Thank you!

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: At the end of our Together! 2013 Disability History Month festival, thanks goes to all of the people who have worked to make the past month’s events and activities such a success – as well as to all of you who have supported the festival by visiting our exhibition, participating in our workshops, joining in our discussions and watching the performances.

Thanks to the local, national and international disabled artists, companies and filmmakers who have contributed to the festival by exhibiting their work and performing and leading workshops, especially Abnormally Funny People, Act Up theatre company, Arts Disability Forum Ireland, Katherine Araniello, Don Biswas, Cooltan Arts, DaDaFest International, John O’Donoghue, Kynnys Kino, Nicola Miles-Wildin, Mouse on the Telly, Sophie Partridge, Liz Porter, SignDance Collective International, Eve Smith, Clare Summerskill, Robin Surgeoner aka Angry Fish, Allan Sutherland and Theatre Royal Haymarket. Thanks as well as to the production and support teams behind them. We’ve seen some wonderful performances and workshops over the past month, as well as having work by more than 70 locally based/connected disabled adults and children on exhibition at the Old Town Hall. The exhibition will remain at the Old Town Hall until the end of January, and then as with our 2012 Open Exhibition, we intend to tour it to other venues in the borough next year.

Thanks to our funders, without whom we would have had a very different and much smaller festival: Arts Council England; People’s Health Trust and the Community First Foundation. We very much appreciate their support, and hope to continue the relationship with all three organizations in 2014. Thanks as well to Ramada Hotel Suites for providing complimentary artists’ accommodation, and to UEL for providing the Film Festival venue. Meanwhile Artemis Theatre Company, Dogwoof Films, November Films and 104 Films all waved their screening fees for our festival feature films.

Thanks to the Sign Language Interpreters Ann-Marie Marray, Michelle Rees-Jones, Jason Smith and Ruth Wium, whose hard work preparing and delivering BSL translation, SSE and Communication Support enabled Deaf access at all of our funded and many of our unfunded events. In particular, thanks to Sasha from Bruchinaarts who spent many hours of volunteering organising this for us.

Thanks too to the individual workers and groups who facilitated and enabled participation as needed, particularly John Barfoot from Newham Autism Team, Tae Catford from Powerhouse, Maria-Theresa Fernandes from East End Hamlets, Rachel Flower from Richard House, Richard Lilley from Starpad DJs, Ella Tarratt from McGrath Makers, and Zoe Kilb from Discover Centre.

Thanks to all of the volunteers who have contributed so much to this year’s festival. Until recently we have been run entirely by volunteers, and volunteers will continue to be essential to the success of our activities. We are delighted that Newham Volunteer Team members have joined us for the festival, and hope that this is just the start of a long relationship between the Newham Volunteer Team and Together! In particular, thanks to Nancy Whiskin and Kolsuma Mia for all of their efforts to recruit and organise Volunteer Team members for us. Special thanks must also go to our long-term event volunteers Blake and Dawn.

Thanks to the venue staff who have helped us to put on the different festival events and activities. We have a policy of programming work in as many different parts of the borough as possible, and the vast majority of the venues that we use are not professional arts venues. We’ve had a great deal of support and patience both in the run-up to the festival and during the events and activities themselves from building managers, receptionists, caretakers and catering staff, which has all helped to fulfil our aim of making the festival welcoming and inclusive to all. I’d particularly like to thank Alison Davenport and her team at the Old Town Hall, who stepped in when our intended exhibition and party venue fell through late in the day, and have done so much to contribute to our success; Hannah Binley at the Garden Cafe; Beryl Callison at Ascension Church; Marie Hollbrook at the River Christian Centre; Kim Stevens at Vicarage Lane Community Centre; Kay Garib at St John’s Church Stratford; Margaret Spence at Margaret’s Community Kitchen; Gary Wilson at Stratford Circus; Barbara Yearsley at St Mark’s Community Centre; and Malcolm at the McGrath Centre.

Finally, I’d like to thank my core team: my fellow directors Georgia Drysdale, Sarah Hughes and Julie Newman and our festival crew members Cliff Segree and Diane Artis. They have all put in countless number of hours to ensure that the festival has run smoothly whatever challenges have been thrown at us. I couldn’t ask for a better team to work with – and indeed never have worked with a better team – and look forward to working with all of them again in 2014.

We did it Together!

Wishing you a very happy holidays, and a New Year that is full of art and friendship.

Poetry and place

A middle-aged man with brown hair, wearing a dark jacket, is reading from a book. Behind him the wall is covered with paintings and notices.

John O’Donoghue reads from his memoir Sectioned: A Life Interrupted at the Pop-Up Poetry Cafe at the Garden Cafe in Custom House on 16 December 2013.

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: Our last but one event on our 2013 festival calendar was last night’s Pop-Up Poetry Café at the Garden Café in Custom House. We launched the Pop-Up Poetry Café in September, with funding from People’s Health Trust, and it takes place on the third Monday of each month from 7pm. The Café allows participants in our weekly poetry workshops to practice their performance skills, as well as providing a welcoming and accessible social space for disabled people and their companions.

We launched our poetry project during our 2012 Disability History Month festival, with support from East London NHS Trust. Over a week last November, Cooltan Arts from Southwark provided tutors in writing, performing, publishing, illustrating and pod-casting poetry, resulting in a reading at the Garden Café on the final Saturday. It was a pleasure to see the progress that participants in last year’s workshops had made over the last 12 months, as they performed their own poems last night.

It was also a pleasure to welcome guest poets John O’Donoghue and Allan Sutherland to read to us, funded by Arts Council England. John’s memoir Sectioned is a previous Mind Book of the Year, and John has also chaired Survivors Poetry and been involved in Green Ink Press. Allan is the historian of the UK Disability Arts movement, as well as being a respected poet. John read from Sectioned as well as giving us a preview of his forthcoming book-length narrative poem, while Allan read poems about his experience of epilepsy as well as his love for his partner Victoria.

We were particularly pleased that Allan and Victoria had been able to reach us by public transport from Brixton, although Victoria is a wheelchair user. Newham is unique in having two fully accessible lines, the DLR and the Jubilee – although, of course, in common with most of London, many stations further afield on the Jubilee Line are not accessible. Newham have always been well-served by bus routes too, and there are connecting bus stations at Canning Town and Stratford.

Visitors to our activities from across London often remark how much easier it has been to reach us than they expected. We obviously take the location of the nearest accessible public transport into account when choosing our venues, but generally Newham is not the distant place of many people’s imaginings. Rather, as Dickens wrote of Canning Town, we are “Londoners over the border” – over the River Lea, that is, which once formed the old Metropolitan boundary between London and Essex.

We hope that our future festivals and summer programmes help to encourage visitors to come to Newham — and then to come back. As the last four weeks have shown, we not only offer a wonderful programme of activities, but also an old-fashioned East End welcome to all. We live and work here for a reason, and look forward to sharing the benefits of Newham with an ever-larger number of visitors in the future.

LGBTea time

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: Outside of not-so-funny jokes, there is no community less visible than LGBT disabled people. It has therefore been a source of pride to me that we have been able to include an LGBTea Party on our festival calendar again, in association with Regard.

Regard, the national LGBT disabled people’s organization, has been based in Newham since 2001. Vicarage Lane Community Centre in Stratford has long had a policy of prioritizing LGBT groups, and provides low-cost or free meeting space as necessary to enable LGBT disabled people to meet. Regard has no external funding, and is run by its members for its members, with membership being free.

Of course, as we have realized throughout this festival, LGBT disabled people are not only often isolated, but also face increasing difficulties in accessing social and community life because of cuts to benefits and services. Meanwhile LGBT organizations are traditionally reluctant to draw attention to the high numbers of disabled people among our communities, which are caused by the long-term impact on physical and mental wellbeing of homo- and transphobia as well as higher levels of HIV.

For LGB people – we cannot use the ‘l’ word without being blocked by filters — the memory that homosexuality was only recently removed from the list of diseases by the World Health Organisation is still fresh; no one wants to have their sexual orientation associated with impairment. While for many Ts, the medical condition that matters most is their medically defined ‘gender disorder’.

This disguises the fact that the majority of LGBT people who seek help about hate crime are also disabled. Since LGBT people are more likely to have moved away from the areas they grew up in, and less likely to have close family relationships, they are over-represented among social care service users. This in turn makes them increasingly vulnerable to harassment and discrimination, as provision continues to shrink.

This makes it important to Regard, and to Together!, to provide free opportunities where  LGBT disabled people can meet, socialize and offer peer support. For 2012, Regard also worked with Clare Summerskill and Artemis Theatre Company to create a unique play about the life experiences of LGBT disabled people, with financial support from Arts Council England.

The script for Vis-a-Visibility was written by Clare following five Sunday afternoon workshops at Vicarage Lane Community Centre. The project then moved to People Show Studios in Bethnal Green for ten days of rehearsals, followed by two performances to packed audiences in June. Darkly humorous, the play intersperses a series of comic sketches with monologues, all based on the experiences of the actors.

Regard is currently seeking funding to make a film of Vis-a-Visibility with Artemis Theatre Company, who are experienced in creating filmed versions of verbatim theatre productions. We would certainly like nothing more than to be able to programme it in next year’s Disability Film Festival.

The art of networking

datnsmArtistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: This last week has seen Together! host two networking meetings as part of our Disability History Month festival, one local and one national.

On Wednesday we hosted the inaugural meeting of the Newham Disability Arts Network at the McGrath Centre. One of our aims is to capacity build the sector locally by supporting existing groups and organizations and helping to set up new ones, rather than attempting to take over/do everything ourselves.

As the response to our festival has shown, there is a range of groups already doing excellent work in Newham. East End Hamlets and the Art Recovery group are two independent visual arts groups run by and for people with learning difficulties and people with mental health difficulties respectively. Meanwhile Active Plus empower people with dyslexia and Powerhouse women with learning difficulties through the arts as a central part of their work.

The Act Up inclusive theatre company, who performed at our International Day of Disabled People event, offer training and performance opportunities to all local residents, while Blue Sky Actors, based at Stratford Circus, is a company for adults with learning difficulties. The McGrath Makers and Starpad DJs are creating employment as well as offering training opportunities for people with learning difficulties, as are the Autism Team who are also based in the Centre.

There is also a range of activities on offer to young people. The Discover Centre’s Mighty Mega Saturday Club offers arts activities to disabled children and their families, while Richard House Children’s Hospice runs a weekly Film Club as well as offering a large number of one-off opportunities for children with life-limiting conditions to participate in the arts. For young adults, the Sardines Dance Collective is based at NewVic College, and creates high-quality inclusive dance performances as well as running education and community programmes.

The vibrancy of the Disability Arts sector locally, as well as the high level of demand for arts-based activities from locally based disabled people and carers, made us particularly pleased to welcome guests from other parts of the UK to the Old Town Hall Stratford on Friday. Together! is part of the Arts Council-funded Disability Arts Touring Network, with partners including DaDaFest International festival from Liverpool, the Arts Disability Forum Ireland, Disability Arts Online, Preston City Council, and the Citadel venue in St Helen’s.

Our aim is not, of course, to create a parallel or segregated arts sector for disabled people. Rather, we aim to work towards inclusion and equality by promoting models of good practice, as well as creating opportunities for disabled people and carers that current barriers to inclusion prevent them from accessing elsewhere.

We also regard the Disability Arts movement as an international art movement like any other, with its own theories, traditions and history, as well as its own unique perspective on the world. Disabled people, too, have our own unique history and culture in addition to being members of the wider community.

Both locally and nationally, being part of wider networks enables us all to be more effective. It also enables us to promote our artists to other parts of the UK, and to make artists and audiences aware of wider local and national opportunities. As we say, “Together we are strong.”

Fashion and identity

A blue t-shirt with the letter B picked up in rhinestones is being held up to the camera.

Customising a t-shirt in the fashion workshop

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: Today we held the first of what we hope will be an expanding programme of fashion-related activities, an ‘upcycling’ workshop at the McGrath Centre in Stratford. Fashion has many claims to a place in the art world, yet rarely receives the recognition and inclusion that it deserves.

For disabled people, fashion is particularly important. The late David Morris began his last film, Together! (for the UK Disabled People’s Council), with the statement: “We have fashioned our identities as disabled people.”

I was somewhat taken aback to realize, when viewing the final version of the film for the first time after his death, that he had used an image of me to illustrate this point! But I certainly understood what he meant.

Disabled people are continually identified by our medical labels, rather than by what makes us individuals. Often people emerging from long periods of hospitalization have absorbed this so thoroughly that they will even introduce themselves in this way.

