Arts group for young people with learning disabilities provides benefits for those involved and wider community


In times of economic hardship, it would be easy to discount the contribution to emotional well being that taking part in arts activities can afford us. However, the arts offer opportunities for self expression and people with learning disabilities have the right to take part in creative and expressive activities, achieving new goals and potentially gaining in confidence as a result. There are numerous projects across the UK, from the award winning Mind the Gap theatre group  through to those local projects listed on the Mencap arts spider website.

The authors of this study describe what happened when a group of young people with learning disabilities in Nottinghamshire took part in music and drama groups. The project was known ‘The Stage Life’ and was set up as a participatory arts programme for people attending day services in the county.

The local authority had acquired a disused cinema for community based activities and the Stage Life project group met there. Its aim was to help build community arts capacity for young adults with learning disabilities and it set out to achieve this by introducing around fifty people to participatory arts activities over 2 years.

The evaluation of the project was conducted by external researchers over the two years using a multi-method ethnographic approach, spending time alongside people to try to gauge the impact of project on the lives of those who took part. The researchers also captured the opinions and ideas of those involved.

The findings suggest a number of benefits for those who took part in terms of increased confidence as well as benefits to the community of the activities of the group.

Those involved reported many personal benefits from being part of the group and the authors conclude that being involved with the arts activities helped people with learning disabilities feel much more a part of their community.

The Stage Life: promoting the inclusion of young people through participatory arts, Stickley Tet al., in British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40: 251–258

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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