Accessing the arts; whether it be simply visiting the cinema, taking part in a music workshop or starring in a show is incredibly difficult for learning disabled young people but in south Devon a new partnership has been formed to help change that.

Branchline, as the name suggests, is a dedicated route into the arts for young people who would ordinarily miss out on opportunities many young people take for granted. Set up by a group of social care providers, arts organisations and with support from a local cultural venue, the Branchline project is already making a real difference to young people and their families.

The Branchline is made up of Lifeworks Charity Ltd, Play Torbay, SPLASH, Dartington Hall Trust, Soundart FM, Daisi and Dance in Devon. The Challenge Fund awarded the group £75,000 over two years. The partners were able to match this money in a variety of ways; from selling advertising space on a community radio station to applying for Big Lottery community grants, to running paid holiday clubs and securing grants from the NHS and local authorities. The Challenge Fund provided a rare opportunity for the partners, who all operate separately in the local area supporting and caring for learning disabled youngsters in a variety of ways, to work together and generate income together. The culmination of this first year of work was the Ordinary Art Festival held at the renowned Darting Hall estate. Over two days families were able to access a wide range of activities and experiences which are often off-limits for people with learning difficulties. There were relaxed film screenings, a variety of fitness classes, a masked ball, art, music and signing workshops, even a comic-fest. With most of the sessions organised and run by the young people involved in the Branchline project it enabled them to showcase their abilities, commitment and ambition to succeed. For many it was a celebration of equality and inclusivity; one participant was thrilled that for once her disabled sister “wasn’t the odd one out”. Others were impressed that it was organised by young people who showed a real “dedication to achieve”. Impressively three of the Young Curators passed their Arts Award at Bronze level and seven more at Silver level because of their work as leaders of the Ordinary Art Festival. This huge achievement provides the Branchline partnership with evidence that the project is really working.

The Branchline project has significantly increased the quality of services available to learning disabled young people and their families in south Devon. For the first time it has introduced the opportunity for young people interested in becoming involved with the arts or creative industries to test their own business ideas and begin to learn the skills required to succeed in a career in the arts. One example is the collaboration with community radio station Soundart Radio.  Branchline’s team of budding reporters came up with a series of advertising features which were broadcast on air and online. The young people were tasked with interviewing, recording natural sound on location and packaging the whole lot up to create a feature which the businesses paid to be broadcast. This initiative provides organisations the chance to support the charities through both payment for the airtime and by giving the keen journalists, producers and technicians the chance to create their own radio news reports.  Also following up from the success of the Ordinary Art Festival the Young Curators have been invited to deliver pop up Ordinary Art at three more cultural events across Devon, proving that the scheme really is helping create a pathway into the arts for these young people.

The partnership is now looking for ways in which to continue the project beyond the two-year Challenge Fund investment. It will still require assistance from government bodies such as the NHS and local authorities but the team is looking more towards securing sponsorship for specific events and projects so it can continue to enable and inspire the young arts leaders of the future.