Northumberland Day

As part of our Northumberland Day celebrations we shared our ARTS project with the local community.

Allie presented the aims and objectives of the project, how it fits with our work and the benefits not only to the people we work with but the wider community too.

The event was attended by just over 40 people from other learning disability organisations, the local council and businesses across the North.


A.R.T.S 5 Evaluation Questions


There are a wide range of evaluative techniques. We chose to use these 5 ‘qualitative evaluation’ questions to encourage cyclical reflective practice. They can be used to evaluate a single session or the whole project.  We have applied them to each mobility and captured reflections.  The next stage is to collate and refine information. We will then create an Evaluation Toolkit with examples of techniques drawn from our project work, as a project output.

Learning Activity Outline: UK Mobility

Learning Activity UK Mobility 4th-9th October
Workshop lead: Alison Walton-Robson

Bringing it all together: Creative Evaluation – using the environment to stimulate debate and site specific environmental art to express and evaluate learning experiences.

Enjoy a short walk in the grounds (Cragside House, Northumberland) together (around 15 mins). Reflect upon your past week – discuss together in your group – highlights and lowlights – help each other to remember.

Choose a suitable site not too far away from this point and where we can still see each other (we’ll need to move quickly between sites) to create your site specific artworks.

You may make your own artwork or work together in small groups – you can choose.

You may use only found materials, the environment here, your own skills and any skills you have developed in the learning activities this week. The artwork might include shapes, symbols, song, words or physical images…anything which you feel reflects your learning.

Please note: Found objects must be things which have fallen naturally – please do not cut down or take anything growing.

Take 45 mins.

We will then visit each other’s site, share and discuss our work.


Defining the principles in Thessaloniki

Here in the UK we are looking forward to our visit to Thessaloniki both for the Learning Activity and the Managers Meeting! Over the last few months during our visits exploring best practice, and in the work we have been doing with our groups, we have been looking at the principles for the accreditation framework.

Now it is time to bring all this learning together and define the principles underlying the framework. We have set aside some time to do this while we are in Thessaloniki so please bring all your ideas with you!

COGAMI: In the search of new sensations

The story began in Skelleftea where we meet the different partner countries involved in the project ARTS (Alternative Routes to Success).It was very interesting to see how different education systems in partner countries directly affect what we are able to offer disadvantaged groups

One of the techniques carried out in Medlefors was focused on learning from the use of the senses. It became clear that the use of perception and senses in Medlefors is paramount and we were invited to a lesson to test this system by ourselves.

This use of creativity allows everyone to express themselves and is a good introductory exercise for disadvantaged people who are learning to express themselves in the group.

Once in our point of work were explained the knowledge acquired during our stay in Medlefors which were implemented with the users of CRD-Medelo (COGAMI), besides continuing with the activity of sensory stimulation already established in the center.

The aim of this activity is to stimulate the user and get it with that they feel more independent, aware through the senses, that their deeds can change what happens around and feeling like a participant in society, thereby achieving an increase in their psychological wellbeing and improving interpersonal relationships, being able to optimize the functional independence and quality of life of the user.

The story continues in Ferrara…

Video link:


5 objects in a bag – a workshop with Headway Arts’ Creative Director Allie Walton-Robson

5 Objects in a Bag – A workshop with Headway Arts’ Creative Director Allie Walton-Robson in Skelefteå, Sweden.


To begin:

  • to develop and explore creative processes with 5 objects used as stimulus.
  • to find ways of communicating and sharing ideas.
  • intercultural dialogue through the project.
  • break the ice and build trust within the project team.


I asked the group to sit on chairs in a circle –  a practical arrangement that we like to work in at Headway Arts. We can all see and hear each other, there is no end or beginning, no one is at the front or back, higher or lower. We are all at the same level physically and in equality.

Each country was asked to bring along 5 identical objects. We placed them ceremoniously in the centre of the circle. The objects looked beautiful. The UK brought 5 handmade bags.

I then invited a volunteer to begin the process of exploring the objects considering all five senses. I encouraged the volunteer to use whichever manner they preferred, maybe or maybe not using words but showing and sharing thoughts with the rest of group in some way. Happily, Fernando from Spain kindly volunteered to begin (a much appreciated thank you!) and so the group began the sensory process of exploring the objects and sharing the personal meanings they provoke.

I asked the rest of the group to observe carefully and respectfully, which they did. The volunteer was given as much time as they wanted for their sensory exploration and then were thanked for their ideas and asked to choose someone else in the circle to pass the object onto. This carried on until everyone in the group had joined in. Some people considered the object offered to them while others swapped it for another from the centre.

When it was Fran’s turn, she deliberately went outside the circle* to find another object (a glass) to illustrate that we must expect the unexpected in our work.

I deliberately asked people not to describe the objects that they had brought along. This allowed everyone to respond and make up their own minds about the objects without being influenced by prior knowledge. (Partners: You may like to add descriptions to this blog now so we can find out the actual stories behind those lovely things?)

In the workshop, people chose to use mainly non – verbal expression: gesture, movement, action, mime. I was very happy to see this naturally happen as it supported those within the group whose first language is not English. As a result, we began to find ways to communicate with each other in a very human way.

