The Big Exchange Project Evaluation

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The Big Exchange project

The Big Exchange project was a participant-led project that aimed to remove barriers and increase access for learning disabled people to lead, make and participate in the arts. The project was funded by Arts Council England, Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Bush Theatre & The Daisy Trust.

The Context

Around 1.4 million people in the UK have a learning disability and people with a learning disability are one of the most excluded groups in our society. The impact of recent funding cuts to day services for adults with learning disabilities has been profound – including for those in Hammersmith and Fulham. Mencap’s recent study highlights the need for projects like ours.

  • In the past three years, almost 1 in 3 (32%) local authorities have closed day services. 1 in 5 (20%) of these did not say they have provided replacement services.

  • Over half (57%) of people with a learning disability who are known to social services no longer receive any day service provision whatsoever (compared to 48% in 2009/10).  

  • 3 in 5 (60%) local authorities have increased charges for day service attendance and related services, such as transport, on average by 70%.  

  • 1 in 4 people with a learning disability who responded to Mencap’s online survey now spends less than one hour outside of their home everyday.  

  • Over 1 in 3 admits to feeling ‘scared about the future’ (37%), ‘isolated’ (27%) or ‘lonely’ (28%).  

  • Almost one in four (23%) family carers state that their family is financially worse off due to the changes to day service provision.  

  • Almost three-quarters of carers (72%) fear that their child will not receive the support they need to live a full and independent life. 

  • 6% of adults with a learning disability known to their local authority in England are in paid work (HSCIC 2015)

Against this national backdrop, This New Ground’s project has been designed to respond to the profound challenges that the learning disabled community in Hammersmith and Fulham face in a number of ways. Through creative engagement we improve the quality of life of our participants by bringing people together, enabling social interaction & developing individual’s confidence. The work we create celebrates untold stories, challenges prejudice and transforms lives. We strive to provide the widest range of opportunities, ensuring our activities are accessible to all participants and free of charge for them and their carers. 

Who took part?

Between June 2018 and June 2019, we engaged over 40 people in Hammersmith and Fulham. The TNG Collective made up of 15 learning disabled people and artists from Hammersmith and Fulham formed our core participant for this project.

Collective Statement

We are This New Ground Collective. We are human beings, a collection of artists and creative people. We’re a team, who come together to learn and have fun. We have hidden talents. Did you know we sing as a choir called ‘The Magic Sparks’?

We make art about the ups and downs.
The difficult stuff and the stuff that gives hope.
We're not CBeebies. That's not us.
We're here. We celebrate.

We are ourselves.

 

Partner Organisations

Individual artists and collaborators:

  • Nathalie Carrington - Artistic Director of TNG / Facilitator/ Project co-ordinator

  • Jo Barratt - Podcast Producer 

  • Lucy Groenewoud - Art & Design Facilitator

  • Camilla Willamson - Evaluator

  • Jess Thom - Podcast Speaker & Artistic Director of Touretteshero

  • Ben Weatherill - Podcast Speaker & Playwright

  • Chris Russell - Musician 

Outputs

  • 66 sessions of creative activities and skills development training for participants

  • A devised theatre piece called the ‘The Moving Play’ created by the participants

  • A documentary film capturing the making of ‘The Moving Play’

  • 2 live performances of ‘The Moving Play’ at Bush Theatre

  • An exhibition co-curated by the participants 

  • 2 short films co-created by the participants

  • A podcast mini-series co created by the participants

  • 10 blog posts sharing the participant’s project process

  • 4 cultural outings

  • A film screening 

The final creations included:

Friends & Dates

The Moving Play

Let’s Talk About It Podcast 

I Am…Me

Throughout the project the participants took part in a range of activities and expressed themselves through many different mediums including,  dancing, acting, filming, talking, opinion-sharing, theatre-going, story-boarding, character building, songwriting, drawing, photographing, devising, collaborating, writing, sharing, listening, performing, directing, recording and blogging. 

During the project the participant's work was made visible in mainstream theatre spaces in the borough including the Lyric Hammersmith and Bush Theatre. 

