Keeping Sense Connected

People looking through a magnifying glass.

As a leading disability and social care charity, Sense is committed to making sure no one, no matter how complex their disability, is left out, isolated or unable to fulfil their potential.

Never has a mission been so important yet so complex to deliver. As the leader of the Arts, Sport and Wellbeing team at Sense, I want to let you know what approach we are taking to support people during this incredibly challenging period.

Our mission

Our mission is always to create diverse and inspiring cultural opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. We run our own programme of inclusive arts, sport and wellbeing opportunities and we work with the sectors to promote best practice in making their offer accessible to the disabled community.

It’s very easy in a time like this, when there are so many fundamental things to attend to – like keeping safe, fed and healthy – to forget how important the things are that make us feel human. The need to connect with others, enjoy the sensation of movement, be inspired, create and nurture. It’s easy to underplay the power of these needs when we’re caught in a phase of anxiety.

A young man in a wheel chair playing ping pong.

Many of us will have taken for granted our access to exercise, culture and learning. Yet we’ve quickly learnt to adapt to the online offers available to help us exercise at home or take a trip to the theatre from our sofas. For many disabled people, access to culture has always been a hard-fought battle and we are in danger of eroding any gains already made if we don’t seriously think about what access means in the age of Covid-19.

Finding space in challenging times

So many arts, sports and wellbeing organisations and venues have had to suspend activity, or where possible, rethink and refocus to adapt to the current situation. People in our services and the Sense community are no longer attending their local theatre, sports club, art centre, swimming pool, music venue. For many, the change of daily routine coupled with the uncertainty around why this is happening, the lack of social contact and the absence of a safe outlet for self-expression will have a huge impact on their wellbeing and emotional health.  There are few online opportunities which will make up for the personalised experiences that are so key for many people to find the way that they need to engage. Yet, we are not deterred and see this as a challenge worth exploring.

Over the coming weeks we will collate and create virtual opportunities that are accessible for the groups we support at Sense and within the community. We are working on a timetable that pulls together the best inclusive activities out there, with original content that we will produce with our partners. We are developing a blueprint for accessibility in the virtual world that incorporates BSL, audio description and captioning.  It is something we want to share with other organisations who want to do more to keep people feeling connected through their work.

A deafblind young man using electronic equipment to make music

We are looking at how we might transpose the things that are central to the success of our programme – being present, in the moment, attuned and sensory – into a new virtual concept. There’s no template for this so we are working iteratively, learning as we go! We won’t get everything right straight away but we will keep refining and reflecting. The most important thing for us is to start straight away to make sure everyone at Sense has plenty of ideas and tools to make things work at home, to keep busy, engaged, connected, active and creative.

It will be the incredible skills of our colleagues working on the frontline of social care that will make this a success. They will use their communication expertise to ensure every virtual session is understood and enjoyed by everyone we support at Sense. We will create content for them, too, their health and wellbeing is equally important. Through this virtual programme we want to see if we can create a new sense of community, helping new people to connect with each other and sharing each other’s stories of hope, achievement and resilience.

There will be a time to look back, but right now it’s time to think about the present. A present that will build towards a new future. The arts will provide that space, that window to the future, a language to express the inexpressible. It’s important that whatever future is imagined, it is one that disabled people, and others who are risking the most, can play their part in rewriting.

About us

Our experts offer support that’s tailored to the individual needs of each person, whether that’s at our centres, through our holidays and short breaks, or in people’s homes. In addition to practical support, we also provide information to families and campaign for the rights of people with complex disabilities to take part in life. Visit our website.

Sense Arts’ mission is to create inclusive and enriching experiences for people with complex disabilities. We are multi-disciplinary but we focus on performance, music and visual arts. We give people the time and space to experience, make, learn and work together. We collaborate with organisations and artists to create more inclusive work. We train artists, organisations and social care services to encourage greater cultural access for disabled people. We share what we learn and do through toolkits, events, exhibitions and digital media. Visit our strategic arts plans Space To Be Different page.

A young man throwing a ball

Our sense active team aims to provide lifelong opportunities for people with complex disabilities to be active by establishing meaningful, engaging, and local opportunities to take part in sport and physical activity. We strongly believe that sport and physical activity has an important role to play in enhancing the overall physical and mental wellbeing of the people we support. Our national Sport England funded project, ‘Sense, Active Together’ is addressing this in a number of ways, to find out more visit our Arts, Sports and Wellbeing pages on our website.

Author: Kara Jarrold

Kara is Head of Arts & Wellbeing at Sense. She leads on arts projects that find ways to empower people to find their cultural voice, working collaboratively and experimentally with artists and participants to improve access to art through the senses.

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