Theatre NEMO

‘Theatre NEMO’ is Glasgow based charity theatre company that specialises in improving and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing through creative workshops in the community, in psychiatric hospitals and in prisons.

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How it started

Theatre NEMO was set up when a need was identified through personal experience. Isabel McCue's son suffered with serious mental health problems for eight years and experienced a lack of support, understanding and control in the institutions he was admitted to. He eventually took his own life. Determined that no-one else should feel abandoned and alone in the system, Isabel worked to set up the charity in his memory.

'Complaining and moaning about the past was no good, we had to do something and so Theatre NEMO was born,' says Isabel.

When they started this work 10 years ago they were determined to prove that using the arts and creativity was a positive step to help people with mental health issues to improve their motivation, give them hope, confidence, self esteem, a feeling of belonging and develop feelings of happiness. They were sure that this would help recovery.

They now have firm evidence of the positives outcomes of these creative projects.

The TAMFS priorities this feeds into are:

  • Mentally healthy enfants, children and young people
  • Mentally healthy later life
  • Mentally healthy communities
  • Mentally healthy employment and working life
  • Reducing the prevalence of suicide, self harm and common mental health problems
  • Improving the quality of life of those experiencing mental health problems and mental illness


The charity originally worked in isolation but over the last ten years has built very strong working relationships with:

  • prison services
  • psychiatric hospitals
  • Scottish Government
  • public and social partnerships


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Theatre NEMO has ten years' experience of developing and delivering a programme of very successful creative arts workshops, led by professional facilitators. These incorporate a broad range of innovative, educational arts-based activities that assist in the recovery from mental ill-health and sustain wellbeing.

Theatre NEMO’s overarching aims are to improve and promote good mental health and wellbeing and the support available for carers, friends and families of those affected by mental ill-health.

The workshops usually consist of three hours a week for ten weeks in hospitals, two hour a week sessions, two times a week for 13 weeks in prisons and weekly Sunday sessions in the community. There are also projects commissioned by other organisations throughout the year.

There is always a showing of work at the end of each project whether it is a film, animation or performance. Every project is evaluated and an independent evaluation takes place of the prison and family projects.


There have been some very positive results in both community settings and within the institutions. There has been a big swing towards the recovery of mental health patients. Initially, the only aim of Theatre NEMO was to help people feel better about themselves; to build confidence and to give people a real sense of achievement.

As these participants in the HMP Barlinnie project said:

‘First time I’ve ever done anything like this in my life and I’ve achieved it. What more can I say - it means a lot to me. To prove it whenever I get out of prison I’ll contact Theatre NEMO so that I can continue the drama workshops. Maybe it’ll help me to stop coming into prison.’ Robert

'I learned I was worth more than I thought I was. I have stopped offending; it’s four years since I left prison and I’m not going back. Before that I had been in prison eight times. I am now doing four days a week voluntary work with a homeless unit, and am now off anti-depressants.' Andy

These participants have highlighted a positive but unexpected finding, that reoffending for prisoners on release has been reduced, and in the hospitals Theatre NEMO are now able to demonstrate the power of the arts in recovery and good mental wellbeing.

One very positive outcome, as Isabel says, is ‘It has been surprising how much people can achieve when they want to.'

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Each individual project is evaluated during and after the project. These are conducted by hospital or prison staff and Theatre NEMO staff, but most importantly, they gather the evidence from participants’ focus groups.

There is currently an evaluation of work at Barlinne Prison being undertaken by PriceWaterhouseCooper. Please see related documents for examples of previous evaluations, including the evaluation of the new pilot at HMP Addiewell which encourages families to work together.

Lessons learned

The lessons learned for Theatre NEMO are that it is important to get as much help as possible when you start out any project. Theatre NEMO existed without any funding for the first 2-3 years and this was hard. Isabel claims that their biggest fault when they started the charity was ‘not shouting enough about what they do’. The advice for anyone else starting a similar charity or project is to be as vocal as possible.

Recent successes are the result of years of learning and developing this work, knowing how to gently encourage, motivate and make sessions interesting. Theatre NEMO has hey have learned that when you awaken people to possibilities they will step up to the challenge.

This success could not be achieved without the good working relationships which have been built over the years in hospitals and in prisons and the enthusiasm of occupational therapists and prison officers who are willing to think differently about the treatment of people with poor mental health.


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What’s next for the project?

The charity aims to continue working to improve the health and wellbeing of people suffering from mental health problems. They have been developing new drop-in projects in the community and have recently piloted a new project at HMP Addiewell in which partners and children come into the prison to work with the imprisoned father to create something special together.

This approach may be expanded upon in the futureas it promotes family bonding and inclusion. Funds must be raised to ensure that support is ongoing and sustainable, as this leads to long term benefits for participants. This work should be an integral part of the recovery programme and should be funded accordingly.

Related documents and links

  • Theatre NEMO website
  • Theatre NEMO on Facebook
  • Evaluation of the Theatre NEMO pilot at HMP Addiewell (March 2011)
  • The slipper factory – Monitoring and evaluation summary (2008)
  • Project evaluation - The mischief makers (November 2008)

To read these project evaluation documents, please contact Isabel McCue.


Isabel McCue
Chief Executive
Theatre NEMO Office
141 Bridgegate
Unit 235 the Briggait
G1 5HZ
Tel: 0141 559 4941



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