  • Our participants collaborated with 15 artists across different art forms 

  • The art created by the participants reached audiences of 400 people. 

  • We estimate reaching an additional 400 live audiences and 1500 online

To further the reach of our work we plan to:

  • Showcase our films at screening events across the borough and as part of the Hammersmith and Fulham Festival, Joy Festival and The Other Film Festival

  • Continue to promote our podcast on other arts organisations and via online platforms

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Impact

At the outset of the project, we decided we wanted to understand the impact of the activities on participants’ confidence, wellbeing, engagement, and their sense of self-hood. Throughout the year we collected a range of material to get feedback and reflections on different elements of the project with these outcomes in mind. We carried out before and after surveys, focus groups, short evaluation surveys, and collected material from what the participants produced with collaborating artists. 

Overall, participants were very positive about the project and its different elements.

In the follow-up survey, all of the participants said the activities they’d undertaken in The Big Exchange project made them feel happy.

“I get excited coming here.”

“[It makes me feel] proud.” 

“It’s great!”

“I liked being part of everything. I liked making films the most because I want to be a film actor.”

“I really enjoyed making the Podcast and filming the football scene at the Lyric Hammersmith.”

“It was an adventure to be a director alongside pro filmmakers. A million times I would do directing again.”

“I enjoyed making the podcast and sharing my opinions on it.”

“I enjoyed it all! I loved making the moving play and directing the film.”


The project gave the participants the opportunity to express their identity and autonomy.

All of the activities which made up the project were collaborative and participant-led meaning all those who took part were able to shape what they created and have their voices heard. This was true from the outset – with the participants meeting and selecting the artists they were going to work with – through to the final outputs, the themes, content and execution of which were all steered by the participants. 

“Today was the big decision day. It was much like the X Factor, just without Simon Cowell. The Bush Theatre introduced us to three wonderful artists and collectively we had to make the decision to choose one artist to collaborate with for the year.”

During the production of ‘I Am…Me’ the group developed a film which showcases the personalities, strengths and talents of the individuals that make up This New Ground’s Collective. The process began with a series of creative workshops exploring the themes of identity and self-perception. Participants devised their own sections of the film, enabling them to reflect different aspects of their identity. Messages they chose emphasised their autonomy and their power. 

"I am strong", "I am independent", "I am devious", "I have powers", "I have a dream", "I have the moves", "I am romantic", "I am the DJ master."


All the participants responding to a survey carried out by Bush Theatre following The Moving Play said that they had told the stories they wanted to tell.

 “When we came up with ideas for the film I made a poster saying, ‘I am independent’. It was the idea behind my character. I also made a collage all about me.”

“Just because we have learning disabilities doesn’t mean we’re not independent. People say, if you’re independent why do you need a carer? It’s easy, I need help to be independent.”

“We have been exploring the stories we want to tell and finding different ways to tell them.”

“We did it ourselves. Arti said ‘Don’t look at me, it’s your play.’ We did it ourselves.”


The project had a positive impact on participants’ self-esteem and confidence.

In the initial survey, while the majority of participants said they felt confident, three said they didn’t feel confident or that they only felt ‘quite’ confident.  In the final survey 90% of participants who responded said they felt confident. 100% of participants in the film project reported that it gave them more confidence in the follow-up survey. The different activities seemed to build participants’ self-esteem and confidence in different ways.

“I really enjoyed making the Podcast and filming the football scene at the Lyric Hammersmith because I couldn’t do it [before] and I proved to myself I could do it.”

“Doing something that I thought I couldn’t do. Walking without my stick. I was surprised by myself. Also the feedback from the audience was brilliant, made me feel good.” (Show at the bush)

“I did get a bit shy sometimes and I didn’t know what to say but I did it and that made me feel more confident.”

“It made me feel more confident to have everyone supporting me”.

“It made me feel more confident acting on screen […] especially when I was singing. I really enjoyed the whole experience.”

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The project and different activities within it gave participants a sense of wellbeing.

Building self-esteem and confidence also had an impact upon participant’s sense of wellbeing, as did trying new things and gaining new skills. All participants said that the group made them feel happy in the follow-up survey. 

