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Colin Hambrook talks to Talking to Esther Gill, English Heritage Outreach Manager for Creative Landscapes / 6 July 2010

Talking to Esther Gill, English Heritage Outreach Manager it became apparent that Creative Landscapes aims to fulfil several key aims of accentuate beyond expectations.

Encouraging accessibility and welcoming disabled people is key to the legacy Creative Landscapes intends to embed within Heritage Open Days in Gosport and Hastings in Sussex. Over the next three years this work will be offered as an example of good practice to be set as a precedent to be emulated at Heritage Open Days across England

Esther explained to me that there is a culture around Heritage Open Days that has built up over the past 15 years. Heritage sites – everything from castles and museums to privately owned historical buildings, are encouraged to open their doors for free over a long weekend. This allows people to engage with some of the history that exists on their doorstep - maybe through a workshop, a guided walk – or through doors being opened to sites that are generally closed to the public.

The role of Creative Landscapes is to create possibilities to get over that metaphorical doorstep and to encourage new ways of thinking around accessibility for disabled and deaf people. A programme of creative arts residencies; in sync with audience development will allow alienated sectors of the community the chance to take an equal part in their local heritage.

Less than a lifetime ago, large numbers of disabled and deaf people were locked away and were largely kept out of sight and mind. It was accepted that rights to be part of the local landscape were limited for disabled people. It stands to reason that the larger number of heritage sites will be at the very least, in part, physically inaccessible, with no chance of change without modifications that would be detrimental to the infrastructure of the sites in question.

Within this context, barriers to fully understanding access, exist not only within the owners and proprietors of access sites, but are entrenched within attitudes in local urban councils. If access is thought about at all, it is largely understood in terms of physical access. What would be the point of even beginning to think about access to a 16th century site, for example, that involved having to make a deep descent down narrow and slippery stone steps? Disabled people would be dismissed out of hand. It’s a non-starter.

Changing attitudes takes several lifetimes – so trying to make some change in three years, at local and national level, is a pretty ambitious project for Creative Landscapes to take on board. In terms of welcoming disabled people Esther has seen it as a priority to gain the trust of individuals and groups of disabled and deaf people. Her first priority with Creative Landscapes has been to establish groups looking at ways of addressing access to Heritage Open Days events and taking part in creative arts residencies with deaf and disabled artists.

Liz Porter was employed as a Disability Advisor is to liaise with the steering groups and the commissioned disabled and deaf artists - looking at what can be done to improve access at heritage events. Having a disabled person in place has created a sense of trust that Creative Landscapes is committed to the values of welcoming disabled and deaf people. Her appointment meant that work on the brand, could begin to happen properly.

One of her first tasks was to comment on the brief for the Disability and Inclusion Member of the Heritage Open Days Steering Group. This clarified the steering group members’ roles in advising on access and advocating on behalf of the project within local networks of groups of deaf and disabled people.

Workshops in Gosport and Hastings in March 2010 had a focus on thinking about what can be done to improve access in specific scenarios at local heritage sites. People are involved in the steering groups because they represent cultural organisations or access organisations. But including disabled and deaf people in decision-making is fundamental to the values of Creative Landscapes. To this aim Disability Inclusion members were co-opted on to the steering groups.

These workshops were a first step in making sure local groups are registered and become part of national database. Linking with the National Scheme offers an online profile. Local groups get insurance cover and become part of a national scheme

The ambition is to use the experience of Creative Landscapes to influence HODs events at a national level; to look and think about building access provision into the development process; to encourage other groups to take access on board and become a model for other areas.

Creative Landscapes wants to encourage local communities and property owners to open up their historic sites in an accessible way. The process is about getting people to think about cultural and intellectual access; to think about how you can display things in different ways to make them accessible.

Three years is a short time to embed the achievements of the programme. Esther envisages that the work of the Creative Landscapes project will need to extend beyond 2012.

Heritage Open Days can show people what’s possible. Creative Landscapes will be a model to demonstrate what is possible. The programme is reaching out to local disabled and deaf people; giving individuals an opportunity to try something different. Local heritage is a tangible and grounded way of doing that. It is an accessible starting point because everybody can talk about some aspect of local life.

Creative Landscapes is about disability projects happening on the ground. It is about what artistic and cultural experiences local deaf and disabled people can have with connection to their local heritage.

Creative Landscapes has now commissioned deaf and disabled artists to create artwork, which will be showcased at Heritage Open Day events. Mandie Saw has been engaged to run a programme of participatory events in Gosport from May until September 2010.

To date Mandie has run a series of successful workshops with a group of mental health service users in partnership with the Discovery Centre in Gosport – with another three set to happen in July - advertised through the Discovery Centre brochure. It is interesting that several individuals have signed up who do not belong to an established disability or mental health group.

Mandie will create some of her own work in response to the work being made, which will be put on display during the Heritage Open Days planned for September. She is also on the Sync Programme. Esther Gill is pleased that leadership development and career development have both come together for Mandie out of Accentuate - so she can use this activity to develop her own practice.

Sally Booth and Lynn Weddle have likewise been commissioned to run participatory events in Hastings from June - September 2010. Again they will be making their own work in response around the Stade area of the town and in partnership with the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery and The Stade Education Project.

The Heritage Open Day programme in Hastings and Gosport from 9-12 September 2010 will begin to be more accessible. The important thing is to be clear about access – and what can and can’t be offered. Generally there will much more access information about all events.

There will be some BSL interpreted events. Creative Landscapes will be hiring ramps and some events will provide alternative printed information. There will also be more information about transport available. More coming from Our View soon!