Erasmus – A.R.T.S

Friday 29th January saw the official launch of Headway Arts’ European Project: Alternative Routes to Success (ARTS) with North East Member of the European Parliament Jude Kirton-Darling.

The event began at 4pm with members from the local community arriving at Headway ArtSpace in Blyth. We even had a Live Stream on YouTube so our international partners and people who couldn’t make the event could watch.

Allie, Creative Director at Headway Arts, welcomed the audience and introduced them briefly to Headway Arts’ mission and vision. Allie referred to author Ursula le Guin who said ‘there’s a point around the age of 20 when you have to choose to be like everyone else or make a virtue of your peculiarities’ Allie said at headway arts we like to embrace our peculiarities – we apply our principles of inclusivity and aim to create a place and sense of belonging for people who come to us. We celebrate individuality – having sustained our independence for 21 years by being a unique organisation.

It was then turn for Jude Kirton-Darling MEP to take to the stage. Jude spoke very kindly about Headway Arts’ work:

“Your reputation and your work travels across Europe as well as the UK. The arts and culture sector in the UK consider Headway Arts to be one of those great examples. I think that’s a tribute to all of you who are involved and all of you who work here.”

She then went onto explain the importance of European projects like ARTS. EU projects are about: “people working together to understand each other better. Trying to learn about each other and help to make ‘strangers’ become friends. Learning about what makes us different and what makes us the same. To realise how we can move forward together.”

Paula, one of Headway Arts’ Actors, then helped Jude to officially launch by project by offering her a selection of ribbons. Jude was asked by Paula to write her name on a ribbon and tie it onto the wish tree. By the end of the project, everyone involved in it will have added their ribbon to a final creative installation.

Allie then returned to officially present the project:

“ARTS is a life-long learning partnership project which aims to give recognition to people who are disadvantaged through disability and to develop a universal accreditation framework for learning disabled adults in the arts which is accessible to all.”

Allie then introduced the partners: Teatro Nucelo from Italy, Cogami from Spain, Medlefors from Sweden and Antigone from Greece.

Allie explained that the project “will train adult education staff to complete their work on a daily basis in a much stronger way than they currently do.”

Through an array of creative arts workshops, transnational learning activity meetings and seminars, adult education staff will be able to help people to understand what they have learned in more practical ways than ever before.

It is hoped that this learning will create more skills and more opportunities for all organisations involved by bringing value and attention to the fantastic work they already do. It will also improve the confidence, self-esteem and motivation of disadvantaged people by recognising them and their achievements in a formal way. A selection of online resources and contacts will also be created for organisations who wish to adopt the accreditation.

Andy, another of Headway Arts’ Actors, then passionately shared his and his colleagues’ experiences of Headway Arts and their past European projects with the audience.

Andy spoke specifically of how Headway Arts helps himself and others to express themselves in ways they usually wouldn’t – “It’s good to be asked what I think. Otherwise we have nothing”.  He also described how Headway Arts gets people out of their houses and help them to realise they can have a fulfilling life of their own – “Sometimes it’s hard work – a challenge – it’s difficult but we all help each other. We feel strong and safe here – we are like a family.”

Andy also spoke proudly of his trips to Malta and Turkey in 2011 where they performed “Voyage to Everworld” at the National Culture Centre in Valetta:

“We helped set up a new learning disabled theatre company as they didn’t have any in Malta. Then we went to Turkey. We went to the school in Burdur for the street kids. I helped to run a drama workshop to show the teachers new skills. And what learning disabled artists can do. Afterwards we went to Omar’s house, they set up a long table in the apple trees and we all sat together… They danced in the garden I didn’t even expect that. They made me feel welcome and good.”

Bernie, Andy’s father, then relayed his experiences of that trip to Turkey.

“This European project opened my eyes and changed my perceptions about Turkey and its people.  Turkish people are peace loving and hospitable people who cannot do enough for the visitor. Their lifestyle is rich in culture and history. They are a compassionate and tolerate society which greatly contrasts the image portrayed in the popular press.”

Bernie spoke specifically of how the education developed through these European projects is paramount to understanding our differences. He also told us of how in one school in Turkey, pupils gain huge feelings of worth and contribution through manufacturing goods which was very inspiring.

Bernie finished off his speech by explaining the profound effect this trip had on him, “I fell in love with the country and the people. I particularly got on well with the group from Sweden who joined us. We shared stories and experiences which made me realise that we are all the same, no matter how you might try to deny it. After my visit, I had felt as though I had a much better understanding of the group I travelled with as well. Overall, it was a huge honour and privilege to have visited Turkey in 2011 with the group from Headway Arts.”

The afternoon was finished off nicely with celebratory tea, prosecco, cakes by Chloe, Northumbrian tunes from Jacqui, Jim and Da, and 21 photo memories from Headway Arts’ history.

Wish you had been there? Take a look at our photos and have a watch here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G47z4dNUOd4