At the same time, if our impairments — or more often our aids and equipment — are visible, we are continually the object of the public gaze. This leads many disabled people to develop a strong sense of personal style, enabling us to meet this gaze head-on as well as stressing our individuality rather than our medical label.

The practical demands imposed by our impairments and aids also force disabled people to consider design more carefully. In my case, I have to look for cuffs that will fit over my wrist braces, tops that open down the front (and preferably do up with zips not buttons), and trousers that are long enough not to show my socks when I am using my wheelchair (yet will not trip me up when I transfer out of it).

For many disabled people, this is simply the start. Customising clothing to fit non-standard bodies is often essential if adults are to avoid wearing children’s clothes or spending all their time in tracksuits. Today’s ‘upcycling’ workshop enabled participants to explore how they could revive their existing wardrobe by individualizing it, at the same time as tailoring it to fit their bodies better. We were inspired by the McGrath Makers’ funky ‘upcycled’ furniture surrounding us.

Starpad DJs, running an open workshop next door as part of Together! 2013, provided a practical demonstration of the confidence disabled people gain when we are able to express our identities through fashion. In contrast, disabled people living in institutions today still find that their clothing can be considered communal, and that they have no choice at all over what they wear – if, that is, they are ever provided with the necessary support to get out of their bedclothes.

For these reasons and more, we are interested in exploring all of the issues relating to disability and fashion over the next few years. We will be working with Newham College fashion students, looking at designs that are suitable for a wide range of body types. We will be working with Models of Diversity to support their campaign to get the fashion industry to use a diverse range of models, including disabled models. We will be working with designers who are disabled themselves, promoting their designs as well as using them as role models to encourage more disabled people to enter the fashion industry.

Most of all, though, we will be working with disabled people and carers, continuing to teach people how to ‘upcycle’ their own wardrobe as well as creating fashion by the McGrath Makers to sell via our online shop. Our hope is that in 2014 we will be able to have our own Fashion Week, complete with a Fashion Show that will bring all of these elements together. If you are interested in supporting this project or becoming involved in any way, please contact us.

A green sequinned evening purse is being held out on top of a table by a woman wearing a yellow cardigan

Creating an evening purse from material scraps at the fashion upcycling workshop

The art of friendship

A man is standing behind a long white table in front of a screen, and speaking holding a microphone while four seated women listen to him with enjoyment.

Speakers at the Local History Day

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: Today was the third annual Local History Day to be held by Newham Disabled Reps Forum, and the second to take place as part of the Together! festival. This year’s event focused on the history of local institutions for disabled people, linking in with the national Disability History Month theme of “Celebrating our Struggle for Independent Living: No Return to Institutions or Isolation.”

However, one thing that rapidly became clear is that the closure of institutions in itself creates isolation if these are not replaced by more appropriate provision. Angus McKenzie-Davie presented a moving film about the history of the Greenhill Day Centre, which closed its doors three years ago despite the protests of staff and service users and carers. (The Equality Act states that disabled people should be included in the decision-making processes, and not simply ‘consulted’.)

Angus now runs an informal group, monitoring where possible what has happened to the service users, and attempting to ensure that their voices are heard within future decision-making processes. Other former service users who were present today echoed his findings that the majority are now isolated, lonely and housebound, still grieving for their lost community, and often without any idea of what has happened to their former friends.

According to Reps Forum Co-Chair Sarifa Patel, when former service users are asked what they miss most apart from the social contact, then access to hot food, being in a safe environment and day trips out of the area – together with the arts – are the most frequently mentioned benefits. That these simple pleasures can be life-enhancing is reflected in the fact that, so far as can be ascertained, the mortality rate among former service users has risen rapidly since the Greenhill Centre closed.

Of course, disabled people do not want a return to the old, charitable model of ‘helping the handicapped’. As Reps Forum Co-Chair Christine Dolyak said during her presentation about her grandfather’s experiences at Newham’s Blind Workshop: “We are not ‘handicapped’, we are the same as everyone else. We can do everything for ourselves; we will do everything for ourselves.”

The aim instead is to establish a ‘Centre for Independent Living’, where disabled people and carers can run their own services and support each other towards achieving inclusion and equality. Inspired by the Paralympics, the Reps Forum and Greenhill Group want to make this the best facility of its kind in the world, creating a real and meaningful Legacy. Together! has already begun to assist them in this endeavour by administrating the paperwork to form the Newham Association of Disabled People and Allies, a fellow Community Interest Company, and will continue to help them to capacity build.

