The Sage: learning disability work experience

Now in its third year, Learning Disabilities Work Experience Week was born from a partnership between Inclusive Employers, a membership organisation for employers looking to build inclusive workplaces, and Mencap, the UK’s leading learning disability charity.

In honour of this we wanted to highlight charter venue The Sage Gateshead for their Community Music Spark project has been a key figure on the quayside since 2005, offering adults and young people with learning disabilities a unique blend of participation and performance skills which have a positive impact upon the wider community. Beyond this, the project supports its participants to gain skills which will allow them to access employment on competition; this is especially vital as only 7% of adults with learning disabilities are in paid work yet 65% wish to be so.

Fact File

Community Music Spark is structured into three parts; traineeship, advanced traineeship and volunteering. As participants graduate through the three levels they develop workshop skills, eventually learning how to plan and teach music workshops themselves.

Primarily the focus is upon musicianship as the trainees identify new ways of expressing themselves, learning to write songs and performing them at their own annual event, The Music Spark Show, which they also plan and organise. However, the project also has links to other schemes and participants regularly host and perform other events, such as at those for Disability North.

From there, the project becomes what each individual participant makes it. The programme is structured to include variation from the start, meaning it easily adapts around each trainee’s interests and needs, ensuring an aspirational environment within a safe setting.

As well as developing their music skills, workshop planning is completed as a group, and team members are encouraged to support their peers whilst developing their own skills via specific learning targets which can aid social progression, allowing the participant to feel confident in areas such as taking public transport and living independently.

“I come from quite a remote area where there is high deprivation, so travelling to a place that has so much opportunity gives me a lot of confidence.” Graeme, Community Music Spark participant

Further Development

Once within the Advanced Traineeship, participants use their skills from their traineeship to devise a 6 week workshop model which they deliver themselves, leading their group up to a live performance as part of the Music Spark Show. Since 2005, Community Music Spark participants have delivered workshops to almost 500 people in several locations, from day centres to colleges.

These skills allow them to progress to becoming Community Musicians, taking on a voluntary role within the Sage’s Work Experience Programme. In September 2015, the Sage created the role of Support Musician, appointing three volunteers as paid employees.

“I’ve gained confidence, independence, musicianship and a lot of fun and laughter, gaining skills and knowledge then being able to share that knowledge and get the work out there.”Andrew, Community Music Spark Participant

Community Music Sparks participants on stage