Arts Award with young people with learning disabilities

We have found Arts Award to be a particularly appropriate and effective framework for creative practice with young people with learning disabilities. The following descriptions of DIY projects are offered examples of how we have introduced each level of Arts Award into our ongoing educational practice.

You can find a mix of digital resources and more traditional ‘resource packs’ designed to support students on their Arts Award journeys on our Arts Award Resources page.

Watch the video to see DIY working with young people with a PMLD on their Discover and  Explore Arts Award journeys

Arts Award: Leading the Way! from DIY Theatre Company on Vimeo.


Discover is an introductory award, available for anyone up to 25.  DIY often uses Discover in sensory, immersive projects with children and young people with PMLD. For example, we have used our“Give Me Space!” show to support work with a number of schools to deliver Discover Arts Award with PMLD learners:

photo of 2 aliens from Give Me Space! performance

  • For Part A – discover – at a pre-show-workshop young people are introduced to the themes in our  “Give Me Space!” show using musical instruments, sensory props and songs. Because “Give me Space!” is such a sensory show, it offers lots of opportunities for learners to experience lots of different art forms.
  • For Part B – find out – the group finds out about DIY Theatre Company by participating in our “Give Me Space!” performance and taking part in pre- and post-show workshops co-facilitated by DIY performers.
  • For Part C – share – at a post-show workshop, young people share space objects (puppets and planets) which they have made in school. We use the structure of a song and movement section from the “Give Me Space!” show to enable learners share their objects with each-other and with DIY actors.


Explore is an Entry Level Three qualification

DIY often uses Explore to encourage children and young people with PMLD to express creative choices and preferences. For example, at Bury College, DIY worked with a group of four post 16 learners.

photo of student playing a drum. He is wearing glasses and a hearing aid. The drum is bright red and hangs round his neck. His hand is moving so fast it is just a blur!

  • For Part A – take part – the group was introduced to different art forms; drama, music and visual arts looking at the theme of water. They expressed which activities they liked best.
  • For Part B – explore – the group found out about Picasso and other visual artists in their practical art sessions. They found out about DIY Theatre Company as an organisation by participating in our “Following the Thread” show and devised questions, using PECS, which they asked DIY actors.
  • For Part C – create – participants created their own sensory performance, based on DIY’s Following the Thread show, which they shared with another group.
  • For Part D – share – they were supported to create a powerpoint about what they’d liked about, and learnt from, the project which they showed to another group of students at the college.


Bronze is a Level One qualification available for anyone between 11 and 25. DIY has delivered Bronze with young people with learning disabilities in a range of settings including Special Schools, Youth Clubs, Youth Theatres and our own youth offer.

photo of Georgia with the Abstract image she created on her phone

I’ve been learning things like learning to use different apps to make things work. I’ve learnt what goes best with background noise and what works. We’ve leant about different musicians. We’ve been working with Sarah and David came in a few and taught us new things. … We used the word holiday and found words for all the letters. If you pick the word “love” for the letter L and see what goes best and make a song that way. Then going to different apps to see what background music works with it.”

In 2021, Georgia achieved her Bronze Arts Award whilst having to work remotely on Zoom with DIY’s Passing the Baton* Young Leaders Group. To achieve do this she took part in the arts, undertook research, reviewed an online performance and shared her skills.

  • For Part A – explore the arts as a participant – Georgia learnt new arts skills through working with other young people to create a Circus Tricks! Holiday Song. She was introduced to Google Chrome Lab and digital music-making skills. Her line in the collaborative holiday song was “L is for Lovely Lollipops”. Having created lyrics for the song and illustrations to accompany these lines, Georgia worked in Google Chrome Lab to develop the music. She particularly enjoyed learning about and working with different music apps.
  • For Part B – explore the arts as an audience member – Georgia reviewed a performance by students from Chethams School of Music who visited the Young Leaders Group via Zoom. She was interviewed by another Young Leader about her experience and what she had most enjoyed.
  • For Part C – arts inspiration – Georgia researched two arts inspirations she was interested in – DIY’s  film maker, Hilary Easter Jones, and the pop band One Direction. She created a poster to show what she’d found out about each of them. She also interviewed musician Sarah Atter about her practice and submitted a recording of her interview as evidence..
  • For Part D – arts skill share, passing on arts skills to others. Georgia led a drawing activity online with another Young Leader and the Youth Arts Coordinator.  The recording of the session was submitted as evidence. The Young Leader and Youth Coordinator   gave her feedback about the activity and the next time she led the activity she was able to improve her leadership skills. This follow-up session was also recorded on Zoom.


