The Shed Crew

A book about a former social worker who adopted a group of dispossessed kids in Leeds has been adapted following the death of one of them

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After becoming disillusioned as a social worker in 1990s London, Bernard Hare returned to his home estate in Leeds. It was here that he met the Shed Crew.

“They were a gang of young teenagers who had become really close friends but whose lives were extremely difficult and challenging,” explains theatre director Rod Dixon. “For various reasons some of them had fallen through the normal safety nets of society and were living chaotic lives – several were involved in petty crime and drug taking. They became an alternative family and Bernie Hare adopted them in a quite unconventional way.”

Hare’s 2005 book Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew charts his time as the token adult among these children. His relationship with one, Urban – an illiterate 12-year-old with a talent for words and a penchant for glue sniffing and firebombing – resulted in a legal adoption. Now it’s been adapted for stage by Red Ladder, with Dixon at the helm.

The Leeds-based theatre company has been making theatre for and with working-class people for nearly 50 years.

“Our main area of exploration in all our work is the theme of struggle – stories of ordinary people facing up to and grappling with difficult lives,” says Dixon. “We are interested in how, 20 years later, Leeds is an extremely wealthy city but that life expectancy differs markedly from the north to the south and east – on average people living 10 years longer in the more affluent areas. The story of the Shed Crew resonates with modern Leeds and is a warning to us all not to ignore the vulnerable in society.”

Hare shared poetry and Shakespeare with the crew and each chapter of his book opens with a poem written by one of the young people. The site-specific play will be performed in verse at the vast Albion Electric Warehouse.

“Bernie would argue that the arts would never have touched their lives without his influence and that for some of them this became a way of surviving extreme adversity,” says Dixon, regretting that social workers wouldn’t be able to take on such a role now. “It would be impossible for anyone to adopt a group of children in this way, post Yewtree and the horrible events that have been unearthed.

“Sadly, the truth is that had Bernie not acted in the way he had 20 years ago more of the crew would have almost certainly died whereas some of the crew went on to lead more conventionally successful lives, and their children call Bernie granddad.”

But although Hare’s tale had a happy ending for Urban – real name Lee – his story continued beyond the bestselling book and he died while the play was in development.

Writer Kevin Fegan questioned whether the stage adaptation would be in poor taste but decided to go ahead, making changes to emphasise that the play was a tribute to Urban.

“Because this is a true story we do not want to misrepresent the lives of the people involved. We do not want audiences to become voyeurs and look down on the characters – we want them to walk alongside and truly understand what happened.

“The last thing we want to do is stigmatise the area of Leeds where this story is set and
to hark back to difficult times – this is not poverty porn. Indeed, the way that the Shed Crew existed can teach us a great deal about how resilient and strong they were as teenagers.”

The Shed Crew is at Albion Electric Warehouse, Leeds, 21 Sept-1 Oct (tickets available at

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