Blog: Cultural Inclusion Response to the Draft Culture Strategy for London

The Cultural Inclusion Manifesto is a recently launched initiative which aims to ensure that the cultural offer in London is both inclusive and sustainable. We are passionate about the rights of disabled children and young people to access a broad range of high quality cultural experiences. We firmly believe in the transformative power of the arts and the impact that engagement and participation has on the education, health and wellbeing of children and young people with disabilities.

We warmly welcome the Mayor’s vision that:

Every Londoner should feel that the capital’s cultural riches and diverse heritage belong to them; culture should not be out of reach for anyone.”

We agree with the strategy’s assertion that:

Engaging with culture can help build communities and raise aspirations. All Londoners should be able to enrich their lives through culture, especially those who face barriers to participating.”

We believe that disabled children and young people face the greatest barriers to engagement with and participation in artistic and cultural experiences and offers. The barriers disabled people face are recognised in the strategy. However, it feels like disability is an afterthought that gets lost in the diversity and inclusion amalgam. The quote below is an example of this:

Yet throughout the city there are Londoners for whom the capital’s culture is out of reach or who feel excluded from the city’s success. Over a quarter of the capital’s children live in poverty. An adult Londoner living in poverty is more likely to be working than not, living in outer London rather than inner, and renting from a private landlord than in a council or housing association property. For the children of these Londoners, travelling across London to enjoy concerts or cultural events may be impossible. Tickets to West End theatres or cinemas are likely to be beyond their reach entirely. Factors like mobility or disability are also barriers to participation for many Londoners.”

Disability feels tagged on the end of a discussion which is primarily about poverty and economic disadvantage in the capital. Similarly:

“London is an innovative and strong world city, and culture plays a big part in this. Our creative industries supported the economy during the financial crisis. London’s cultural offer was centre stage at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Culture has long brought different communities together in times of celebration and hardship. Yet, at the same time, too many Londoners miss out on the city’s success. It can be expensive to travel to cultural events. Mobility or disability factors can also mean people can’t take part.”

We do appreciate the specific commitments made regarding disability such as the Mayor’s intention to “improve access at events, aiming for all Deaf and disabled people to be as independent as they want to be at live events and festivals.” Similarly, we applaud the aim of achieving the bronze standard Charter for Best Practice in Event Accessibility for all outdoor public events within his events programme and the longer term plan to achieve the silver and gold standard.

We do feel, however, that disability isn’t embedded in the strategy to the extent that it could be. It should be a thread that is woven into the whole document and there is definite potential for this to be achieved in several areas.

An example is the following commitments around the built environment:

Across London, good architecture, design and high quality art will combine to create public space that works for and inspires all Londoners. The Mayor has launched Good Growth by Design to encourage the best design solutions. A new social enterprise, Public Practice, will place designers and planners in local councils. The Mayor has also appointed 50 Design Advocates, who will work to set standards and look into the challenges facing London’s built environment.”

We would welcome explicit acknowledgement of the barriers disabled people face and assurance that there is a specific focus on this by the design advocates. Do any of the 50 Advocates have particular expertise and experience in this area?

A second example is in the section dealing with getting the right skills in the creative workforce:

“The Mayor’s Digital Talent Scheme is investing £7 million to help 18 to 24-year-olds, particularly young women and Londoners from diverse ethnic and disadvantaged backgrounds, get the right skills to fill digital, creative and technology occupations. The Mayor has already contributed £300,000 for three projects focused on developing digital skills that support the visual arts, marketing and games industries.

There is an explicit focus on women and BME, alongside those from disadvantaged backgrounds, but no specific mention of disabled young people. Similarly, the discussion around the importance of diversity in the workforce has a specific focus on woman and race:

The creative sector is still very white. As such, it can be hard for people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds to get in. Many women still find the glass ceiling stops them from progressing too.”

We feel that disabled people get lost in the diversity agenda and, as such, will not benefit from the programmes proposed to ensure the creative workforce is more reflective of the population it serves. This would be a missed opportunity because one of the most powerful signifiers that disabled people are welcome in cultural spaces is to see disabled people working there.

