Nothing About Us, Without Us? TripleC take pride in grassroots, community values

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TripleC is a gateway organisation for disabled people’s access to the arts and media, acting as a voice for disabled people. Chair of the organisation Laurence Clark introduces disabled talent database

portrait of a team of five TripleC workers taken against a large brick architectural feature

TripleC

As a disabled artist, of late I’ve started to feel a real disconnect with the organisations which are meant to represent our interests. When disability arts started, our rallying cry was ‘nothing about us, without us.’ In the eighties and nineties disabled artists triumphantly took over a number of organisations that were purporting to work on our behalf. But since then things have changed.

I used to be the chair of a disability arts organisation. But according to them, this meant I was not allowed to do paid work for them as an artist because of their charity status. I literally had to choose between being on the board and having a strategic input; and pursuing my artistic practice and being paid by them. I have also since had similar experiences with other disability arts organisations. Of course, it is possible for charities to have a provision authorising payment to the trustees as part of their charity status, but in my experience, I have found an unwillingness to go down this route.

This issue is all the more important as many disabled artists find themselves in the position of being unable to earn a full-time wage from their artistic practice. There is something very wrong if we cannot both be paid by disability arts organisations, and have an input into their future direction.

One potential solution used by some organisations is to have an artists’ sub-group in order to get the input of disabled artists. But in my experience, these meet infrequently and don’t have any real influence. Even Arts Council England only takes into account the numbers of disabled people, not specifically disabled artists, on the board when assessing an organisation for National Portfolio Organisation status.

However, over the last three years I helped build up and now chair an organisation called TripleC (Creative Confidence Collective) which is a Community Interest Company rather than a charity. This means we can have disabled artists both on our board and doing paid work for us. Indeed, we employ disabled artists on a freelance, flexible basis to fit in with their arts practice because we actively want to support them financially and get the benefit of their experience. We also pay a wider pool of disabled artists to take part in regular, paid focus groups to get their input into our future work.

TripleC was borne out of a recognition that disabled artists are often part of different schemes created as one-off solutions to change, with no legacy. We’ve all been part of various organisations’ diversity schemes at one time or another, then the programme ends, disability stops being en vogue and we’re more or less back where we started! So, by embedding professional development in an organisation of our own, we are able to provide continuity and a more strategic approach. This also means we’ve been able to ensure all of our workshops and events are accessible through BSL interpreters, audio description and, more recently closed captions in webinars.

Our greatest success to date has been the development of the Disabled Artists Networking Community (DANC) project. This aims to empower disabled artists to gain paid employment by:

  1. Facilitating networking opportunities for disabled talent to forge links with producers, commissioners and key decision-makers within the industry;
  2. Providing professional development opportunities in the form of workshops, webinars and mentoring to increase the skills and knowledge of disabled talent;
  3. Facilitating solution-focused discussions between the industry and disabled talent with a view to removing barriers to participation.

Our work priorities are identified by our disabled artists, rather than funders. They told us that, when it comes to the performing arts, people tend to work across film and television as well as theatre. Our timing has coincided with these industries finally waking up to the need to include disabled artists, and I believe we have successfully engaged channels and production companies in a way hitherto unseen. Our outcomes speak for themselves:

  • We have over 200 disabled actors on our database. We facilitated 100 one-to-ones with 4 main casting directors for our disabled actors during lockdown.
  • We run regular Actors’ Masterclasses and Webinars with established actors including Adrian Lester, Riz Ahmed, and Mat Fraser.
  • We have sourced talent for TV programmes such as The Crown, Silent Witness and Coronation St amongst others. Many, many specific castings from production companies are now shared via our weekly opportunities mailout.
  • We have over 120 disabled writers on our database. Our writers have worked on programmes such as Casualty, Eastenders, Moving On, Coronation St, Hollyoaks, The Dumping Ground…
  • Screenwriters Ben Tagoe (In The Long Run, Coronation Street) and Debbie Oates (Cold Feet, Coronation Street) have mentored 6 of our disabled writers for a year to produce a spec script.
  • We run regular Writers’ Masterclasses with established writers including Jack Thorne, Peter Bowker, Matt Lucas and Jonathan Harvey.
  • We also run creative writing workshops with established playwright Cathy Crabb, which are perfect for new writers as well as those with stories and ideas who don’t necessarily want to go down the writing path.
  • We connect writing teams with disabled writers for support with specific characters and facilitate the attachment of disabled writers to projects. E.g. we have just suggested a number of disabled writers for The A Word spin-off Ralph and Katie.
  • 3 writers who attend DANC were awarded places on the BBC Studios Scripted Disability Mentoring and Training Scheme
  • 8 writers who attend DANC have been awarded places on the BBC Writersroom Writers Access Group.
  • We facilitated 10 five-week production placements on the third season of The A Word.

DANC facilitates solution-focussed discussions between disabled artists and people working in the arts and media sectors, with a view to removing barriers. We act as a critical friend to the industry, engaging in a non-confrontational way to provide guidance and a dialogue around how to include us. Even with the best of relationships, every so often you have to be critical and say when something is not right, but because we’ve established a relationship, we find we are able to do it in a way that doesn’t get people’s backs up.

Although we are based in Manchester, when we ran in-person events we had disabled artists coming from as far as Glasgow and London. Since the coronavirus pandemic, we have transferred our activity online and are now serve disabled artists across the UK and beyond. Analysis of our mailing list reveals we have members as far away as the USA, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, New Zealand and South Africa.

Our next season of webinars, masterclasses and workshops will begin at the end of January, when we will also be launching our disabled talent database, as well as a members’ area where people can watch past webinars.

My experience with TripleC feels like a return to the grassroots philosophy of ‘nothing about us, without us.’ Why not join us at triplec.org.uk?


Join TripleC for an online Writers’ Showcase on Friday 4th December from 11am-3.30pm – 6 D/deaf & disabled writers, mentored by Debbie Oates and Ben Tagoe through TripleC’s prestigious Writers Initiative Programme.