‘Transforming Leadership’, a new national arts programme putting learning disabled and autistic people at the heart of cultural leadership

A team of learning disabled and autistic creatives from Access All Areas have joined forces with companies around the country to launch a ground-breaking programme that will change the face of cultural leadership in the UK. The programme will be launched on Monday 19 June to coincide with Learning Disability Week.

After undergoing 2 years of leadership training themselves as part of Access All Areas’ successful Transforming Leadership programme, which finished in 2022, this team of artists are excited to embark on a new national leadership programme that will bring new ideas on who can lead, and how, in UK theatre. The company will team up with 7 other disability arts companies, 8 UK venues, and some of the UK’s best leadership development organisations, to make real and practical change and shake up the landscape of arts leadership.

“Leading the way for diversity in the arts”- Evening Standard (on Access All Areas)

Historically, learning disabled and autistic people have been routinely excluded from professional careers, with only 6% of learning disabled people and 30% of autistic people in paid work in the UK. In theatre, TV, and film, learning disabled and autistic people remain dramatically underrepresented on our stages and screens, and disabled experiences are often absent from the stories we tell in our culture.  Access All Areas believe that this will not improve without changes at the top. Without learning disabled and autistic voices being involved in leadership decisions and strategic discussions about what type of art should be made, there will continue to be a lack of genuine representation in the arts.

“Defiantly different” – The Guardian(on Access All Areas)

As part of the Transforming Leadership national programme, creatives from Access All Areas will co-deliver leadership training for 14 other learning disabled and autistic creatives from 7 companies around the UK. They will focus on directing skills, how to lead community arts programmes, governance, and advocacy skills.

Access All Areas will also train staff at 8 UK venues and 7 organisations in inclusive practice. With so many structural obstacles to inclusion for learning disabled and autistic people in the arts, much of this training will focus on practical solutions to help companies create more accessible workplaces, and to support companies to prepare for learning disabled and autistic leadership at executive and board level. This will include training staff in Access to Work processes, helping staff to understand how the benefits system impacts disabled people in work, and training in 1:1 support methodology.

The programme will continue the successful legacy of the first Transforming Leadership programme. Some of the successes so far include: Adam Smith, who is autistic and is an Associate Director of Access All Areas, will co-lead a new creative programme for local learning disabled and autistic people at Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), starting this summer. He’ll also teach on this programme. Adam says ‘It is very important to have learning disabled and autistic people in leadership roles because our lived experiences are so valuable to society’.

Charlene Salter has become co-chairperson of Access All Areas and has recently joined BAC’s Creative Partner Group to help shape the venue’s programme. Since doing the Transforming Leadership Programme, Charlene has spoken at numerous conferences and events, co-created her own theatre production, and has become a leading advocate for disabled artists in the UK. She will also teach on this programme.  Charlene says ‘Neurodivergent, learning disabled and autistic leaders are flipping the switch. We are changing perceptions. We are strong, confident leaders and we’re not gonnastop’.

Emma Selwyn, another Associate Director at Access All Areas, now co-directs all Access All Areas productions. They have co-directed an NHS film production, and trained companies including Netflix and Sky Studios in access. They will also teach on this programme. Emma says ‘Lived experience is imperative. Fairer and more varied representation improves fairness, variety, and accessibility for all’.

Disability arts organisations involved in the programme will team up with a local venue to share learning and build artistic communities that are more inclusive of learning disabled and autistic performers, staff, participants, and audiences. Partners comprise Access All Areas and Battersea Arts Centre (London), Mind-the-Gap and Leeds Playhouse (Bradford/Leeds), Hubbub Theatre and Derby Theatre(Derby), DIY Theatre Company and The Lowry(Salford), Square Pegs and Gulbenkian Arts Centre(Medway/Canterbury), Prism Arts and Theatre by the Lake(Carlisle/Keswick), Unanimaand Nottingham Playhouse(Mansfield/Nottingham) and Blue Apple (Hampshire). Other partners include the Cultural Governance Alliance, the Regional Theatre Young Director’s Scheme, and Disability Arts Online.

‘Mind the Gap is delighted to be part of this pioneering project led by the brilliant Access All Areas team. The main focus areas of Co-Directing and Governance are priorities for our company – as they are for the whole of the learning disability and autism creative sector. We know that the artists taking part from Mind the Gap – Jez Colborne and Charlotte Jones – will gain loads of valuable experience they can use in their own work. We as a company will also grow, by being part of this thriving network of like-minded organisations, leading the way in learning disability and autism inclusion’. Julia Skelton, Executive Director at Mind The Gap.

For further information on Transforming Leadership, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop