New national arts programme puts learning disabled and autistic people at the heart of cultural leadership.

Photo: New national arts programme puts learning disabled and autistic people at the heart of cultural leadership.

As we celebrate Learning Disability Week (19 to 25 June) DIY Theatre is celebrating its role in ‘Transforming Leadership’.  This new national arts programme is putting learning disabled and autistic people at the heart of cultural leadership.

Transforming Leadership is being coordinated by Access All Areas (AAA) who are known for making disruptive theatre by learning disabled and autistic artists. AAA also train and support partners across film, TV, and theatre to make their work and workplaces more accessible, and have ongoing relationships with Netflix UK, Sky Studios, National Theatre, and many others.

Through AAA’s Diploma, and their Artist Development Programme, they have developed some of the world’s leading learning disabled and autistic creatives.

DIY are proud to be a part of this ground-breaking initiative

The new national Transforming Leadership programme is highlighting alternative ideas on who can lead, and on how leadership can happen, in UK theatre. It brings together eight disability arts companies, eight UK venues, and some of the UK’s best leadership development organisations. Together they will make real and practical change and shake up the landscape of arts leadership.

Why do we need to change?

Without learning disabled and autistic voices being involved in leadership decisions and strategic discussions about what type of art should be made, there will continue to be a lack of genuine representation in the arts.”
Access All Areas

Historically learning disabled and autistic people have been routinely excluded from professional careers. Currently only 6% of learning disabled people and 30% of autistic people in paid work in the UK. In theatre, TV, and film, learning disabled and autistic people remain dramatically underrepresented on our stages and screens. Disabled experiences are often absent from the stories we tell in our culture.

How will Transforming Leadership make the change?

photo young woman standing like a boxer when they win with fists held high on either side of her head. She looks happy!

Yesterday I was nervous and I found it hard because it was the first one but every week I’ll feel more confident at doing it. Everyone was really really friendly.”
Amy, DIY Leader

By creating more inclusive work environments:

Eight disability arts organisations are involved in the programme and each is teaming up with a local venue. Together they will share learning and build artistic communities that are more inclusive of learning disabled and autistic performers, staff, participants, and audiences.

By supporting our creative leaders:

Transforming Leadership has two strands for creatives wanting to pursue careers in theatre. These are a co-leadership and directing strand and a governance and advocacy strand.

Two DIY Leaders will undertake paid traineeships under this innovative programme, Charlotte Little and Amy Carter.

Amy’s paid traineeship will focus on governance and advocacy skills.

I’m hoping to get out of it learning new skills of other people that have been involved in Transforming Leadership longer. I’m really enjoying working with the other companies because they’re learning skills off me and I’m learning skills off them.”
Amy, DIY Leader

Charlotte’s paid traineeship will focus on directing skills and how to co-lead community arts projects.

I like having a challenge and getting pushed so I can learn new skills to bring them back to DIY.”
Charlotte, DIY Leader

A photo of Charlotte, a young woman. She is holding up a sheet of paper and pointing at it. Charlotte is wearing a back to front baseball cap and a black and red t-shirt.

What is so innovative?

The Transforming Leadership is part of our ambitious Leading Edge Programme, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund. Leading Edge enables DIY Leaders to develop their employability skills and access volunteering and supported training and employment opportunities in lots of different settings.

Crucially, the Transforming Leadership programme will enable DIY to tackle some of the barriers to employment faced by our members. It will also enable us to start to move towards being able to pay some DIY leaders at an appropriate rate.

I can’t wait to get a paid job. It would show that I can actually hold down a paid job instead of volunteering all the time”
Charlotte, DIY Leader

DIY staff will learn more about Access to Work processes and will be supported to help DIY Leaders to understand and navigate the benefits system. The Transforming Leadership programme will not only offer a fantastic opportunity to two DIY leaders, it will also provide a foundation for the organisation to move towards our aspiration of establishing a Community Engagement Team of leaders with learning disabilities.

Who is involved in this national programme?

Transforming Leadership is based on developing partnerships across the country.

  • DIY is partnering with The Lowry.
  • Access All Areas with Battersea Arts Centre (London)
  • Mind-the-Gap with Leeds Playhouse (Bradford/Leeds)
  • Hubbub Theatre with Derby Theatre (Derby)
  • Square Pegs with Gulbenkian Arts Centre (Medway/Canterbury)
  • Prism Arts with Theatre by the Lake (Carlisle/Keswick)
  • Unanima with Nottingham Playhouse (Mansfield/Nottingham) and Blue Apple (Hampshire).

Other partners include the Cultural Governance Alliance, the Regional Theatre Young Director’s Scheme, and Disability Arts Online.


Arts Council England logo


Thanks to Arts Council England for their support for the Transforming Leadership Initiative.


The National Lottery Community Fund logo


Our thanks also to The National Lottery Community Fund for their support of our ambitious Leading Edge Programme.