This week it’s your last chance to see an intriguing exhibition at the New Space Gallery at the Surgery, 76 Queen’s Crescent.
The works are by students from Kentish Town charity Elfrida Rathbone Camden’s Leighton Project (ERC), who have taken part in the London Transport Museum’s Project 353 Community Learning Programme to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Underground. And as you can see above, the results are quite special.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Elfrida Rathbone charity (named after its eponymous founder) we’ve been delivering services in Camden for 30 years and provide education and life skills training to young people (under 25) with a learning disability; plus, of course, the opportunity to build confidence and abilities through other experiences such as work placements and volunteering.
Recent successes? Students have organised their own sponsored walk to raise funds for Oxfam, carried out shop access audits on Kentish Town High Street, helped the local church St Luke’s with their gardening, been awarded certificates to recognise the help they give others in the community – and had a disco to celebrate afterwards.The artworks created are the result of a collaboration between ERC, fellow Camden charity Action Space and the London Transport Museum. But let’s be clear: the young people whose work is on the walls at the Queen’s Crescent Surgery wouldn’t want you to come out of sympathy for the fact that they all have a learning disability. But what is important is that they have had the opportunity to showcase the products of their creativity.
Ex-student Chris popped in a couple of weeks to say hello to the staff who worked with him during his two years at the ERC Leighton Project. Chris showed us a published article he had just written for the youth magazine Exposure:“During my school years I would say 95% of the time I felt unhappy. Then I went to the Leighton Project. That’s when my life started to turn around for the better. The teachers there understood me, made me feel a part of everything. The [Leighton Project] gave me confidence which enabled me to take advantage of new opportunities.”
All the above are examples of how ERC staff and volunteers work to enable young disabled people to be part of their community in the same way as other young people their age. The barriers ahead of them are daunting: only one in ten adults with a learning disability are working, although 65% of them are clear they want to. People with a learning disability may also encounter isolation and loneliness as funding cuts and limited support restrict the opportunities for social contact.Party nights for people with a learning disability – such as Heart and Soul’s The Beautiful Octopus Club, The Wild Bunch in Islington and Brighton’s Gig Buddies and Stay Up Late – are fantastic, but getting to them can still be an issue.
It’s not as if disabled young people don’t want to have fun: as a Leighton Project staff member commented on our students after an episode of the Channel 4 programme the Undateables: “They’re not undateable at all – there’s loads of fancying going on! It’s just that they don’t get the opportunity to go out”. Hence the enthusiasm for the rare discos and soirees; community participation isn’t only about learning.
And that’s why the work of ERC with disabled people, children and families matters: to help people overcome the barriers that stop them doing the most ordinary – but special – things.