Boy with giant monster puppet

“Puppets help us to learn about ourselves.”

I asked Drive Cambridge member Jo Bryant of The Hands On Company, “What’s exciting about your business and why should anybody care about it as much as you do?”

This is what Jo said,
“Whatever our age, we use play to learn about ourselves. The Hands-On Company provides a vehicle for people to do this. We bring puppets to nursery schools, care homes and many other institutions and through different activities encourage people to play and create dramas that allow them to examine ideas and feelings that are sometimes too deeply personal to express in any other way.

“An elderly man living with dementia suddenly started waltzing with a puppet, unaware that I was behind it doing my absolute best to keep up with his fancy footwork.”

Parents learn how to play with their children

One session we ran was with a group of parents who wanted ideas on how to improve the way they played with their children. There were a lot of social workers present, which made for a slightly uptight atmosphere, but the minute the puppets were unpacked the fun was irrepressible. One boy, who was was labelled a selective mute, amazed us all. He began to converse through the puppet he created with his mum. It was a truly touching moment to hear his puppet voice explain exactly what his puppet likes to do.

A member of another family group got in touch with me three years later and told me they were still using their family puppet to discuss personal changes and issues.

Making new friends

In a workshop about friendships, each child had a puppet to represent different types of friends. A nine-year-old girl called her dog puppet Meatballs. She decided he looked like a meatball and that this was his favourite food. Young girl with dog puppet We had great fun building up his character and deciding that he was a true friend as he was caring, but needed lots of meatballs to keep his energy up. In the feedback for this session, the leader told me that this girl’s younger brother was very ill with leukaemia and she had not been eating properly. Her parents were thrilled that she had asked for meatballs for dinner that evening and excitedly described her play with the puppet. Naming and playing with the puppet seemed to be a turning point for her.

In another session I encountered a thirteen-year-old boy who was brave enough to share a bullying incident through the voice of a large monster puppet.

Making decisions about sex and drugs

In the work we do with teenagers, they use puppets to act out dramatic scenarios and we ask them to consider these three statements:
where are you?
who are you with?

how do you feel?
The scenes they play out help them to make informed choices around sex and drug use.

Sock Puppet Moments like these happen whenever we interact with people – from a senior manager becoming overly attached to a hairy puppet because of shared conflicts to an elderly man living with dementia suddenly waltzing with a puppet, unaware that I was behind it doing my absolute best to keep up with his fancy footwork.

Sometimes when we run our businesses, we get bogged down in the worries of cash flow and energy dips, but it is the magical moments that help us to keep working at it. I continually feel privileged to be a part of these and I have the profound hope that there are many more to come.”

Jo and her team also make puppets to sell, so if you’d like your own Meatball or have a project that puppets might help you to explore, give them a shout. 

You’ll also find The Hands On Company on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.