Developing access across the network: Include Arts & house

In our latest blog, Kirsty Hoyle from Include Arts talks more about the access training they delivered throughout the network in February.

”It was clear from the outset that the range of venues involved in training would be very broad. This diversity brought huge strength to the sessions overall.  Throughout the training scheme all of the trainers working on the project commented on the alacrity with which training participants responded to some difficult and personal discussions around disability, access and equality so we are grateful to all who took part, listened, talked, shared and debated.  This training scheme gave the venues an opportunity to learn from their neighbours, but also a chance to promote good practice and share information on successful access initiatives.

In order to get the most use out of the time we had, we organised our sessions so that they were broad enough to look at the whole picture of access across an organisation, but also offered time and space for granularity on topics of particular relevance to the participants in any given session.  We looked at organisational commitment to access; many venues had no policy or mission statement on access and the majority agreed to return to their venues to create or improve these documents.  We feel that writing down a commitment and promoting it internally helps to strengthen intention and encourage resulting action.  The sessions also focused on hot topics of perennial discussion in theatre access:  Involuntary Noise in Auditoriums and Ticketing Policies.  A great deal of debate was had, drawing on experience from both the trainers and the venues, and we hope venues can work together to continue developing their understanding of, and response to, these issues in their venue.

The sessions contained information and discussion pertaining to Assisted Performances and most venues offer some Captioning or Audio Description.  British Sign Language Interpreted performances were not as widely programmed but there was a definite interest in Relaxed Performances, with the majority of venues currently programming them, or on the journey.  However, Assisted Performances are only a small part of being an accessible venue and we saw some great examples of how venues were offering access outside of Assisted Performances including: a scheme which provides tickets and opportunities for homeless people, a stair walker which provides physical access to an otherwise inaccessible space, Agent for Change scheme, co-productions of work featuring disabled artists and strong relationships with community groups and charities supporting people with additional needs.

During the training sessions we asked the participants what some of their main issues were around providing access.  The responses were variations on a theme and can be crudely grouped as follows:  Cost, Strategic Scheduling, Ticketing Policy, Internal Skill Base, Quality Assurance and Collaboration.  There was a real appetite for collaboration, for moving forward together in partnership with other venues to engage stakeholders.  For example, one region decided to approach local charities to ask for support with marketing Assisted Performances as a cohort, rather than fight for these audiences individually, which will be hugely effective.    We also hope to see two of the most popular ideas from the training come to fruition; Regional Clash Diaries for Assisted Performances and an on-going shared Access Training programme.

I am excited to see the development of accessible venues across the house network, to increase the diversity of audiences but also to highlight the creative benefits of access.  The conversations started in this training scheme should kick-start a sea change in access to the arts for disabled patrons in the South East, and will be an opportunity to share good and developing practice.  We are grateful to house for arranging this unique opportunity for all the venues and hope some fires were lit which won’t easily be put out.  We should never stop asking:  Who’s not here?  Why not?  How do I change that?.”

Kirsty Hoyle. Director, Include Arts

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