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Sophie Partridge goes workshopping at the Huddleston Centre, Hackney / 7 March 2011

Sun is out tho’ still not much warmer than when I wrote my last Blog’! Weekly workshops at the Huddleston Centre, Hackney with a group of young learning disabled peeps, began beginning of December & culminated in a short performance last week as part of DYH – Develop Young Hackney Festival.

Co-leading, our remit was to focus on the transition period for these young people. All participants were post 16; some now attending College, some not. All are bright young things and truly with so much potential.

With the label 'learning difficulty' our group had very varied needs... don’t we all?! Finding common ground and making real the concept of Moving On, with young people who appear to have little autonomy & opportunity for self-discovery in their lives, was challenging. Having the added pressure of producing a performance at the end of the workshops, was more so. Until recently I have always been a somewhat reluctant workshop leader; often feeling under-skilled & confident in my role as`Leader’ / knowledgeable person / Grown Up! Not having the highest concentration levels myself, I’ve over-emphasised with workshoppees, thinking “What are we doing this for? This is bollocks! When’s tea?!” 

In my life I rely on my verbal skills. Always I explain what I want / need because I can’t physically get those things myself. Working with others whose methods of communication are not the usual verbal ways, means that simply doesn’t cut the mustard. What was needed was the ability to think on my wheels. To get right on in there, down & dirty, improvise. But my brain is slow! All that explaining means deliberation when I needed to simply Show, not Tell. At first I was scuppered. 

Somehow though, my ruby slippers clicked. All I had to do was trust the group, trust my colleagues. We learnt together, bonding with our Sign Names.  Repetition of exercises & themes, created familiarity and security for us all. Then a track by Destiny’s Child gave the break-through. Suddenly this group of shy, inarticulate `Disableds’ were real young people grooving on down! It was revealed to us Oldies that title of said DC track – BugABoo – means when a mate is bugging you!  This led to a whole discussion about what gets us riled and the participants realising that it’s ok to say things piss you off! You don’t always have to be happy and grateful... 

Out of this came our performance. We only got to the tip of the ice-berg. How can their aspirations arise when daily lives appear to have such narrow parameters? Where is the context for them and how they can be achieved? Hopes of trips to Ghana were mentioned along side working in a pet-shop, as if places somewhere over the Rainbow. City Farm is just down the road, yet worlds away. Yet the journey has hopefully, at least begun. What’s needed now – as always – is continued support for these young peeps to see it through...