“Your own experience will have taught you that long periods of unemployment make a man lazy, flabby and soft. Our job here is to recondition human material. To take in those men who’ve gone soft and harden them; to ready your bodies for real work”

Bill’s been on the dole for ages. He’s not the only one. 1934 in the North East; the streets are full of unwanted men growing stale, hungry and grey. No wonder the National Government are calling this a ‘depressed area’.

With Hilda in work they’ve been managing to scrape by and feed the children, but how long can they last like this?

When he gets a letter sending him to Allerston Instructional Centre, Bill smells the chance of a job. Hilda is less than happy at the prospect of being left on her own for three months, but at least it’ll be one less mouth to feed for a while.

Bill sets out for the camp determined to come back with work, until he meets Sid who’s less than optimistic. No matter though, they can find a way to make a bob or two whether they get a job out of it or not, and the two men tick along steadily to the rhythm of camp. Until Hilda arrives unexpectedly, with news of a journey that will draw the eyes of the whole country down onto the hungry; the workless; the depressed.

Hard Graft is a new play inspired by the underexplored history of Dalby Forest and the work camp situated there in the 1930s. More than 200,000 unemployed men were sent to these ‘Instructional Centres’ across Britain between 1929 and 1939, in a Government drive to recondition unemployed men from the ‘depressed areas.’ The camp at Dalby Forest was largely made up of men from Teesside who had been out of work for months or years, were living in abject poverty and were struggling to feed themselves and their families.

The camp at Low Dalby was made up of a series of temporary buildings and outhouses, the men were accommodated in Nissen huts, prefabricated steel structures often used for military barracks. In their 12 weeks at the Instructional Centre the men undertook work for the Forestry Commission including road laying, ditch digging and other hard labour, though whether it had any positive long-term impact on their employment prospects is questionable.

There will be a work in progress online event in April to share the research process and some sections of the developing script. For tickets:


A performance of the full finished draft of Hard Graft will be presented as a live rehearsed reading at Dalby Forest in the summer of 2021.

This new script commission, research and development process and sharing, and final draft reading has been commissioned by Dalby Forest Forestry England with support from the Arts Council England.