Blog: Access Fund North

A group of dancers with one at the front holding an England flag

- Image: Emma James-Jenkinson – Attended the Dance World Cup in San Sebastian, Spain. The fund covered the cost of her support workers flights and accommodation to ensure she had the correct support whilst they were there.

Access Fund North was a pilot scheme put in place post-pandemic. During the pandemic, when artists weren’t able to make work in the same way, there was an increase in collaborative initiatives and networking events, but many disabled artists weren’t able to engage due to lack of access provision. Access Fund North was designed to support disabled artists to be able to engage, for their benefit but also to ensure their voices weren’t missing from these conversations.

The scheme was established with Arts Council England funding and managed by ARC in partnership with disabled-led organisation Little Cog. We’d like to say a special thank you to the North East Cultural Freelancers for supporting the initial idea for this scheme, and to Kevin Walsh, Executive Director of Graeae Theatre Company for his generosity in sharing information about the Access Fund they managed during the pandemic to assist our development phase.

The scheme was used to provide much needed support for disabled artists to attend a range of events they would have otherwise missed out on, where organisers may not have been in a position to provide access for budgetary reasons. This was a pilot phase for the scheme, which ran from Feb to Nov 2022.

It was promoted widely on social media and through ARC’s networks of artists, venues and organisations. An initial focus group meeting was held with a group of disabled artists for their feedback on the proposed process, before the pilot was launched. They were then consulted again half-way through the scheme, to assess progress to date and inform further developments.

Over the course of eight months we have received 27 requests for support, of which 26 were supported. The scheme has allowed 22 disabled artists, all based in the North of England, to attend a range of workshops, develop themselves as artists, network with fellow artists and secure paid word.

The scheme has paid for a range of different access requirements, such as support workers, train tickets to enable artists to attend events, BSL interpreters, note takers, wheelchair accessible taxis and scribes.

For many applicants, money was listed as their main barrier to attending events. Living on disability benefits, which many disabled artists do, especially now, means they do not have additional income to spend towards paying for travel towards events or entrance fees. Did you know that accessible transport such as wheelchair accessible taxi services often cost more than non-accessible travel? Money may not be an obvious access requirement to those who are not disabled, but is a big factor for disabled artists attending events.

Six artists received support towards their travel costs, to allow them to attend in person events. Eight artists received fees to attend courses to develop themselves as artists, which they would not have been able to afford without the scheme.

“Access funding I received enabled me to attend a workshop and meeting from which I’ve been offered a paid residency in Dec this year and am developing a proposal for a long term socially engaged project  through 2023. Providing me with paid work and exciting creative opportunities to make new work and connect with new (to me!) communities. I would not have been able to attend this meeting and workshop without  support from the fund, thank you so, so much.”

  • Lady Kitt – Attended Illuminating Ushaw: Artist Commissions. The fund covered the cost of a support worker to drive them to the meeting.

We would like to thank the ten disabled artists who have given their essential insight and advice into how this scheme should work. Although we have come to the end of this pilot phase, the scheme has highlighted how much of an ongoing need there is for access support for disabled artists. Although more organisations are thinking about how to make their events and activities accessible, how do we make sure that people’s access requirements are built into the thinking, planning and budgeting of events without needing special support schemes?