Guest Blog #2: Thoughts and Reflections of our current work Placement Student.

6 September 2018

Guest Blog#2

As part of our ongoing series whereby we invite current work place students to give us their thoughts on accessibility at Square Chapel as well as reflections on the Gig Buddies scheme, we’re pleased to introduce Joe Welch.

Over to you Joe…..

Access

There are often examples shown in the media of projects, and schemes led by organisations to help and improve the quality of life for those with learning disabilities. However, we only hear about this happening in larger metropolitan areas, in particular London. As such, it was a pleasant surprise to discover what is being done on a local scale in Calderdale, to try and help those with learning disabilities.

Square Chapel seems to be at the forefront of this, with their adoption of the ‘Gig Buddies’ project which is leading the way with regards to making social events such as; theatre, the arts and gigs, more accessible to people with learning difficulties, who struggle with these types of social situations. Gig Buddies does this by hosting social gatherings at Square Chapel, where people with learning disabilities can meet people who are volunteering to be their ‘buddy’, and will go to social events with them. This enables people with learning disabilities to meet new people, make new friends and hopefully be ‘matched’ with someone based on similar interests, with whom they can go to gigs and other live performances with.

Two of our Gig Buddies enjoying a night out.

Challenges

The reason for this being that people with learning difficulties often find attending the theatre, or gigs difficult, particularly if they have to attend these events with a carer who’s shift finishes at nine o’clock, which means they have to leave the event at that time, resulting in people with learning difficulties missing what they have paid to see. This is clearly an issue for those who have carer’s, and are at least able to attend an event, many people are unable to even go to social events as they have no one to go with to support them. This is why ‘Gig Buddies’ is such an important scheme, but fundamentally; it enables 16-18 year olds to live the way they want to, and ought to be able to, thus providing equal opportunity for everyone in the local community. Furthermore, this is not only of benefit to those with learning difficulties; it provides volunteers with a chance to meet new people and make new friends, with whom they can go to amazing events with. With a rising number of young people feeling alone and isolated, ‘Gig Buddies’ is a great way to tackle this issue as well as enabling those with learning disabilities to have new experiences without being held back. Crucially, this provides people with greater insight into the experience of those with learning disabilities, as such resulting in greater understanding which will result in the community becoming more inclusive for such minorities.

What is in place to help?

Square Chapel have taken this further with the introduction of the ‘Engage’ project. This is an expansion of the existing ‘Gig Buddies’ scheme, which offers a Gig Buddies membership, providing members with reduced prices and exclusive access to workshops which may be offered with touring theatre companies. Furthermore, this project will provide artists with learning disabilities with a platform to perform. This is hugely significant for those with learning disabilities to witness because they will experience high quality work in a professional venue, which will inspire them and help them to realise that their disability doesn’t have to hold them back to the extent that it is doing. As Square Chapel are running ‘Engage’ in partnership with ‘Mind the Gap’, this further improves their ability to identify strengths and opportunities to further develop, and ensure those with learning disabilities engage more regularly with sustainable opportunities as participants, audiences and employees with regards to the ‘arts’.

Improvements!

Square Chapel and the Changes Places Logo

Finally, Square Chapel have enhanced their own facilities in order to make it more accessible to members of the public with learning disabilities. This has been highlighted by the implementation of a ‘changing places room’, this is a large room which is designed to provide a safe space for people with learning disabilities which caters to their needs. This space provides them with an area for getting changed into different clothes, it also contains a toilet where there is enough space for people to properly access it. This is the first time I have heard of a ‘changing places room’ and the first one I have seen in Calderdale. It is clear from this that Square Chapel are making tremendous progress, and are paving the way for making Calderdale more accessible and inclusive for those with learning disabilities.

Thanks for a well written and thoughtful account, Joe.

Please leave your comments below.

GHM

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