29 August 2014 marked 2 years since the Graeae team and 78,990 others attended the Paralympic Opening Ceremony in Stratford.
We could not have been more proud of the extraordinary achievements of our Artistic Director Jenny Sealey and her co director Bradley Hemmings, the performers and volunteers. We will never forget the buzz of walking into the Olympic Park, then in to the stadium and what followed was a beautiful, powerful, story told on a scale we had never seen before.
It was also reflective of the battles that had been fought and won and acknowledged the battles still left to fight. 2 billion people around the world saw the cast of Reasons to be Cheerful sing Ian Dury’s anthem Spasticus Autisticus. This was an incredible statement.
Two years on we can still look back on that day as a high watermark for celebration of the talent and skill of Deaf and disabled people. We believed it was the genesis of a new era. Surely now the world was more enlightened? We hoped Graeae could ride the wave to create more opportunities for Deaf and disabled people to be centre stage locally, nationally and internationally so we could continue to reach more people, build on our skills and experience.
This interview explores these themes with Jenny Sealey and John Kelly. Below the video is further detail on some of the issues Jenny and John touch upon, and details on how you can help secure a future for Graeae and the incredibly talented artists we work with.
Jenny is the face of the campaign Stop the Change to save Access to Work, but everyone at Graeae is united in fighting this next battle for the next generation of artists and theatre-makers.
Click here to watch the interview.
Access to Work
What is it?
The Department of Work and Pensions runs a scheme called Access to Work. It is a pot of money which covers employees’ access costs – it can pay for Sign Language Interpreters, Access Workers, adaptive equipment such as ergonomic chairs, screen-reading equipment and also transport costs if public transport is not an option.
How does it affect Graeae?
Graeae supports employees and freelancers to make Access to Work applications and in any one year up to 150 applications might be made. Between 8-15% of Graeae’s costs are reclaimed through Access to Work. It enables us to employ 80+ Deaf and disabled people every year. It is a great scheme, or it was, and it can be again.
Over recent months the management of the scheme seems to have ground to a halt: applications aren’t being followed up; the same information is being asked for repeatedly; we are finding out where applications have been accepted or rejected months after the event; staff members are facing up to 70% cuts, errors are being made and inappropriate questions are being asked.
What does it mean for the future?
Up to £150k of Graeae’s access costs are covered by Access to Work, without this money our mission could be in jeopardy. However, the knock on effect for recipients is even more significant: the system has become so unusable and is so demoralising that people are just going to stop applying. This, at a time when their other benefits are also under threat means that some of the people we work with are becoming disenfranchised, victimised and disinclined to enter work.
What needs to happen?
Very little, actually. A trained, skilled, knowledgeable applicant response team and a commitment to protecting the pot of money set aside to run it will bring the project back on track. Additionally, it is vital the response team should no longer be given financial incentives to reject applications.
Independent Living Fund
What is it?
The Independent Living Fund (ILF) delivers financial support to disabled people so they can choose to live in their communities rather than in residential care. In June 2015 the government plans to close the fund, and redistribute the money amongst local authorities.
How does it affect Graeae?
Many of our performers, workshop leaders and creative team rely on the ILF alongside Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to live and work independently. It enables them to live where they are most able to find work, socialise, and have a good quality of life. It enables them to be theatre professionals.
The ILF is facing closure, with the funds due to be redistributed amongst local authorities. Authorities are already facing 28% cuts in the period 2013-15 so many Deaf and disabled people don’t hold out much hope for the money being ring-fenced or managed effectively.
Additionally, DLA is also facing closure, and is gradually being replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP). Those that have been asked to apply to PIP have been met with delays in processing of up to one year. Some have been without any benefits while these delays have occurred.
What does it mean for the future?
Without this support, the people we work with would be much less able to have the freedom to enter work on their own terms. For those that lose their benefits there are institutions in which they can live, or they may be required to move back into the family home. The relative freedoms that ILF and DLA can bring have been hard fought over decades. The dismantling of the system can take months but it will once again take decades to return things to how they once were.
What needs to happen?
Following an initial overturning of the decision to close the ILF, the proposal has been passed a second time. Show your support for organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London and more who are campaigning, lobbying, and compiling case studies. You can also contact your member of parliament.
If PIP is truly the answer to DLA, the whole system of applying must change. Applications must be dealt with swiftly, intelligently and sensitively. For some people, applicants are only granted funding from the date approval is given, not backdated to when the application is made. Delays in processing are leaving applicants for weeks and months without support.
Supporting Graeae’s work in the Future
Graeae Theatre is a disabled led theatre company breaking down barriers and promoting the inclusion of disabled artists now and for the future.
Since 2012, when Graeae’s Artistic Director Jenny Sealey co-directed the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, interest in the company has rocketed. We have been able to perform, educate, campaign and transform perceptions about Deaf and disabled people around the world. With standstill funding from Arts Council England until 2018 and now the struggle with Access to Work, Graeae has been left with a greater financial challenge than ever.
What will we do with your money?
Graeae employs 80+ Deaf and disabled people a year in the creation of theatre and in training and learning programmes. We reach audiences of up to 47,000 every year we operate and our workshops reach over 4,000 participants a year.
We are currently fundraising for two major projects:
THE ENSEMBLE: A one-year practical training programme on the skills needed to embark on a career in the arts. The ensemble will offer experience and training with top theatre professionals in all aspects of the industry. This programme will reach 32 young Deaf and disabled adults over three years but we need your support. To make this happen we need to find £50k a year from our friends and supporters.
OUTDOOR PRODUCTIONS: Since 2009 Graeae has built a reputation for spectacular productions that are free to watch and accessible to all. Prometheus Awakes, for example, reached 12,000 people over two performances. The Iron Man (pictured) has entranced families across the UK for the last four years and now we are introducing him to a global audience, working with local Deaf and disabled artists to kick-start investment in professional disability arts around the world.
How can I contribute?
You can donate £5 to 70070 by typing GRAE03 and the amount. For every 50 people that donate £5, we are able to bring one more person onto our Young Ambassadors programme, which includes a phenomenal opportunity to perform in front of a full house at a national theatre.
Alternatively you can donate online. There is no limit to how much or how little you can pledge in this way. You can set up a regular donation and choose how you’d like us to contact you about how your money is spent, and about future projects you might be interested in. A small affordable regular donation is a great way of supporting our work without breaking the bank.
Host a Campaign or Event
We would love your support in getting specific projects off the ground. We are a theatre company and the nature of our work is project based. The primary barrier to getting a project up and running is almost always money. If you are interested in building a campaign for a specific project or towards our core operations, you can either contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or set up a campaign through our JustGiving page.
Recent successes have included:
* Birthday Presents – Do you have a big birthday coming up? Have everything you need? We were delighted when a recent campaign raised over £400 for Graeae.
* Cycling from London to Paris – This extraordinary campaign raised £5,880 towards our work.
Thinking about where your money and property goes after you die is an incredibly important thing to do. Once friends and family have been provided for, many people choose to leave a gift to charity. If this is something you are considering, even a small percentage of your estate can make a huge difference to a company like Graeae.
If you’d like to receive a pack about how to leave money in your will, e-mail email@example.com or call 020 7613 6900 and we’ll send one over.