We are also, of course, providing an alternative to the arts provision previously offered at Greenhill and at the also now defunct Day Opportunities service. However, with the need to raise every penny we spend ourselves, we have a long way to go before we can provide a similar range of facilities. What we can and do provide already, though, are activities and events where disabled people and carers can extend their social networks, and thus their self-confidence and self-esteem. We are extremely proud of the fact that last year we were labeled ‘the friendly festival’, and that people tell us we have continued to live up to the name in 2013.

The late David Morris, who inspired us to launch Together! with the UK Disabled People’s Council, recognised the important role that networking opportunities play within arts events. Just as sport creates opportunities to bring a wide range of people together to compete in peace, cultural events create opportunities to bring people together to relax, exchange ideas and understand each other better, and thus to make friends too.

We were also very proud earlier this year when Newham Clinical Commissioning Group presented us with the ‘Communities of Health’ award for “outstanding services in improving the health and wellbeing of local people”. We know that the arts are important in every area of life, not a ‘luxury’ nor an ‘extra’, and we value this recognition.

One practical thing you can do is to donate to our appeal to buy 2500 high-visibility armbands and 500 personal alarms to support disabled people to access activities independently. Our ‘Stay safe, stay creative’ appeal can be found on Crowdfunder here: Or donate to support our work more generally via the link at the bottom of this page. Or visit our Volunteer or Partners pages to offer more practical support for disabled people’s art, culture and human rights.

Disability Film, funding & the future

Participants at the no-budget film-making workshop at the McGrath Centre.

Participants at the no-budget film-making workshop at the McGrath Centre.

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: Our DIY Disability Film Festival continues this weekend with a wonderful selection of films by disabled film-makers and/or with strong disability themes. Our UEL Docklands venue offers a comfortable and relaxing space to enjoy the best of Disability Film – and as with all of our activities, it is free.

Whether made by disabled or non-disabled people, film allows disabled people to communicate our interests, issues and concerns, as well as the reality of our lived experiences, in what is perhaps the most effective medium of all. The films we are showing include documentaries, animations, dramas, artist’s films and videos, dance films, films from East London, and many that defy description or categorization.

(If you are unable to attend in person, please look at the schedule online – you will find links within it to the individual programmes – to find out more about Disability Film. In many cases there are also links to online versions of the films, or to distributors who can sell you a copy on DVD.)

Most of the films we are screening have been made since the London International Disability Film Festival – held over the same December weekend at the BFI – closed its doors in 2008. Although we will continue to reshow some of the fantastic films created before 2008, this underlines the fact that disabled film-makers and Disability Film are thriving at every level, and deserve a great deal more exposure than they currently receive.

While camera-phones and YouTube have made it possible for everyone to begin film-making, both disabled and non-disabled film-makers around the world are also gaining access to public and private funding to create high-quality, professional movies of all lengths. Meanwhile distributors such as November Films and Dogwoof Films are bringing in and promoting feature-length films with disability themes and characters from overseas.

Our own two-day no-budget film-making workshop, held earlier this week, illustrates the level of interest that disabled people have in film-making. We had over 20 people attend, with another 20 or more unable to join us only because the necessary support was not available to them. As a result we will be developing our Photographers and Filmmakers Club in the New Year to hold a one-day workshop each month at the McGrath Centre in Stratford.

Our festival is DIY this year because we are doing it ourselves without any external funding whatsoever. It is made possible by the voluntary efforts of many people, and the in-kind support of the filmmakers themselves, the University of East London, November Films, Dogwoof Films, 104 Films, Artemis Theatre Company, Kynnyskino, ADF Ireland and DaDaFest. We were sorry that Channel 4 were unable to afford to support us this year; sponsorship would have paid for BSL interpretation and audio-description to widen access.

We will be working over 2014 to obtain sponsorship and other funding to cover access and other costs of running the film festival. We would also like to be able to meet film-makers’ expenses to come and introduce their films and have panel discussions, and to be able to commission one or more films especially for the festival. Either way, though, we will be back next year!

