My name is Rachel Jay and I am a Master’s students in Arts Management, Policy and Practice. From a young age I have had an interest in disability arts organisations, who spread awareness of the positive impacts drama, dance, movement and music can bring to disabled people’s quality of life. During the summer of 2016, I took the opportunity to spend my summer working as a dance teacher at a special needs summer camp in New York State which inspired me to gain more practical skills in the field of disability arts.

Studying Arts Management, Policy and Practice gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge and skill set of engagement and educational best practice for adults with learning disabilities by offering me a placement at Purple Patch Arts. Since starting the course, I had known that my preferred placement would be one where I could utilize my skills from summer camp within a professional context and Purple Patch Arts ticked every box. Before my first day at placement I made sure to thoroughly research the organisation to better understand their ethos, however, now I have worked there for nearly 5 months, I can now say that Purple Patch does a lot more for its participants than I originally thought. It is more than just a lifelong learning arts organisation, it is a place for the learning disabled participants to feel safe in a supportive, encouraging environment where a person with even the most complex needs can engage with Shakespeare, Einstein’s theory or any other weird and wonderful subject through creativity.

My role as Programme Support was to be the friendly face welcoming the participants and making sure their talents were nurtured and achievements noted. Therefore it was my responsibility to set up the room ready for the days tasks, welcome the participants and offer them refreshments and to ensure that every participant was engaged with the particular activity by being the first point of call of support. My main duty, however, was to assist the Programme Leader when conflicts arose between participants in the workshops by keeping the other participants engaged in the activity to ensure the conflict did not escalate. Additionally, I aided the Programme Leader by always being on hand to help with the setup and pack down of activities and occasionally taking photographs of the participants for Purple Patch Arts’ social media pages.

During my placement, I gathered skills and knowledge which have had a positive impact on my transferable skills base. For example, I now have a better understanding of different learning disabilities and learned unique ways to help reach the participants full potential such as the use of spray bottles and vibrations from instruments that support the various sensory needs of the participants in the workshops. I have also learnt what a truly successful team is: by effectively combining our skill sets in order to, sometimes in challenging situations, ensure participants were having a significantly positive learning experience.

From my time at Purple Patch Arts, I feel that I have contributed a great deal towards the learning processes of the participants. My previous experience working with disabled people in the arts has helped me bring participants out of their shell, making them feel comfortable enough to not only confidently talk to me and other members of the team, but fully engage with the activities and discussions with fellow participants. I can confidently say that during my time at Purple Patch Arts, I have helped to improve the lives of the participants, ensuring Purple Patch Arts is and will always be the inclusive, life-changing organisation I read about eight months ago.

Purple Patch
Purple Patch Arts (Photo: Rachel Jay)