The Agent for Change website has been live for a few months now and so far I have failed to introduce myself as one of currently four Agents for Change; more to join in the near future! My name is Amy Louise Nettleton and I started in September 2014 at the New Wolsey Theatre. To give you some background I come from an Arts Education background working previously at University of Essex as Arts Outreach officer and before that for a disability education charity where I travel around East Anglia talking to thousands of children aged 4-19 about disability and difference. I have a Masters Degree in Fine Art Sculpture and I am still a national practising and exhibiting artist.
When this job popped up on my email I thought it was a fantastic opportunity that I couldn’t let pass by and thankfully I got the job!
So with no real background in theatre it was a steep learning curve but I learnt far quicker than I ever thought.
The New Wolsey Theatre actually employed two Agents, myself on the Arts Education side and the fantastic Actor and Director Jamie Beddard. We both are disabled people with a combined wealth of experience of disability, access, diversity and of course theatre and the arts.
Our roles have developed over the last two years and Jamie’s role has much more of a focus on supporting the creation of integrated theatre with exciting developments in pre-recorded Audio Description to compliment our live Audio Description. This gives the opportunity for AD users to access all shows rather than just the live AD performances.
Its a challenge to remember where we started but its amazing how far the whole theatre have come and how access and disability are now so integrated within the theatre. I think if I list a few things Jamie and I have instigated and the whole team have supported that might give a bit of an overview:All front of house members of staff have a basic level of British Sign language (numbers, finger spelling, tickets, seats, drinks and greetings).
• I have worked with our Suffolk New College Production Arts Diploma students delivering disability awareness sessions.
• All our staff and volunteers are now Dementia Friends giving them an insight and understanding on how to engage with people living with Dementia.
• I have spend a lot of my time visiting access groups and talking at conferences about all of our shows, as well as our access shows and tools we provide.
• I have supported and now lead our fantastic Access user Forum which are made up of nine keen theatre goers all with very different access needs. They suggest brilliant ideas, that as a team we then work to put in place; for example our Duty Managers are going to be taking part in sighted guiding and guide dog awareness training.
• We worked with two generous wheelchair suppliers who kindly donated three manual wheelchairs to the theatre, which are in regular use.
• We have a Braille introduction to the theatre written by one of our fantastic work experience students, Grace Hill.
• I make PECs to which allow people with Autism, complex learning needs and Dementia to navigate the theatre and prepare for their visit. They are small image cards of the process of arriving right through to the show, buying an ice cream and saying good bye.
• …and last but certainly not least we continue to offer a support/guide dog sitting service for those dogs that are not so keen on the theatre, as well as arranging the best place to sit if your support/guide dog wants to see the show with you!
We believe at the New Wolsey Theatre that there is no such thing as an expert in access or disability, but with all our own individual knowledge and experiences we are working really hard to be the most accessible theatre…a challenge that is constantly changing, progressing and shifting. But what an exciting thing to be part of!