International Day of Disabled People 2013

A woman with short red hair and glass is signing as she sits in her wheelchair at the front of a stage. She is wearing a headset microphone, black trousers, silver boots and a T-shirt that reads: "Everything is Art, Everything is Politics" Ai Wei Wei. Sh

Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90 reads ‘What’s Normal Anyway?’ at Ascension Church in Custom House on International Day of Disabled People 3 December 2013.

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: 3 December 2013 was the United Nations’ 21st International Day of Disabled People, so it was fitting that we held a celebration of Disability Art, Culture and Human Rights during the afternoon.

This time our venue was Ascension Church in Custom House, which is one of the oldest buildings in the area since it amazingly survived the Blitz intact. Being there reminded us that one of the biggest causes of disability worldwide is war – along with poverty, pollution and a disregard for health and safety precautions. All of these are issues that can be tackled by working together to change our world.

Similarly, the barriers we face as disabled people can all be tackled if everyone works to achieve this. The UN set 2013’s theme for International Day as “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”.

A young Asian man wearing a light-coloured jacket and dark trousers is raising his arm in gesture at the front of the stage.

Don Biswas comperes on International Day of Disabled People 3 December 2013 at Ascension Church in Custom House.

One of the more difficult aspects of directing this festival is the growing realization of just how many barriers disabled people face in simply accessing the arts. It has been rare to see an audience member who uses a PA, or a group who needs to be accompanied by a support worker. This is partly due to support not being available at all, but also to the lack of control that disabled people currently have over how we spend ‘our’ leisure time.

Recent cut-backs in the Taxicard scheme have also had a serious impact. Taxicard users are generally having to choose to attend just one festival activity, rather than being able to come several times a week as desired. In fact, Taxicard users are now often leaving their homes only for medical and other practical reasons.

Benefit cuts have also been impacting, particularly on people with mental health difficulties. They are all too often now being forced to survive on Jobseeker’s Allowance, rather than being correctly categorized as being disabled and unable to work. This leaves them without bus fares, let alone the funding they require for taxis if they feel unsafe going about on their own.

It was fitting, then, that some of these issues were highlighted by the artists in a way — I hope — that was empowering rather than depressing. First, comedian and compere Don Biswas got us all giggling about our low employment and family status as disabled people. I read my 15-minute spoken-word piece, ‘What’s Normal Anyway?’, which looks at the anything-but-normal daily reality of many disabled people’s lives, but also how disabled and non-disabled people are working together using the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People to achieve change.

Signdance Collective International, who performed at both our Paralympic and Disability History Month festival activities last year, returned with their very final performance of ‘Peyrot’s Stolen Dolls’. We feel very fortunate that SCI continue to support Together!, when they are much in demand across the world for their unique blend of dance, storytelling and Sign.

I was particularly pleased to be able to programme Act Up, a locally based inclusive community theatre company. Ably led by carer Yvonne Brouwers, the company devises powerful dramas from the lived experiences of the company members. Their play ‘Changing Attitudes’ conveys both the discrimination that disabled people face, and the ability that we all have to change attitudes and end this. We all left knowing that, together, we can change our world.

A young woman in a wheelchair is looking up at a young woman who is standing next to her but looking away.

Members of Act Up theatre company in Changing Attitudes, performed at Ascension Church in Custom House on International Day of Disabled People 3 December 2013.

Making music together

A man sits and plays a guitar in front of a projection of the Together! logo.

Robin Surgeoner aka Angry Fish at the Music Club on 2 December 2013.

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: On Monday we were delighted to welcome three guest performers to our monthly Music Club as part of our Disability History Month festival. Musicians Clare Summerskill and Robin Surgeoner aka Angry Fish (who is also a Gold Medallist Paralympian) were joined by VJ Mouse on the Telly, who projected live interactive visuals to accompany the music.

As always, though, the emphasis of the Club was on participation. Everyone who attends is invited to choose an instrument and to join in as they wish. We also encourage anyone who wishes to come to the microphone and sing to us, whether this is a favourite song or one they have written. And we always sing some songs together, and teach them to each other. It was great to have Clare and Robin joining in with this, and to learn ‘Action DAN’ from Robin on the eve of International Day of Disabled People.

The philosophy of the Club, as with everything we do, is inspired by the late David Morris. David loved nothing better than to bring his friends and PAs together to sing, and he recorded many of these sessions and uploaded them to YouTube. Two years ago I constructed the Red Jesus Jukebox website to link these videos together, and you can play them for yourself here.

