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Theatre | Stoke-on-Trent

RestokeMan Up

Restoke is a not-for-profit participatory performance company founded in 2009. They put the people of Stoke-on-Trent at the heart of their performances. Using surprising locations from pottery factories to disused chapels, swimming pools to a working men’s club, they work with people from Stoke-on-Trent and professional artists to co-create performances inspired by the experiences and stories of those taking part. Man Up was their sixth participatory performance project.



Target Beneficiaries

The target beneficiaries were men from all walks of life based in Stoke-on-Trent.

The project addressed issues around masculinity and mental health, in response to the fact that the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK is suicide. It aimed to provide an opportunity to talk openly about issues of mental health and masculinity, to open up a dialogue and improve support networks


Following an open call in November 2017, open meetings were held for prospective participants to find out more about the project. These were followed by taster workshops introducing some of the creative forms that would be encountered during the project: singing, writing, drawing and dance. In April 2018, a creative weekend was held, exploring potential common themes for the performance through creative workshops and establishing a bond between the cast. Restoke also held 1:1 meetings with those who wanted to contribute to the project but felt that they couldn’t take part, or who wanted to share their stories more discreetly.

The participants (who came to refer themselves as the ‘Up Men’, shifting the negative connotations associated with the term ‘man up’), were also invited to be involved in the recruitment process for some of the professional artists.

The performance took place in Goldenhill Working Men’s Club in August 2018 with rehearsals and final creative sessions starting in the space just 8 weeks prior.

The stories that emerged to be told in the performance included aspects of masculinity arising from being a black man, a gay man, a transitioning man, and explored problems with work – as a high pressured professional, an isolated office worker and a working class white man.






The project had a strong impact on all participants, creating a safe space in which they could discuss and share issues around masculinity and mental health.

Audience feedback suggested that the performance was life changing for audience members’ own life decisions and resulted in more open conversations in their own relationships, with increased understanding and awareness of issues surrounding masculinity and mental health.

Many of the cast wanted to continue the momentum they had built beyond this initial project, to share what they had learned with more people.


Since the project ended:

  • Restoke installed an exhibition of the project, and gave a presentation to students and staff at Keele University, and ran a workshop with clinical psychology students at Staffordshire University, repeated the following year.
  • Many of the Up Men have been approached by Keele students and academics to take part in research on mental health, masculinity and creativity.
  • Restoke have spoken at conferences internationally about the project.
  • A 4 day project for boys aged 11-17 ‘MAN UP YOUTH’ explored masculinity and boyhood through dance, spoken word and performance. This was followed by a programme of weekly ‘Restoke Youth’ and ‘Restoke Small Folk’ workshops.

The project was so successful that Restoke received funding from National Lottery Community Fund for a legacy programme called UP MEN to run a programme of monthly creative activities centred around masculinity and mental health, including a men’s choir called Up Men Sing who have performed at suicide prevention conferences, business awards and local singing festivals.

Evaluation report


This was one of the most powerful pieces of human expression I have ever witnessed.

Audience member

The impact these last 8 months working on Man Up have had upon me are genuinely profound. What I have learned about myself and about men I could never have foreseen.

Jamie, Up Man


Arts Council England, Aziz Foundation, Arts Keele, City of Stoke-on-Trent and The Community Investment Fund, New Vic.