Silver is a Level Two qualification. DIY uses Silver primarily in our work with young people with learning disabilities in transition to adulthood. Two of our Passing the Baton Young Leaders,* Adam and Scott, were supported to achieve Silver Arts Award during Covid restrictions.

It feels good to get my Silver. I put in a lot of hard work. It was difficult doing it during Lockdown. Big thumbs up from me!”

For Unit One – developing their own arts practice and researching career pathways

Young people develop themselves as artists by planning, undertaking and reviewing a personal arts challenge.

Before Lockdown Scott was part of a group working on the Circus Tricks performance project. The aim was to create a piece of promenade theatre incorporating live music that would tour to children and young people with learning disabilities.

Photo of Scott Lawrie showing off some circus tricks

Scott wanted to develop his performance skills – in particular his theatre “hosting” skills. To achieve this aim he developed the role of the Ringmaster. Scott also developed circus skills through working with circus artists, created a costume and wrote a song with the support of a professional musician.

When Lockdown hit, plans to tour the live performance tour had to be shelved. Following a period of re-establishing the group online and supporting them to use Zoom, Scott and other members of the group decided to adapt Circus Tricks into a series of animated videos, which could be used remotely by learners in schools. Scott built on his role of Ringmaster to create an animated character and took on the lead vocals in the ‘Welcome to the Circus song’. The animations were piloted in two Special Schools during the pandemic and resulted in learners at 2 local Special Schools achieving Discover arts Awards.

Scott chose the Circus as a genre as his area to research. He watched and reviewed The Greatest Showman film and a ‘Circus 1903’ performance at The Lowry. He shared his reviews online through DIY’s private Facebook Page during Covid lockdowns.

To research future opportunities and careers in the arts Scott did a backstage tour at The Lowry and interviewed a number of staff including The Employability & Skills Manager, an Usher and a Stage Manager. He also interviewed Circus Artists from ‘Poppins Presents’ to find out about their roles and career pathways.

Unit Two – demonstrating arts leadership

Scott had identified that he wanted to improve his communication skills. He developed a leadership plan based on organising a sharing event with members of DIY’s Youth Drama Group. He had planned games and exercises and Scott was to introduce the event and collate participant feedback in accessible ways. Scott and trialed the workshop in a local Special School with another Young Leader:

I’m getting a lot out of this. It helped me gain confidence. Today was a real eye-opener for me.  I’ve never worked with young people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities before.  I’m enjoying the experience I had with it.

I’ve never delivered projects in school before. It was good.  It was a nice way to interact with the sensory students.”

Scott demonstrated great adaptability by changing his Leadership Challenge when, owing to Covid 19, the actual event had to be cancelled. He started to work with new technology and delivered a 10-week series of radio shows which were broadcast via Facebook Live. Scott made decisions about song choices, selecting an appropriate order and researching and sharing further information about artists and musicians. He overcame the challenge of Facebook preventing his live broadcasts due to copyright issues, and received further support from music specialist and DJ, Richard Easter, and Archives and Copyright specialist, Chris Saville.

photo of a Facebook Page where we can see Scott in a live screen. He is talking.

Doing my own radio show I enjoyed it because obviously just giving the other DIY members the opportunity to be with me and watch my show every week. I wanted to bring it on camera. It felt like bringing it on camera would help the others, you know what I mean? It would be something to watch every week and look forward to.” 


