Moving into new workspace can make all the difference to an arts organisation. Sarah Kennedy and Tim Wheeler assess the impact of Mind the Gaps move into a new home.
At 18 years old, Mind the Gap is on the move. The award-winning company that brings together professional learning disabled and non-disabled performers, is set to re-locate into a purpose-built, performing artists workspace in the former Dye House of Bradfords iconic Lister Mills renovation in 2007. The move will see the creation of a workspace that will offer exemplary access, a place where learning disabled and non-disabled artists can come together to share practice and learn to work together as equals. The long-term ambition is to create an international centre of excellence for the practice and study of theatre and learning disability.
The journey to a new home started five years ago and is just about to go on-site. The new workspace will enable the company to train and rehearse with full production equipment before hitting the road. This will make a huge difference to the skills, knowledge and experience of the artists the company works with. The building will also help to develop Mind the Gaps regional and national education and training courses and outreach work, and will also increase opportunities for partnership working. During the build phase in 2007, the company will maintain its education, training and outreach programme, but it does not intend to tour any new work, using the time instead for research and development.
Mind the Gap has been working with project architects Allen Tod and a team of specialist consultants in order to deliver the planned space. At the heart of the projects vision is a commitment to providing exemplary access for everyone who wants to use the space. This doesnt just mean lifts, ramps and level access. It also means providing accessible navigation as well as a safe, secure and inviting place to work. The new building is not just about accessibility, its about usability. They also want to show that accessible design can be aesthetically pleasing. The company has been working closely with an architectural access adviser from Aedas, and an access adviser from ADA inc. on broader organisational issues. It also runs regular consultation sessions with learning disabled and non-disabled artists in order to ensure all plans are checked by those who are going to use the building.
Mind the Gap is particularly interested in how assistive technologies can be used to help access. An example of this is the incorporation of a media control system, which will be used to simplify the control of all equipment in the building. Instead of having to negotiate the separate controls for equipment like DVD and CD players, projectors and screens, these will be operated from a single touch-screen display in each space. The use of icons and pictures, and even other languages, and the use of spoken commands can be readily programmed in and tailored to the needs and preferences of individual users. The challenge for the company now is to turn the mountain of plans, specifications and expert reports into reality.
Tim Wheeler is Artistic Director of Mind the Gap, and Sarah Kennedy is Marketing & Programme Manager.
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