A new and exciting initiative funded by the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit is looking for people who want to take a different direction in life away from crime.

The Beyond the Walls Initiative is part of Shakespeare Unbard which works with those caught up in the criminal justice system and offers them the opportunity to set up and run a collaboratively-owned theatre company. Founder of Shakespeare UnBard, Rowan Mackenzie, has been working in prisons across England since 2017 and has won multiple awards for the theatre companies she co-owns with the actors inside.

Starting on Monday, 4 January 2021 in Sheffield, the Beyond The Walls initiative will offer people from the age of 18-years the opportunity to work together to produce one of William Shakespeare’s famous plays that will be performed to family members and friends.

Rachel Staniforth, Head of the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit said: “This initiative is something really different and one that we were very keen to get involved with and bring to South Yorkshire.”

“The revolving door of the criminal justice world for many people means that they never get the opportunity to change.  This project will allow those who have served their time in prison and accepted their punishment, a time to reflect and change their future.  It will offer them the new skills and confidence to change and be the person they want to be.”

The Beyond the Walls initiative will run on Monday evenings from January 2021.  During the current lockdown this will continue on Monday evenings from 6pm via Zoom for anyone able to join via the internet. Usually it will take place in Sheffield and the cost of travel to the venue can be provided for all attendees. It will give everyone involved the opportunity to try their hand at acting, boost their confidence and make decisions as a group as to how the production comes together. Absolutely no acting experience or knowledge of Shakespeare or of theatre is needed and full support will be given.

Rowan Mackenzie runs theatre companies in various men’s prisons and describes them as “this is an opportunity for anyone to try their hand at something new, this is a place that the labels don’t matter, we work together as equals to create theatre, to create something that all involved are proud of.” One of the actors, serving a life sentence describes our theatre company as “a true sense of freedom, one that is rarely found anywhere in life, let alone within the high security estate. It offers each of us a few brief moments of Nirvana.”

Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner said: “I am always looking for ways of supporting those people who have been involved in criminality to turn their lives around. This project is something really imaginative and different. I am pleased we can support it through the Violence Reduction Unit.”

If you would like more information on how to get involved and book a place, please contact Rowan Mackenzie on so that a Zoom link can be sent out for you to join.