Leading Edge

DIY's Leading Edge logo; The word 'DIY' is on the left then we can see colourful stick figures balancing on each other. The ones at the top are pushing the words 'Leading Edge' up and away

Leading Edge is DIY’s ambitious Employability and Community Engagement programme for leaders with lived experience of learning disability. It began in September 2022 and will be funded for three years by the National Lottery Community Fund.

DIY Leaders are people who use their lived experience of learning disability to shape and co-lead creative projects that directly benefit other people with learning disabilities.

Leading Edge enables DIY Leaders to develop their employability skills and access volunteering and supported employment opportunities in lots of different settings.

For example:

  • running drama workshops with children and young people with learning disabilities in local schools
  • working with adults with learning disabilities to develop creative community projects
  • training professionals like teachers, arts practitioners, doctors and other health professionals to make their practice more inclusive and accessible.
photo: we are looking into a large room. There are many groups of 2 people sitting facing each other. The two sitting nearest us are mirroring each other, holding one hand up and the other hand forward.

Occupational Therapy students explore areas of positive and inclusive communication with DIY Gamechangers

In 2024 our Leading Edge Projects have been influencing the professionals of the future at Greater Manchester Universities

Thanks to everyone at DIY for welcoming us in, this has been one of my favourite experiences during medical school…The people have all been fantastic and had a huge impact on me. Keep on being the amazing, inspiring people you are!”
Medical Student, University of Manchester

The 2024 Spring term saw DIY Gamechangers working with students at both the University of Salford and University of Manchester.

Highlights include:

  • On 5th and 12th February 2024, DIY Gamechangers co-lead two full-day sessions involving over 30 Occupational Therapy students, University of Salford. These sessions are part of the Students ‘Communication’ module.

I learnt the difference between the social model and medical model of disability, and how important it is to know someone we are working with as a whole person’
OT student, University of Salford

  • Our Gamechangers introduced Medical Students at the University of Manchester to the Social Model of Health and the Five Ways to Wellbeing. These sessions are fun, but they are also really important as they offer a unique opportunity for DIY members to share their lived experience of learning disability with the medical professionals of the future.

The space DIY creates is extremely special and completely unique. Nothing I’ve ever experienced before but something everyone should experience to create a less divided society.”
Medical Student, University of Manchester

Read our February News for more details




Our Leading Edge Projects in 2023 included:

Working with post 16 students at Piper Hill High School

DIY Leaders  Charlotte and Adam worked with 11 students supporting them to achieve their Bronze Arts Award. Students learnt new games and how to make puppets in the form of birds. They also learned how to use percussion instruments to animate short scenes with their puppets.

I’m looking forward to them passing the Arts Award and actually telling them that they’ve passed. Just to see what their faces and reactions are.”

The group created reviews of DIY’s ‘Circus Tricks’ animation films and led their own activities.

It has been really good working with this group. They are lovely and I am getting lots of experience to put on my CV. They really liked watching ‘Circus Tricks’ and I think the tiger was their favourite character.”

Using Drama to explore themes at Chatsworth Futures Specialist College

DIY Gamechanger Chloe is also a student at Chatsworth Futures. She relished being part of the team of DIY Leaders running weekly workshops here.

I would give me a 10 out of 10. I think I was amazing”
Gamechanger Chloe

Two different groups of post-19 learners with learning disabilities took part. Students explored the themes of all about me, health and wellbeing, with DIY Leaders. In one group there was a focus on using drama to explore daily routine and keeping safe. In another group students explored the theme through sensory drama.

Supporting students ‘Preparation for Adult Life’ at Manchester Hospital School

DIY worked with two groups of young people at Manchester Hosptial Schools Leo Kelly Centre and Galaxy House. Cathy and Anna, DIY Actors and Gamechangers, were part of the team that worked with students at Leo Kelly School.

The aims of the project at Manchester Hospital School were to input to their ‘Preparation for Adult Life’ Curriculum. The process started with DIY sharing how we work in sensory theatre. Pupils at Leo Kelly & Galaxy House were then invited to create their own planets in whatever way they chose – using making, drama, music and creative writing. Pupils at Leo Kelly introduced their planets to Anna & Cathy. During the final two weeks of the project, students in both settings worked with film maker Hilary Easter Jones to create a film that brings together making, drama, music and creative writing.

