Still Minding the Gap – 30 years on…

Photo of Jez Colborne, wearing a hat and dark glasses

Jez Colborne, Resident Artist at MTG Photo © Tim Smith

This week is Learning Disability Awareness Week (18th – 24th June) and right in the middle of it Europe’s leading learning disability theatre company, Yorkshire’s own Mind the Gap, will celebrate its 30th birthday.

To mark its 30th year Mind the Gap will spend the next 12 months celebrating its achievements and its artists, 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 – we have theatre company and an academy each with exceptional facilities; we have worked alongside other arts venues to help create more opportunities for both LD audiences and artists,” says Julia Skelton, Executive Director at Mind the Gap.

There are success stories for LD artists and performers as shown by the recent Britain’s Got Talent results, but there is still no room for complacency.”

There are 1.4million people with a learning disability in the UK and Mind the Gap insist that their missing voice is noticeable.

We work with learning disabled artists to give them a voice. MTG’s work is about collaboration – we don’t tell our artists what to say or how to say it. Our work is created by them, but we are the exception not the norm,” continues Julia.

We want to see LD Arts respected and heard at conferences, events and in other people’s productions.”

Portrait shot of smiling Coronation Street actor Liam Bairstow

Liam Bairstow Resident Artist at MTG and Alex Warner in Coronation Street Photo © Les Parkinson

Mind the Gap’s aim is to create ambition for people to ply their trade elsewhere and it has seen several of its artists independently commissioned; resident artist, Jez Colborne, a highly skilled musician, composer and singer, created a piece for the 2012 Paralympic Games Celebrations; Zara Mallinson is currently working on a piece with local writer, Emma Adams, who discovered her learning disabled Aunt was an artist only after she died; JoAnne Haines had a part in BBC1’s Doctors; Alan Clay has received funding to develop his music project Skip Rap, and Liam Bairstow is a regular to the cobbles of Coronation Street where he plays Alex Warner.

Liam says: “Having a disability is not a bad thing – 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.”

Later this month Liam is on the celebrity judging panel of Leeds Young Talent, a talent show for young people with a learning disability hosted by People In Action, where he will sit alongside Britain’s Got Talent winner Lee Ridley, aka Lost Voice Guy; dancer Michael Allen will perform at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Expressions; Jez Colborne and the Mind the Gap Band play Leeds Wharf Chambers and Mirror Mirror – an outdoor production – plays at the opening ceremony of Great Exhibition of the North.

Highly-acclaimed production Mia, a piece about learning disabilities and parenthood that was described by one reviewer as ‘a much-needed middle finger held high in the face of our society’s assumptions about learning disability’ continues to tour, and in the coming months the company is sent make an exciting announcement about a brand-new piece on an epic scale.

Mind the Gap started its life in 1988 and ten years ago moved to its current home in Lister Mills, Bradford, which allowed the company to grow, produce more work and create more opportunities.

If we’d have listened to those that said we couldn’t do it, we’d never have done it,” continues Julia. “But here we are. 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 should not be the only option for LD artists.”

It’s hugely important to all at Mind the Gap that we shout about the great theatre we create; theatre as it should be – bold, challenging, funny, emotive and thought-provoking,” concludes Julia. “We are fiercely proud of being a theatre company and not a box-ticking exercise.”

For more information about Mind the Gap, its artists, productions and academy visit
Follow Mind the Gap on Twitter @MtGstudios