Bridge College project – finished

Our time at Bridge College came to an end today – seven workshops with a delightful group of learning disabled young people during which we used cameras, made models out of junk and brought them to life via stop motion animation. Today we had a celebratory event with snacks, during which we looked at the group’s work and some of them had a go and making photos in a pop up studio. I brought my little photo printer so they got to take copies home.

This project came about through the A New Exchange programme I’ve been involved in via the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, which built on the Making of Us project last year. A year ago my project was also within the same parent organisation as Bridge College, a local social care and education charity called The Together Trust. Last year I was at a school for young people with complex emotional difficulties, Ashcroft School. The young people and teachers there were all great but our experience was challenging because the environment was pretty volatile and I felt a bit out of my depth and not always fully supported by school staff – I think they were just busy reacting to the daily dramas which are going on in a setting like that. I learned loads but it wasn’t an experience I would describe as enjoyable – and for a while it put me off pursuing work with young people.

I still applied for A New Exchange though as it seemed to present an opportunity to perhaps overcome some of these complicated feelings. This time my experience was very different – our new setting had a much more relaxed atmosphere and the staff were extremely supportive. No doubt all the experience of the past year also helped – I now know to ask for feedback and to be prepared but not to over-plan and try to control everything. I’m happy to have gained some experience of trying to make my sessions accessible to all. I’m happy to be moving on but feel really fortunate to have had this opportunity.

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A New Exchange – Bridge College

We’re now almost halfway through our A New Exchange project at Bridge College, Manchester.

We’ve done three workshops out of a total of seven (the last will be a celebration event though). I was apprehensive about this project before it began because I have no experience working with participants with learning or communication needs and didn’t know how I’d cope in a group with a range of need.

Our group of eight young people is quite varied – there are people who are non verbal, people who are quite chatty and a diverse range of support needs. I knew I’d be well supported by staff at the college and would learn loads but there was still some fear of the unknown.

However it has been a much gentler experience than I expected – group members are really good fun and the support staff have been great. So far we’ve done a ‘getting to know each other’ session, a session on photography and a session on junk modelling led by my artist partner Hattie. Shen kicked that off asking people to draw pictures based on a series of prompts – these then fed into what people created.┬áThat was a great touch which I’m going to try to remember – sometimes the blank space can be overwhelming.

Gaining feedback from a group where not everyone speaks is obviously challenging but we are trying to leave enough space within our sessions to gauge what is popular. Also we’ve learned that where participants are not really up for getting involved in activity it’s useful to give them a job – handing out items for example or asking them to photograph the session.