I’ve been filming with Cathy Cam. I had Cathy Cam on my chair and I was filming the students. And then I went in next door and filmed the singing. I got it all on my Cathy Cam. It went well. I hope I go back there again and do something different”

It is important we give our young people experiences that they would not get in their personal life which include celebrating diversity and tolerance.”
Ruth Sheard-Pearson, Assistant Headteacher, Manchester Hospital School

For more on DIY’s work in schools see our round up from December ’23

photo: 2 women are sitting beside a table. One is in a red t-shirt with the DIY logo on. She is talking and doing something with her hands - as if there was something there that we cant see. The other woman looks like she is holding something in her hands and looking at it - but again there isnt anything there.

Introducing Drama to adults at Aspire, St George’s Community Hub

DIY Leaders Angela and Amy were part of a team that worked at Aspire with a group of ten adults with Learning Disabilities. Across a 10-week Introduction to Drama course, learners found out about basic drama techniques, played  lots of fun drama games and developed their imaginations.


Influencing the practice of students at the University of Salford

We can see a room full of people doing strange actions! A woman in the middle, wearing a DIY t-shirt is looking down whilst pointing up with her left hand and moving her right hand so quickly it's a blur. At the back we can see one person with their hands over their ears whilst another has their hands cupped behind their ears. A person sitting in a wheelchair at the front is holding a finger infront of their mouth 'shh'. Some other people are looking on.

DIY leaders really enjoyed their visit to University of Salford in February. The students all joined in and came up with really interesting ideas around good communication and barriers to communication.

A group of DIY Gamechanger Leaders Mike, Scott, Adam, Charlotte and Amy led 4 sessions for Occupational Therapy Students in February 2023. This formed part of the ‘Communication’ module at University of Salford.

I think the sessions were great and really useful in helping the students think about barriers to communication and feel what it is like to be led in an activity that is challenging and hopefully inspiring.”
Rowan Morris, Teaching and Learning Intern, Subject of Occupational Therapy, School of Health and Society, University of Salford

Developing the DIY Leading Edge Team

Alongside the outreach programme in schools and community settings, DIY has been running a Leading Edge Mentoring programme. This has helped develop DIY’s education and outreach programme by supporting some of our existing staff team.

Knowing that someone’s there in the session first and foremost. I think having time to chat about how the sessions have gone and I feel like I’ve learnt a lot of things but it feels like it’s been a collaborative dynamic as well which has been really nice.”

I think that’s been very well paced because I’ve not had a point when I’ve felt out of my depth or “I can’t handle this”. I’ve learnt not always talking but mostly by watching how to solve problems. I think the main thing I learnt was how to not go to the most complicated version of an exercise – to start simple and then build.”

logo 'TRANSFORMING LEADERSHIP' in large orange lettering with the word 'NATIONAL' in white reversed out of an orange oblong underneath.

photo; close up of two women. They are both doing thumbs up and smiling at the camera. On the table next to them is a laptop and we can see on the screen the DIY logo and a photo of one of the women.

As part of Transforming Leadership I am on a placement with Emma. I have been to lots of different meetings. I am also working on the Lowry’s policies to make them Easy Read.”

Transforming Leadership is an exciting new national initiative to develop learning disabled and autistic cultural leadership. Initiated by Access All Areas and runs until March 2025. It is:

  • Sharing skills and best practise in co-directing and inclusive governance amongst all partners
  • Creating training and  pathways for learning disabled and autistic leaders in co-directing and governance
  • Developing relationships with local arts venues  to foster genuine inclusion and representation of learning disabled and autistic leaders.

The initiative is being led by a network of eight Learning Disability Arts organisations:  Access All Areas, Mind-the-Gap, DIY Theatre, Blue Apple Theatre, Unanima, Square Pegs, Prism Arts and Hubbub.

During the first year of the programme, two DIY leaders took part in this funded training opportunity. Charlotte has been following a co-directing route and Amy has been following a governance route. Both have been attending regular Transforming Leadership training sessions. During September 2023, both travelled to attend residential training courses tailored to their specialism. See our news item on their trips.

We can see a group of 15 people posing for the camera. They are standing outside in a paved area by a seat and a tree with office type buildings behind. The group lok happy and some are doing the thumbs up sign. We can see that one has a suitcase and there are large bags on the ground

Amy with others attending the Transforming Leadership training residency in September 2023

During 2024, both Amy and Charlotte have both been on placement at The Lowry. See how Amy has been advising The Lowry on developing accessible formats for their policies in our February ’24 news article.


The National Lottery Community Fund logo


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




Arts Council England logo


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