It is heartening that the Mayor wants young Londoners with creative talent and entrepreneurial flair to have the chance to develop creative careers and businesses. It is vital that the new creative leadership programme for young people from diverse backgrounds, supported by mentoring and investment, is accessible for disabled young people and they are actively encouraged to participate.

Similarly, we welcome the commitment below regarding apprenticeships:

Many creative roles can be well served through apprenticeship training. Working with Film London, the agency for London’s screen industries, the Mayor is supporting traineeships for film, television and animation. The Mayor’s Cultural Leadership Board has made diversity a priority, bringing together industry leaders to develop recommendations to boost diversity.”

We very much hope that these traineeships will be available to disabled young people and that boosting diversity includes disability.

Interestingly, the quote from Sir Lenny Henry on page 119 of the strategy applies equally to disability:

We live in a world where matters of race and ethnicity are down played in order to fulfil the more abstract ‘creative diversity’. We all know that ‘if you can’t see, you can’t be.”

We are very encouraged that the increasingly recognised link between culture and health and well-being is acknowledged and celebrated in the strategy:

There is mounting evidence, commissioned by both arts and health bodies, that creativity and the arts make a significant difference to people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Culture can play a role within clinical settings and in the wider community. It can help people maintain good health and wellbeing or recover from illness.”

We could not agree more and this is central to our Cultural Inclusion Manifesto. Arts and Culture can have a transformative impact on everyone’s health and well-being. However, disabled people have the most to gain in this regard. This is why we are excited to see the following commitment from the Mayor on page 62 of the strategy:

In his Health Inequalities Strategy the Mayor sets out his vision for a healthier and happier London. He sees a role for arts and culture in supporting his vision. The arts can have a profound and positive impact on health and well-being and the Mayor will bring together experts from the health and arts sectors to broker better understanding about the benefits. He will map arts and cultural activity aimed at improving mental health and wellbeing across the capital to identify opportunities. He will help identify and overcome barriers that limit the use of arts in commissioning health programmes for all communities.”

This initiative is invaluable and we would like the mapping of opportunities to include activities aimed at improving physical as well as mental health. That would enable us to get a fully rounded picture of the health benefits of arts and culture.

Similarly, we wholeheartedly agree with the follow:

Children should have the opportunity to engage with many art forms at school: to learn how to play musical instruments, read a variety of books, write creatively, draw, paint and dance. Culture in schools helps young people from different backgrounds work and socialise together. It develops our future creative talent pipeline, but the impacts go further. The Cultural Learning Alliance has used large-scale cohort studies to demonstrate that learning through arts and culture improves attainment in all subjects with music boosting academic performance and theatre education improving reading and writing.”

The impact that engagement with art and culture has on disabled children and young people is even more dramatic. Experience in SEN schools demonstrates that it is often the tool used to teach pupils almost all aspects of the curriculum.

We agree with the Mayor that the arts have been downgraded in schools in response to growing pressures on school budgets, changes in how schools are rated in league tables and difficulties in teacher recruitment and retention. In fact, the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto was born out of a desire to tackle these challenges for disabled children and young people. The author of the manifesto is an arts practitioner for the Federation of West London Special Schools. He formed strategic partnerships with cultural organisations including The Lyric Hammersmith and The Wallace Collection to deliver a West London Inclusive Arts Festival funded by John Lyons.

The festival, which is now an annual event, demonstrates what can be achieved through strategic partnerships and how collaboration between schools and cultural institutions can be vital at a time when funding challenges preclude the necessary investment in art at school. This inspired us to draft the manifesto and it has now been signed by a range of arts and culture organisations, teachers, Peers, MPs and London Assembly Members.

Finally, we are striving towards the same vision as the Mayor:

London is a city of immense opportunity, in which every child, young person and adult deserves the chance to enrich their lives through culture. Every Londoner should feel that the capital’s cultural riches and diverse heritage belong to them; culture should not be out of reach for anyone.”

We very much hope that the Mayor will sign up to the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto and use his profile and power and profile to help champion it across the capital and beyond.

The Cultural Inclusion Manifesto

For more information please contact Rachael Christophides on 07968 194385 or

Rachael Christophides
Rachael Christophides
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