Northern Ireland news

North Belfast actress helps beat coronavirus blues by keeping her young students connected by video link

The show must go on as drama teacher Louise Mathews came up with a novel idea of keeping her classes going via video link last weekend

AN inspirational drama teacher and actress has found a way of beating the coronavirus blues by keeping her young students connected by video link while minding their mental health through troubled times.

Creator of ‘Time To Shine’ drama group, Louise Mathews insists the Show Must Go On, and offered her services free of charge to parents who may have lost their jobs through the abrupt economic shut-down.

With the help of Zoom App, Louise's three Saturday morning classes went ahead remotely.

“The priority is the kids’ mental well-being,” said north Belfast native Louise.

“I know the joy on their faces when they come in on a Saturday and when they’re leaving their class, and how they connect with each other.

“I knew that some kids might have to drop out because their parents can’t spend money right now. That’s why I said if anyone has lost any income at all, they didn’t have to pay fees. This is for the kids. This is just me maintaining my relationship with them because I know that it brings them joy and, more importantly, they’re maintaining their relationships with each other.”

Time To Shine works with children between the ages of three and 13 and are broken into three age groups of ‘Tinies’, ‘Middlers’ and ‘Olders’.

“To see my daughter laughing, chatting and acting away in the kitchen on Saturday while looking at her friends in their homes gave everybody a lift,” said one parent. “That’s down to the commitment and compassion shown by Louise.”

A graduate of The Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin and a background in community youth work, the established actress has asked all her students to create a video diary for next week’s class and write a letter to an elderly neighbour.

“I asked the children to write a letter to someone in their street or someone that they know who lives alone or who is elderly, just to say: ‘Hello, my name is 'Johnny' and I live up the street…’

“Maybe the neighbour could send a letter back and that would be lovely and a new chain of communication. We have an elderly neighbour here in our street and I got my son as part of his home schooling to write her a card and draw a wee picture for her. He drew a blossom tree. She rang my son thanking him for his card. It might brighten her day. I thought our kids could do something similar for someone who is isolated during this coronavirus outbreak."

Ms Mathews said she "winged it" after using video technology to keep the children connected.

“I realised a lot of our games weren’t going to work on this [video] format but the most valuable thing we do is our ‘check-in’ which gives the children the opportunity to talk to each other…

“My commitment to them is making sure this happens every single week or twice a week, then they might start talking more.”

The local drama and arts scene has also been ravaged by coronavirus with many actors struggling to make ends meet.

“Fionnuala Kennedy wrote a play called ‘Entitled’ that I appeared in which was about the universal credit coming in a few years ago." Louise explained.

"She’s set up a group called ‘Surviving Corona’ and it includes tips for us for navigating the system and what benefits we can access and getting financial support because most people that were in plays or had contracts are completely gone now.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news