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Leading Yorkshire theatre company championing learning disability arts 30 years on

Mind the Gap works in partnership with learning-disabled artists in an effort to give them a voice and create more opportunities in the arts
Mind the Gap works in partnership with learning-disabled artists in an effort to give them a voice and create more opportunities in the arts
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Europe's leading learning disability theatre company is gearing up for a stellar year of performances and new productions in celebration of its 30th year.

Yorkshire's own Mind the Gap works in partnership with learning-disabled artists in an effort to give them a voice and deliver a bold artistic programme designed to both surprise and excite audiences.

Liam Bairstow is a resident artist at Mind the Gap and is known for his role as Alex Warner in Coronation Street

Liam Bairstow is a resident artist at Mind the Gap and is known for his role as Alex Warner in Coronation Street

Thirty years of success

To mark its 30th birthday, the company will spend the next 12 months celebrating its achievements and artists by touring highly-acclaimed productions, creating new work, including a large-scale, outdoor spectacular, and challenging the current lack of work for learning disabled artists.

"We have championed learning disability arts for 30 years," says Julia Skelton, executive director at Mind the Gap.

"We have a theatre company and an academy, each with exceptional facilities, and we've worked alongside other arts venues to help create more opportunities for both learning disability audiences and artists.

"There are success stories for learning disability artists and performers as shown by the recent Britain's Got Talent results, bu there's still no room for complacency."

Despite 1.4 million people having a learning disability in the UK, Mind the Gap insit that their voice is still noticably missing.

"We work with learning disabled artists to give them a voice," Skelton explains.

"Our work is all about collaboration - we don't tell our artists what to say or how to say it; our work is created by them.

"We want to see more learning disability arts respected and heard at conferences, events and in other people's productions."

Creating equal opportunities

The company's aim is to create ambition for people to play their trade elsewhere and with several of its artists already independently commissioned, it has already created excellent opportunities for learning disabled artists.

Liam Bairstow is just one of the artists to benefit from Mind the Gap's support, having become a regular to the cobbles of Coronation Street where he plays Alex Warner.

And later this month, Bairstow will appear on the celebrity judging panel of Leeds Young Talent, a talent show for youngster with a learning disability hosed by People in Action.

"Having a disability is not a bad thing," he explains.

"It's a good thing because you get to know people inside.

"I'm very proud to inspire and represent people through my role on Coronation Street and my work with Mind the Gap."

Work for the future

Since starting life in 1988, the company made itself a permanent home at Lister Mills in Bradford ten years ago, allowing it to grow, produce more work and create more opportunities - all in spite of those who said they couldn't achieve it.

"If we'd have listened to those that said we couldn't do it we'd never have done it, but here we are" adds Skelton.

"We've achieved so much and we are incredibly proud, but there is more to do.

"Our Performing Arts Academy is oversubscribed which is great news for us, but not so for those who don't make it in.

"Mind the Gap shouldn't be the only option for learning disabled artists."