they left and they said how much they’d enjoyed the session, one announcing that he felt it was definitely worth his time!

The Trent Park Museum Schools Manager said this of the collaboration with Freshwater: ‘We are so pleased with how the school sessions are being received locally. The sessions are incredibly immersive, and the pupils have been so excited and engaged with them.’

Another very successful collaboration for Freshwater, another win for the power of drama to engage and tell a story and another reason why I am proud to be part of the company.

– Helen Wood (Freshwater Director