I have been really impressed by Scott’s resilience, and commit to overcoming the challenges posed by Lockdown. I have seen him engage with new technology for the first time (Zoom, Facebook & Alexa) and quickly adapt his Arts Award Challenge and create something new whilst working independently at home. This has had a positive impact not just on Scott’s personal wellbeing, but also on the wellbeing of other group members, and myself, who tune in at a regular time once a week, and dance around our homes – feeling connected to one another and uplifted by the music.”
Hebe Reilly, DIY Youth Arts Coordinator (2019-2021)

Building on Silver Arts Award

Reform Radio is a multi award winning online station using the engagement of music and radio to work with young people looking for employment. Beyond making incredible content, Reform Radio uses the framework of an online station to support young adults into employment. They are a not-for-profit company that delivers employment and creative workshops and traineeships alongside genuine opportunities to develop and practice new skills within an industry standard radio station. DIY was able to broker an introduction to Reform Radio and Scott engaged with a two-week online radio and podcast production course ‘Audio Form’. Here he worked alongside other young people to create a podcast. The Audio Form opportunity was open to a wider range of young people and Scott stepped out of his comfort zone to engage with new opportunities and music professionals.

A group of people from all over the North West had to write a podcast. We all had to think of our own little podcast and put a big podcast together…  Just being able to work with Reform and express how I do things was good to be honest. Just having the experience to work with a proper radio company as well.”

Scott continues to be involved in Reform Radio. He also continues as a DIY Young Leader, planning and delivering sessions and projects with company members. He took on the role of Volunteer Arts Award Assistant for DIY’s Youth Drama session. In this role he supports younger members to achieve their Bronze Arts Awards and build on his leadership skills. He has joined DIY’s adult performance company and is now a member of DIY’s Board. He has aspirations to continue the DJing as well:

I’d like to have my own radio show – definitely. I’d probably interview people from DIY on there and get guests in, do shows you know? I think that would really work well. I don’t know how we’ll do it but we’ll do it you know?” 


Gold is a Level Three qualification. It has 2 units.

Unit 1

Extending own arts practice, experiencing another art form and creating new work

Young people set themselves an arts challenge using an art form which is new to them. They create a new work which is influenced by their original art form and their new art form practice.

photo showing Amy kneeling on one knee and using the other to steady her arm. She has her hands together on a leve with her eyes and is looking through them. Professional photographer, Hilary, is leaning over her and guiding her hands.

Before Lockdown, Amy, one of  DIY’s Young Leaders, began her Arts Award journey. She identified theatre as her main art form, and film as the new skill she would like to develop. In 2019, professional film-maker Hilary Easter-Jones started to mentor Amy, providing her with one-to-one sessions and supporting her development in film. Amy created a project plan and began to create a short film that would be integrated into DIY Theatre Company’s planned new show ‘What Did Patient 36 Do Next?

When Covid Lockdowns were suddenly implemented Amy’s training sessions with Hilary had to move online. This short video was used as evidence to give an insight into how Amy worked with film-maker Hilary Easter-Jones during Lockdown as part of her Unit 1 Arts Challenge for her Gold Arts Award.

Arts Award: Gold Arts Award During Lockdown from DIY Theatre Company on Vimeo.

Amy learnt how to edit online and was able to create a short film, using footage she had recorded in “practise” sessions before lockdown called “Freedom & Confusion”. Amy’s film gives a sense of the frustration and anxiety that many people with learning disabilities experienced at this time. It brought together Amy’s original art-form, theatre, with her new art-form, film, as it formed part of DIY’s Digital Story “Following Patient 36” which explores Learning Disability History and the resilience of people with learning disabilities in Salford and Greater Manchester.

Following Patient 36 : Freedom and Confusion from DIY Theatre Company on Vimeo.

