Creative ways to connect diverse communities

Charities and individuals are adapting to the pandemic to meet the needs of diverse communities. We brought some of these together in our recent AbilityNet LIVE! Webinar

As a panelist, Saba Salman noted when “community, communication and tech come together, the social good that comes out of that is just brilliant.” Salman is author of Made Possible an inspiring collection of essays by high achieving people with learning disabilities.

Also joining the webinar, hosted during Learning Disability Week, were Grace Eyre, the award-winning film-maker Matthew Hellett, and Creative Future.

All are exemplars of bringing together those three elements of community, communication and tech".

Redesigning services during the pandemic

A picture of some of the people involved in Grace Eyre's online friendship group

The Grace Eyre Foundation, which helps people with learning disabilities in Brighton & Hove and West Sussex gain independence, has had to redesign support during the lockdown, as David Matthews explained: “Active Lives is one of the many arms of Grace Eyre,” he said. 

“It was very much about group community activities and we suddenly got this lockdown and we changed from a 99.9% direct delivery to people with people coming together at a very social hub, to being unable to do that,” added Matthews. 

The charity’s response was to launch an online friendship group. “We've had to be creative very quickly [and] switch from being about social activities in the community, such as, you know, just going out for a night to being focused on our Facebook group.”

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The closed group offers a chance for people to connect and share their passions online. “We told basically everybody to join the Facebook group," said Matthews.

"We now have over 166 members of that page. People just share in the story of their day and post in that they've created something, a piece of art, a puppet… we've seen a lot of bread. We've even had someone win a prize from one of the bakeries for their bread, which was just amazing.”

“They’re able to show that to other people, their peers, who then comment and engage and say, that's amazing.”

Creating connections through online art

Ranna's textile as featured in the happy art gallery

Art has also played a role in helping Salman connected to her sister Raana during the lockdown. Ranna inspired Made Possible and has fragile X syndrome and while others have flocked to Zoom and WhatsApp those channels didn’t work for her.

“Raana doesn't use the phone. She will text [but] very short text messages. This whole period has been, it's just been really difficult because my family has not been able to have hat face to face physical connection. So, while we have been communicating through Raana’s support staff [who are] amazing. What we've lacked is that direct contact. So, we tried a video conferencing call; we tried WhatsApp video, and she just didn't like it. It just didn’t work for her." 

Instead, Salman has been sending online videos to Raana and curated an online art gallery.

“I began recording messages for Raana around the house where I've got her artwork hanging up, or some flowers she's grown. It developed to being shared on social media and quite a few other family members, and other siblings got in touch with other pieces of art that they made, and I created an online gallery and called it the happy art gallery

Similarly, Grace Eyre has launched Art in Isolation, a community art project. It suggests a different weekly theme for people to get creative around with participants then sharing the results on Facebook.

Find out more about Learning Difficulties and Computing in AbilityNet’s FREE factsheet

Celebrating diversity through creative arts

Keeping creative during lockdown has been important for the award-winning filmmaker Matthew Hellett, who is a contributor to Made Possible. 

Matthew is a programmer for the Oska Bright Film festival, which this year has had to move online. “I am the head programmer for Oska Bright Film Festival. Next year, is our 10th Birthday. But because we can’t tour because of the pandemic, we’ve had to put last year’s film festival online. It's called Oska Bites,” said Hellett. 

the logo for the Oska Bites films festival

The Oska Bites festival will run from the end of May until January 2021. It features short films such as The First Bite, which is Live on 2 July from 7 pm. The film aims to “Take a deep dive into the different ways learning disabled people express themselves and navigate the world.”

Meanwhile, Creative Future - an arts organisation supporting some of the UK's most talented under-represented artists - has been embracing technology as a way of enabling diverse writers to come together.

As Jane McMorrow Creative Future’s Director told webinar attendees: “We work with a whole range of social enterprises and deliver workshops. For instance, we work with Preston Park recovery centre [in Brighton] and normally would run our workshops in [their space]. I'd say about 80% of our program is online now.”

“We're fortunate in that creative writing lends itself quite well to an online offer, and, part of our program is to allow those writers to come into a room together. And there's been some really lovely peer to peer working.”

Creative Future has had support from Diversity and Ability in delivering some specific Zoom training for its clients. 

AbilityNet: adapting to help you during the pandemic

Like our panellists, we have been adapting to help you during the pandemic so we can continue to support older and disabled people. For more details: AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

  • Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm on 0800 048 7642.
  • Remote support We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems.
  • We have a range of factsheets.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Watch a recording of the webinar to find out why our panelists think it’s important to celebrate diverse voices more than ever.