Independent Film Trust

It’s 1981, and safe in the womb-like, bassline buzz of the Shebeen, Brixton locals party the night away. But as racist violence and police brutality rage outside, will this party be the last?

By putting on a VR headset the viewer is able to navigate the party independently.

Michelle, the guide, appears in full volumetric capture, to escort the viewer around the club, introduce them to the people inside and make sure they have a great time. Whilst they dance inside feeling out the heavy bassline and busy party vibe, reminders of the threat faced outside find their way in. Denise, a young lady newly arrived from Jamaica, comes rushing in flustered and angry, having been spat at on the bus by a white lady who refused to sit next to her.

The story unfolds in the centre of the club, uncovering a nuanced and passionate debate about how Caribbean migrants were invited to the UK; the false promises of stable employment and the shattered illusion of ‘British decency’. Jokes between men at the games table are peppered with stories of hostile interactions with police, increasing every day.

A Place To Be offers an experiential exposition of what it’s like to live with the constant racist threat and the moments of joy and cultural nurturing carved out in spite of it.

Walkthrough video – 2020

Intended audience

The target audience for the project is primarily people who are connected to the heritage of Shebeens, largely composed of people of African and Caribbean descent.

The experience is also best suited to engage people with a keen interest in social justice, racial equality, as well as the broad music culture that was born out of Shebeens, such as reggae, soul, ska, R&B, rap, hip hop, beat poetry and other such lyrical artforms.

Creator’s statement

Shebeens offered a safe haven from the police brutality and systemic racism experienced outside on the streets. As an Associate Producer for the Independent Film Trust I worked with both Charlotte Knowles and Mary Matheson on Coldharbour, a 360 documentary exploring the hidden history of Brixton’s Coldharbour Ward.

While researching Coldharbour, I spoke to a wide variety of locals for example – musicians, street traders, church leaders, DJs. They kept referring to Shebeens as a safe haven for them as young people living through the 80s in Britain. I realised that I was uncovering an untold story. I couldn’t find much about Shebeens in newspapers, books or other media. The story of Shebeens was alive only in the oral histories of an older generation. A Place To Be was born.

Technical summary

A Place To Be is a real-time game engine environment with one character in volumetric capture and immersive sound creating a 6DoF environment.

Project team details

  • Michelle Scarlett – Writer and Director
  • Mary Matheson – Co-Director
  • Charlotte Knowles – Producer
  • Dimension Studios – Co-Producer

Team profile

Independent Film Trust team combines exceptional VR technical skills with authentic storytelling and industry experience to make A Place To Be a major international success. The team believes in championing underrepresented talent, bringing untold stories to mainstream audiences with integrity and passion.

Past work

  • 2020 – New Realities
  • 2019 – Coldharbour
  • 2019 – Nobody’s Listening
  • 2018 – The Female Planet
  • 2016 – Mamie’s Dream