“I get excited coming here.”

“It’s great.”

“It made me feel good seeing myself dance.”

“Watching the movie made me proud, happy, dizzy and surprised. It was awesome, it felt like I was in the Sound of Music.”

“I felt proud of myself, that I saw it through to the end, when we were filming. That I didn’t give up.”

“It felt good doing new things.”

“We feel energised and stirred by the performances we have seen. And we can’t wait to get started on our own!”

“It has lifted my mood.”

“It was good for the soul”.

The project gave participants opportunities to meet with other people and engage with the local community. This contributed to them feeling positive about where they live.

During the project participants collaborated with 15 artists across different art forms. The art created by the participants reached audiences of 400 people, and we estimate reaching an additional 400 live audiences and 1500 online. In the final survey, 90% of participants said that if they weren’t part of The Big Exchange Project, they would either be at home, watching TV or sleeping, highlighting the opportunities that it gave people to get out the house and participate in community activities whilst meeting others. This echoed responses given to the Bush’s survey, in which half of participants agreed that, ‘There’s not much to do around here’. Participants said they don’t believe there are enough opportunities for disabled adults in the area due to most services ending at 25 and existing activities being costly and not local. One of the participants said:

"Things stop when you get to a certain age, leaves us with nothing to do but twiddle our thumbs."

In a survey carried out by Bush Theatre, all the participants said the project enabled them to share ideas with new people and to make new friends. In the final survey 90% of the participants said they felt positive about their local community. This included three participants who said they only felt ‘OK’ about it at the beginning of the project and one who said they didn’t feel good about it. In a survey taken after the film project, all the participants said it made them feel good about their local community.

“The best bit for me was having such a great product at the end that we shared with people. I also liked meeting new people, the people from Spare Tyre, Jo and Victor. And the projections, I liked them.”

“Lots of people came see the show, new people. We were intimate with them. We were shaking their hands.”

“I felt like I’m involved with the Bush. We are doing some work with them.”

“I want to do more directing and I want to work with Victor and Diogo again.”

“Watching the films I learnt something new about the other Collective members, I didn’t know that Amy liked Football.”

“It's really interesting to work with all the other guys in the play."

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The project activities gave participants the opportunity to develop new skills and to improve their abilities to communicate 

Different activities gave participants the opportunity to communicate in different ways, including through dancing, singing, acting, writing, drawing, talking, singing, producing, directing and collaborating with others. At the end of the project, 100% of participants reported that they were confident talking to people and communicating with others, and that the project had helped them with this. This included 30% of the participants who said they were not very confident with this at the beginning of the project and 10% who said they were quite confident. All the participants who took part in the film project said it gave them the opportunity to share ideas with new people and to express themselves, while 90% said it made them more creative and helped them to develop skills related to making a film.

“I’ve felt more creative since doing this project.”

“I didn’t stop sharing ideas during this project. I didn’t stop coming up with stuff.”

“I enjoyed making the podcast and sharing my opinions on it.”

“When I’m here and I get nervous people give me time so I feel I can express myself better.”


The project helped facilitate participants’ personal and emotional development. It also seemed to have some impact on their ability to reflect and process feelings.

Working with each other, exploring different issues and emotions that they face and collaborating with different artists in different mediums facilitated personal and emotional development among participants. In The Moving Play participants explored the themes of hiding, moving, relationships, love, secrets and revealing their inner most thoughts and feeling. The process of film-making helped participants explore the difficulties and tensions they face when working in group settings and the compromises they sometimes have to make. The film itself also explored friendships and relationships, and showed how friends can support each other through difficult times so you are not alone. The podcasts gave participants the opportunity to discuss different issues that affect them and to voice opinions and feelings. In a survey of the participants carried out by Bush Theatre all of the partcipants agreed that, “Art can help people to understand other's experiences”. 

“I feel proud to be here and I don’t get as angry as I used to since coming here”.

“It made me feel confident that I knew everything I had to do and confident to work with people I like. I love working with you guys , I felt really proud of myself and the group and I think we can all now call ourselves actors. Once you do it once, you can do it again.”