Professional Development – identifying and being involved in the world of the arts through placements, volunteering, training and research

Amy was able to take advantage of a number of professional development opportunities before the pandemic. For example:

  • She volunteered for DIY on a 10-week Discover & Explore project with learners with PMLD at Bury College.
  • She volunteered at The Lowry – working as a Workshop Assistant on the YES! Programme, supporting The Lowry’s Employability & Skills Manager to run drama sessions for employability.
  • She applied & interviewed for a Directing Course at Mind the Gap.
  • She volunteered as an actor as part of Access All Areas immersive show Madhouse Re: Exit.

photo looking down the corridor with sign saying 'choice' - MADHOUSE re:exit

Reviewing arts events/experiences and finding out about artists and their career paths

Before the Pandemic A was able to undertake research into a number of advanced practitioners and review a number of arts events, including:

  • A series of 10 dance workshops with dancer Susan Swanton Guest of Articulate Elbow and interview with Susan about her career
  • A series of 10 music workshops with musician Sarah Atter and interview with Sarah about her career path and practice
  • Interviews with Jenny Harris (drama practitioner), Bill Skeer (instrument maker), Poppy Avison & Rosalyne Norford (circus practitioners)

Her interviews were all recorded and reviews included:

  • Let’s Talk about Dis” by Candoco
  • A Little Space” by Mind the Gap / Gecko
  • Circus 1903” at The Lowry
  • Shadow Girl” by Proud & Loud

Making and communicating the case for an arts issue

Amy’s research into an arts issue was started and completed during lockdown. Amy’s question was “Is Lockdown Good or Bad for the Arts?” She emailed lots of people involved in DIY – artists, members, Board members – to ask them their perspectives on this question. Then she looked at what everybody had said and made up her own mind about what she thought. She posted her research on DIY’s private Facebook page and gathered feedback from other DIY members and artists as part of her evidence.

On the one hand lockdown is bad for our health and wellbeing because people would be so bored and lonely at home. People with mental health problems will find it very hard without anyone to talk to and some people with mental health problems have some types of medication to settle there mind and to keep there mental health under control. Lockdown will be very difficult for them.

On the other hand, for me being in lockdown has helped me be more creative. I have had more experience on filming and it given me more time to think about my film. I have learnt how to do some editing from my film and how to choose different music. So now I know how to edit files and put music on film. And I think lockdown is good for other reasons. It might take some time for people to think of different projects and I think it’s given people more time and space to think about there project and people can’t just come up with projects off the top of there minds. Because of this for me lockdown has been good for the arts.”

Unit 2 –

Leadership of an Arts Project

For her Unit 2 Young Leader Amy ran a series of 10 short drama sessions online, which were shared with DIY members via DIY’s private Facebook Group. She collated feedback as part of the evidence.

Amy also created a short video that provided Top Tips for how to film experiences of Lockdown on a mobile phone and contributed to a film DIY was making of lockdown experiences called “I Wish Everything was back to Normal”.
Alongside this she created a paper-based version of her Top Tips which was sent out in a resource pack to those who had limited access to digital platforms. The video can be seen here:

Arts Award : Top Tips for filming with a mobile phone. from DIY Theatre Company on Vimeo.

Amy organised an online public launch event for the film “I Wish Everything was back to Normal” on 17th July 2020. This included liaising with DIY’s designer and Social Media coordinator to create a number of Social Media posts leading up to the launch event and gathering feedback from audience members after the screening.

I feel fantastic – I put all my work into it I feel really great. I made Hilary work and she made me work!!

Photo of Amy and Hilary at a desk. Amy is writing in a book, they are both looking closely at a computer screen.

Building on a Gold Arts Award

Amy’s volunteer placement at YES! Drama has now become a paid weekly position.
YES! Drama is a weekly session at The Lowry Theatre that offers employability skills through drama to young people with learning disabilities aged 15 – 19 years.

Amy’s volunteer placement led directly to this further opportunity within The Lowry. She continues to work on the YES! Drama Programme but now on a Traineeship. This is a paid role and requires Amy to do additional planning and delivery of games and exercises during the sessions.

Amy continues to be a member of DIY’s Young Leaders Group. She has also joined DIY’s core company of actors with learning disabilities and is a member of DIY’s member-led Board.


*Passing the Baton was a 3 year DIY programme, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, which ended in 2022 – click to see the report