Where did we come from?
Co-director, Charlie, taught in a Special Education FE College. He spent every day with the most creative, resilient and unique characters that you could find. At the end of 16 years in education, surely this group of learning disabled adults where destined for greatness, ready to take on the world? Unfortunately, as the post 16 funding landscape changed, Charlie saw too many of his students falling off a post-school cliff.
Kath, the mother of a profoundly disabled 5 year old daughter and director of 'The Carousel Project' community interest company, understood as well as anyone the terrifying prospect facing vulnerable families. This cliff is not only faced by individuals but by the families and carers who support them.
Between them, Kath & Charlie knew something had to be done.
What do we do?
The Pelican Project works with learning disabled adults (core members) and their immediate support networks. On leaving Special Education, individuals, families and carers face a severe reduction in support and opportunities to continue their personal development.
Who are our members?
Our members have a range of physical and learning disabilities from high functioning autism to profound and multiple learning difficulties and health needs. This range in ability is reflected in our offer that challenges each individual, including parents and carers, who are also vulnerable to the same threat to their wellbeing as the young people they support. The project is designed for all abilities, with our foundations in what is culturally relevant, not in an individuals perceived ability.
Our core members come from Exeter and the surrounding area. Some attend with parents, others with enablers. Some come from social care provisions or residential care homes.
We have two aims:
1) Firstly, to provide opportunities that place learning disabled individuals at the centre of Exeter's Arts and Cultural scene, Physically and Intellectually,
2) We also understand that this community does not simply need providing for; there is a wealth of experience, passions and skills that the wider community can benefit from. This fact is tragically overlooked and underused! We also aim to demonstrate this value and promote our core members as citizens and artists in their own right.
How do we do it?
It is important to us that our approach provokes the conversations that are often avoided. For that reason, we have stood by a mission question, rather than a mission statement: How do we ensure disability belongs in our community?
This question has taken us on a two year rollercoaster! The highs and lows of this ride have brought us to an ever evolving program. The program is rooted in The Arts, an area where we feel our core members can learn, demonstrate their value and begin making things happen in their community.
We have a rolling programme of projects that has included collaborations with Exeter University and Exeter College, projects with Organic Arts at West Town Farm, Exeter Library and Exeter Museum, parties, carnivals, exhibitions, discussion panels, club nights, record producing and a list that goes on and on!
Our activities are centred on three weekly groups:
-'TOTIDA: Turn On, Tune In, Dance Out', an urban music and dance group run in collaboration with Lou at Urban Flow
-‘FreeFall+’, a visual arts club run in collaboration with Exeter Phoenix that sees our core members accessing a range of practices from screen printing to film making
-Pelican Drama, an accessible drama group run in collaboration with Phil at 'Four of Swords Theatre Company'
The Pelican Project is not just about giving people something to do. It's about making change. Our partnership with Exeter College is extremely important to us for that reason.
We work with the next generation of care sector workers in the Health & Social Care Level 1 group. We hope to support them in their careers with direct experience of the learning disabled community and by demonstrating that Care extends beyond the immediate physical and health needs of an individual.
We also work with Exeter College music students. This supports cross-ability peer integration and gives our core members the opportunity to collaborate with some of Exeter's most talented musical prospects. We have also found that the creative energies of our core members have inspired the work of the college students.
By working with Exeter College we hope to embed a sense of belonging for the learning disabled community in the minds of the future.
Money, money, money
Our service is free to access, a fundamental principle of the project. As the economic landscape has changed in the past 10 years, so has the funding available to families supporting adults with additional needs. Previously, a young person could expect to access an education provision beyond the school leaving age of 19. This funding continues to disappear for the majority of learners, particularly those with lower cognitive ability and significant health needs. The lack of education funding has led to a growing number of school leavers accessing social care provisions that do their best to support increasing numbers with reducing resources . For those with complex health needs, all funding will be consumed by health care with no resources that recognise individuals social and educational needs. The Pelican Project offers opportunities that are available to most young people across our community, but inaccessible to some due to physical or intellectual disability. At The Pelican Project, these opportunities to feel part of the community, to learn and to create, are rights that should not cost families, particularly those in vulnerable positions.
Where will our raised funds go?
Our core members deserve access to high quality teaching and resources. The funds that we raise will go towards the cost of running our three weekly groups. This will include:
-Group facilitator/ artist costs
-Building our collection of accessible instruments
-Transport costs (for group trips)
We think our organisation and it's members are awesome! If you need any more reassurance, take a look at these testimonies from some of our members and partners:
"This has become a lifeline for us. Because there’s nothing out there for Jonathan to attend so it’s giving him a whole new life."
Kat Stone, Parent
"The Pelican Project is about dreaming, believing and achieving"
Abigail, Core Member
"RAMM values Pelican Project for its work encouraging and enabling young people with additional needs to engage with culture and heritage in Exeter. Pelican acts as a critical friend in helping to guide the museum as it aims to make activities and spaces more accessible and appealing to young people with disabilities and their carers. The relationship makes RAMM’s audiences more diverse – which enriches the environment and events for everyone - and helps the museum to learn. Our experience of Pelican’s involvement in annual Takeover Day for children and young people helped to shape our thinking around the wellbeing impact of visibly diverse audiences in central spaces in the museum. It also influenced future programming when we hope to create shared experiences for combined audiences of different needs."
Ruth Gidley,RAMM Engagement Officer
‘The Pelican project has been good for me because it has expanded my knowledge on people’s different needs. It has taught me patience and more self-control. Also it has made me have a sense of accomplishment that I have helped someone feel ‘regular’ and involving them with people more of their age’
Kyle, Exeter College Student
"My Level 1 Health and Social Care group at Exeter College have been working closely with The Pelican Project this academic year. This has enabled the students to gather first hand experience of supporting people with a range of different disabilities and learning needs which has benefited them greatly not only academically but also with their confidence. The students have really enjoyed being involved with such a worthwhile project which clearly means a lot to the families involved in the support and activities they offer. Being involved with the project has also created a stronger understanding of a range of different disabilities and learning difficulties within my HSC group at the college which has broken down barriers and preconceptions within the young people involved"
Ashton Davey, Exeter College Tutor