“My mum and sister were surprised at me doing the show. They said I was good.”

“When someone encourages me it makes me feel like I can get through it.”

“It was an adventure to be a director alongside pro filmmakers. A million times I would do directing again.”

“I shared ideas as my role as director. I told Faisal and Richie to be more upbeat in the scene, and it seemed to work for them and it made me feel really proud to be a director and I’d love to do it again.”

“[The Film Project] put my creativeness into overdrive. It made me think of new ideas.”

“Working with these pro filmmakers has been a different experience for me.”

“I was surprised by the acting I did. I never done that before.”

“People say I’m a professional and now I think, Yeah ok, I am.”

“It was new to me do a play […] I wasn’t sure if I was confident to do the play but I did it. I thought I’d be shy in front of all the people but then it didn’t bother me.”

“You run your own body, let me run mine.”

“Watching Sarah Gordy on stage in Jellyfish was inspirational. We all recognised Kelly’s story.”

"I've got a voice and you can't let me lose it."

“Our stories are beginning to unravel and our characters are layered like onions”.  

When asked in the follow-up survey ‘How do you like to express yourself day to day?’, over half of the participants included ways of expressing themselves that they’d explored in the project. 

“I write music, make films, listen to lots of music and DJ as well.”

“Going out with friends, street dance and coming This New Ground.”

“It’s made me come out of my shell a bit more and share how I’m feeling with people.”

The project has enabled participants to gain important work experience and lead to potential employment opportunities for adults with learning disabilities 

In our original project proposal we aimed to pay two learning disabled participants to lead training sessions. However, during the process we found that paying learning disabled people on a freelance basis was not simple. It could interfere with their benefit allowance and they would need support to set themselves up as self-employed and to do their tax returns. We realised if we were to employ learning disabled people, we would need to create the infrastructure and gain the resources to support this. In response to this challenge, we reframed the employment opportunities as volunteering roles. This meant that while no participants gained formal employment during the project, the activity still led to valuable opportunities for participants to develop their skills and gain work experience relevant for future employment opportunities. In future our aim is to employ learning disabled people within the organisation. This New Ground is currently in conversation with Carousel, Mind the Gap, Access All Areas and Action on Disability to understand how best to achieve this. In addition, as a result of The Big Exchange and in response to participants’ interest in taking their work to the next level, we are in the early stages of development of a research-in-action project entitled High Ground, which we aim to produce in partnership with Bush Theatre in 2020. High Ground aims to explore:

  • What frameworks and toolkits need to be put in place to enable learning disabled people to make decisions within arts organisations, and 

  • How the voices and opinions of learning disabled people can influence the processes and practices of arts organisations

This project will support the Bush Theatre to become a disability confident employer and hopefully lead to our participants gaining paid employment at within arts organisations.

The project received positive comments and reflections from collaborating artists, partner organisations and carers 

Throughout the project and at the end we collected feedback and comments from collaborating artists, associate organisations and carers. These highlight how the project achieved its intended outcomes as well as the positive changes that it brought to participants, collaborating artists and organisations, and wider communities. 

The production at The Bush Theatre, “won over hearts and minds of carers especially”. A key moment was seeing “a parent weeping and crying at the sight of their adult child being themselves and so confident.” - Arti Prashar, Spare Tyre

“The final performance felt free and authentic to our process together. This was achieved by creating a simple framework that the participants were free to play within and there being no right or wrong way of doing things.” - Nathalie Carrington , This New Ground

“She came out of her shell and was trying new things, which doesn’t come easy to her.” - Nathalie Carrington , This New Ground

“She was expressing herself and voicing her opinions, it was brilliant to see!” - Nathalie Carrington , This New Ground

“As soon as Victor gave him the role of being his assistant cameraman he completely changed his attitude towards the project and started to join in and partcipate.” - Nathalie Carrington , This New Ground

“The project helped build the participants confidence and gave them the opportunity to see themselves as valued artists. It enabled them to have a strong sense of ownership over something they were creating and felt pride at what they had achieved individually and collectively.” - Nathalie Carrington , This New Ground