Many of the performers are noticeable for the colourful hats and wigs they are wearing; David had a large collection of these and believed that putting these on helped to release creativity. We are yet to try this for ourselves, but it can only be a matter of time…

David named his gatherings ‘Red Jesus’ after the bright red statue of Jesus on top of the neighbouring church that was visible from his roof terrace in Limehouse. We often make our own connections to the neighbourhood of Canning Town around us – we sing sea shanties and think of the dockworkers as well as the 900 ships that were built a stone’s throw away; we sing London Pride and think of the Blitz that still impacts on the landscape today.

Our Music Club is therefore about much more than music: it is about celebrating creativity in everyone, about friendship and about community. It is also about creating a regular social space where everyone is welcome. We have heard too many stories during the past year about disabled people (from every impairment group) being excluded overtly or effectively from other locally based activities as well as family functions.

Although we are determined to continue with the Music Club, our current funding from Community First ends this month. We are also aware that many people who would like to attend are still prevented because they have no access to the support and transport they require. If you are reading this and are in a position to help, please contact us.

In the meantime, thanks to Arts Council England for funding our guests; the Community First Foundation for funding the Club; Newham Volunteer Team for providing help and support; and Ramada Hotels for supplying artists’ accommodation.

Newham Volunteer team.

Newham Volunteer team.

Hope for the future

Four women and girls with their backs to the camera are making white pieces of paper fly like birds.

The Theatre Royal Haymarket Mask & Puppet workshop at Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton on 30 November 2013.

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: Being suckers for hard work, we ran two events today simultaneously. I was particularly fortunate to be working at Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton, which supports over 200 children with life-limiting conditions and their families.

In the morning, Miriam from the Theatre Royal Haymarket ran a two-hour mask and puppet workshop, which was enjoyed by everyone who took part. Miriam demonstrated how a puppet can simply be made from folding a piece of white paper in two; soon a flock of seagulls was swooping around the space.

In the afternoon, the workshop was followed by a performance by Sophie Partridge of her puppet show Song of Semersuaq. Based on a Canadian Inuit legend, we were all mesmerized by both the puppets and the narration.

The day ended with a discussion about careers in the arts for young disabled people. Sophie was joined by Nicola Miles-Wildin, who played Miranda in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, and my own 13-year-old goddaughter Eve Smith, who appears in her first professional role in the New Year in Sky TV’s The Smoke.

All three were excellent role models for young people who had already displayed a considerable amount of artistic talent during the morning. We are delighted that the children and young people of Richard House also have a joint exhibit, The Tree of Life, in our art exhibition at the Old Town Hall, Stratford, and are showing two films in next weekend’s DIY Disability Film Festival.

A small blonde woman operates a large puppet of an Inuit woman as she sits in her wheelchair. Behind her are two more Inuit puppet characters, and a wall hanging depicting Inuit myths,

Sophie Partridge performs Song of Semmersuaq at Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton on 30 November 2013.

Our second event, at St John’s Church hall in the centre of Stratford, was an ‘Art Hive’ and sale of work in conjunction with our partners Cooltan Arts. The concept of an Art Hive is to have a drop-in event, where everyone can make art from a variety of materials on offer.

The theme of today’s event was ‘Hope’; something it is important to keep alive in this era of ‘austerity’. Cooltan have lost a number of their members to suicide since the service cuts of the last three years, and are now creating a ‘Wall of Hope’ at their offices in Southwark.

Today’s participants could take their work home with them, or give it to Cooltan to become part of their wall. We will be creating a ‘virtual wall of hope’ later with images of the work produced today.

The photo shows a woman's  hands sticking paper onto card.hands making her

The Art Hive on 30 November at St John’s Church Stratford

Alongside the Art Hive, there was an opportunity for disabled artists to sell work including art cards, textiles, prints and paintings. One of our aims at Together! is to create self-employment (as well as employment) opportunities for disabled artists, and we have been running a ‘pop-up shop’ at various events in Kent and East London over the summer.

In the Spring we are opening an online shop, where local Disability Arts groups such as East End Hamlets and the McGrath Makers can sell their work alongside individual artists. For some people, this will mean being able to generate enough income from their art to cover the cost of the materials they require to carry on making it; for others, it will form an important part of their overall income.

We are currently seeking advice and input from an experienced online retailer; please contact us if you can help.