Ideally we should have had much more time to explore the objects properly. At the end of the workshop each country chose a bag and placed their objects inside. They then took these away to begin working with them in their own groups.


Q1: what are we learning?

At the end of the session I asked the group to identify what skills they thought they had been using:

Some of the responses were: imagination, discussion, team work, listening and answering, listening to information, communications, working through a process, creative thinking, giving and receiving, taking instructions.

Q2: What conditions need to be put in place for people to progress in their learning?

Some of my notes include:

  • Time – when working with another group I would have had more time and would have slowed down the process.
  • Records – usually I would have taken written notes of everyone’s ideas to remind me what everyone did to ensure that nothing was missed and could be returned to in a future session.
  • Openness to questions – People felt more comfortable performing the task when they were able to check things with questions.

Q3: What can we do to help the learner recognise what they have learned?

Q4: How can we best apply what we are learning to our organisation?

Through sharing: I am sharing this document on the blog so it can be read by others and discussing it within the organisation particularly with others who could not attend the mobility. It will also be available online to external viewers.

What are the next steps?

The next step is to start a process of creating something new within our own organisations using the ‘bag’ as a stimulus.  These can be shown/shared and discussed at our next mobility in Ferrara.

We should look at how we can best organise and interpret the creative ideas that come from the process.

While we are involved in the creative process with our own learners, do keep looking back at the 4 evaluation questions above.

The story continues in Ferrara…good luck!

IMG_1771 (2)

First ARTS Learning Activity in Skelleftea

What did we learn from Medlefors Folkhogskola?

During the first transnational visit to Sweden, Medlefors Folkhogskola introduced us to the unique way they work with their students.

Johanna, a student guidance councillor, began by explaining Medlefors attitude to learning: ‘come as you are, go as you like and leave satisfied.’ She also introduced learners to the concept of ‘folkbinding’- liberal adult education in Sweden which allows lifelong learning for everyone irrespective of age or background. Participation is voluntary meaning that people have the ability to influence their own learning journey and make choices which can benefit them directly. It will be interesting to see how different education systems in partner countries affect what we are able to offer disadvantaged groups.

We learned the types of support that Medlefors offers students. Student guidance councillors, such as Johanna, establish the first point of contact with a student and arrange  meetings where they can get to know students and their specific needs. Johanna then feeds this information back to the rest of the staff at Medlefors, in particular to Special Needs Teacher who plans students’ learning journeys, making adjustments where necessary to create an individual, unique schedule for each person.

ARTS learners were introduced the unique style in which students learn at Medlefors. Many students arrive at Medlefors having made little progress in the traditional education system in Sweden. Firstly, there was a huge emphasis on study aids including audio books, I-pads and Claro read. Students are particularly encouraged to learn using their senses, particularly using Dunnock Dunn’s and Larstil Smodell’s models of learning.

It became clear that using perception and senses at Medlefors is paramount and learners were invited to a lesson with Special Needs teacher Maria to try this out for themselves. Learners listened to Maria reading an extract from a novel and were asked to draw or paint whatever images came to mind. Some amazing images came out of working in this way. Likewise learners were then put into groups and asked to listen to songs from the film version of the same novel. They were then asked to write down how the songs made the learners feel with each individual feeling/emotion written down on strips of paper. These were collected and redistributed amongst each group who then put them together into a poem or pattern. This use of creativity allows everyone to express themselves and is a good introductory exercise for disadvantaged people learning to express themselves within a group.

A unique programme at Medlefors is ‘PULS’ which stands for ‘personal progression and lifestyle’. Students can choose from activities which increase motivation, relieve stress and improve communication skills as part of their weekly school timetable. Activities on offer include yoga, relaxation, physical exercise, cooking, study techniques and self-reflection (setting goals, evaluation etc.). The PULS programme ultimately allows students to express their feelings and opinions and put things into context in alternative ways.

We also learned the Study Circle technique, which is very popular in Sweden particularly with Arbetarnas Bildningsforbund (ABF), one of the owners of Medlefors. The Study Circle technique is a democratic learning environment where the leader is an equal member of the group. No special training is required to be a leader. Courses can be on any topic with the emphasis being on learning, discussion and creating together. We had opportunity to investigate the Study Circle through practical workshops and can now look at how we use what we have learned with our own groups.

A.R.T.S Launch!

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:

Headway Arts

Hi A.R.T.S partners,

So we thought we’d kick off the introductions by telling you all about our Come on Down festival:

COME ON DOWN is the annual festival of performance and creativity for and by learning disabled people and now in its 10th year! Supported by Headway Arts and hosted by our resident learning disabled theatre company Seven Stars, the event took place in December 2015. It was attended by around 200 people with learning disabilities.

Disability arts companies, care centres, schools and community groups come to the festival to show and share the creative work they have been working on during the year. What makes the festival unique (and demonstrates our inclusive approach) is that people attend as both Performers and Audience. This means you come for the whole day to perform and to watch the performances by other groups, to share and learn and be inspired.

This year we had theatre, film, dance and movement performance, music and theatre workshops too. Here are some images:-