“Working at the Bush gave the participants a sense of belonging in a local art space which they otherwise would not have accessed in their everyday lives. For some participants it enabled them to be more independent, travelling to a new venue on their own, being dropped off by family members/support workers rather than them staying nearby or watching the session.” - Nathalie Carrington , This New Ground

“This New Ground's work has meant that more often the community centre is busy and has a livelier energy within it.” - Bishop Creighton House, Partner Organisation

Participants “have added energy and life to the community centre the days they are here, which has been positive for all those who access the community centre or work there. Booking the space, and the fee for this, also adds to the income of the community centre, helping it towards its ongoing running costs.” - Bishop Creighton House, Partner Organisation

Participants “have shown an increase in confidence and ability which has in turn led to an more productive level of engagement with the activities and workshops we run here such as the literacy program and employment support.”- Bishop Creighton House, Partner Organisation

“The activities have positively benefited the people who access BCH's Learning Disability Services. They have offered them a rich and varied programme of artistic and meaningful events to take part in. Through collaborating with This New Ground, our Learning Disability Service can offer and connect people to more opportunities and a wider ranging cultural programme than we would be able to do so working independently.” - Bishop Creighton House, Partner Organisation

“It offers them a rich and varied programme of activities. A way of spending their time in a meaningful way. A chance to collaborate with colleagues, professionals and people from other organisations. A chance to make friends and build social networks. They have accessed more social opportunities, which is of great benefit to people who are generally socially isolated. They have been able to express themselves creatively, to feel empowered and listened to, and in general it has been great for their quality of life.” - Bishop Creighton House, Partner Organisation

“A few of our service users have shown an unexpectedly marked increase in confidence which has led to ongoing and continuous voluntary employment opportunities. It's been a very edifying experience all round.” - Bishop Creighton House, Partner Organisation

“My perceptions are constantly changing working with the participants. I found it interesting hearing the participant’s opinions on how they wanted to be viewed, with some saying they didn’t want to be labelled as people with learning disabilities, but as artists in their own right.” - Collaborating artist

“I gained new skills as an artists working inclusively on the project and feel creatively inspired working with the participants. I will particularly take away the importance of inclusive working from conception to end of project.” - Collaborating artist

“I’ve become even more aware of people’s differences and how to we all have something to contribute.” - Collaborating artist.

Learning

This activity has been hugely important for This New Ground. Not only as a clear expression of the company’s artistic quality, but also as a clear indication of future work. The activity enabled us to evolve our programme beyond our roots as a community choir, we were able to explore working across different art forms and collaborating with different artists. The project has laid out the company’s intentions for its next projects and helped solidify the genre of work we wish to make. TNG has now been in existence for nearly two years, it is now clearer than ever that what we are trying to do is to remove barriers and increase access for learning disabled people to lead, make and participate in the arts. Learning disabled people and artists are hugely under-represented within the arts. Our relationship with local mainstream arts venues is therefore very important. This activity represented the first opportunity for us to work with these venues in a deep and meaningful way. Alongside our longstanding partnerships with Bishop Creighton House, LAMDA, H&F Arts Festival and Joy Festival, additional partnerships were forged during this activity with Bush Theatre, Lyric Hammersmith, Imperial College, Sobus, Action On Disability, Spare Tyre and Touretteshero to name a few. This activity has provided us with an opportunity to engage with disability led organisations (Carousel, Action on Disabilty, Corali, Mind the Gap, Acess all Areas)  to learn about the infrastructure needed to support learning disabled people in employment. These insights will enable our organisation to become a disability confident employer. 

This project was an opportunity to explore what learning disabled led means in practice, consequently we have been able to identify future models of work and leadership. We have concluded that future project plans should include promotional budget and a marketing strategy for the content we produce. This project highlighted that we can have a deep and positive impact on our core participant group, but in order to widen our reach in future we plan to conduct outreach programmes in parallel. This will allow us to increase our impact and deepening roots in the local community. Through the process of the project we gathered learnings on how to create an inclusive, participatory end to end project and the frameworks and budgets to support it.