The free Newcastle-based initiative, Arts Connect, delivered by the Arts Development Team at Newcastle City Council, has just secured funding to ensure its crucial work can continue in the city for another three-years, by gaining an Early Intervention Grant through the Children with Disabilities Team.

Arts Connect works with children and young people under the age of eighteen from Newcastle who have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The team of dedicated artists meets up with young people and brokers relationships between the young people and creative activities – including painting, drawing, photography, acting, singing and dance – that integrate disabled young people and their non-disabled peers.

Arts Connect has been serving Newcastle for over 5 years; and in that time they has delivered a series of influential projects where about 50 creative artists have worked with over 250 young people.

Arts Connect works with a number of organisations including Dance City, City Library, Laing Art Gallery, Scotswood Natural Community Gardens, Sage Gateshead, Live Theatre, Northern Stage, Tyneside Cinema and Circus Central.

One family to experience the full effects of Arts Connect are the ‘Cuthbertson’ family of South Gosforth. Meet the Cuthbertson family – Mum, Helen (a PhD research student), Dad, Anthony (a gardener), Ben (aged 13), and Sid (aged 11).

Sid and his family have been involved with Arts Connect for a number of years starting with ‘Hang out and Dance’, which is still a firm favourite and really initiated Sid’s love for dancing. Through Arts Connect, Sid has become an aspiring dancer – he loves to move and dance and his experience in this session has supported him to join a weekly Hip-hop class at Dance City in Newcastle. Sid has Autism and Arts Connect has provided opportunities for him to engage with new people in new places.

Helen Cuthbertson said: “For us, the greatest benefit has been watching Sid find activities that are about his interests and seeing him confidently engage in new things with increasing independence.

“Arts Connect can offer a starting point for children to find their own social interests. It gives them the chance to try new opportunities. Life demands a lot of children nowadays, and being able to find an interest and try things out, meet friends and share activities is really important – especially when you have additional communication or physical challenges.”

Sid has recently started taking part in a number of music activities, such as a project called “Junk Music”.  The children started by making musical instruments and working as a group to build rhythms. In the final session, the group recorded their own CD of music and vocals.

Helen continues by saying: “I feel it’s really important to give all children the chance to explore new experiences. There are so many different aspects of the arts that cut across barriers and can offer an inclusive, fun and active time.
“We’re able to see how important friendship and social interaction is for Sid, and understand him better as an individual. I believe that creative opportunities are fantastic for helping children feel connected, and I would like to think that the children and people that Sid meets through these activities will respect his place in the community as he grows up.

“Having autism can present some additional barriers to Sid accessing events and activities, he is a happy and dynamic part of our community and people can learn a lot from his enthusiasm.”

Views from the Brothers, Sid and Ben:

Sid briefly tells of what he likes about dancing [through Arts Connect]: “I like to dance so much and run about. Hang out and Dance is my favourite because I swing in the trapeze and along with my friends.”

Ben thinks it’s important that Sid has his own interests and activities. Ben commented: “Dance makes him [Sid] relaxed and he gets loads of exercise. The Hang out and Dance is like a stepping stone so he’s been able to start Hip-Hop and be more independent.”

Councillor Joanne Kingsland, cabinet member for children and young people at Newcastle City Council, said: “Art is a great way of communicating.  Young people use it as a means of expressing themselves.  The beauty being, it can be on the canvas, on the dance floor, in song or on stage – the options are endless.

“Programmes like Arts Connect always put the young people first, by putting their interests and wellbeing at the heart of the work. The results speak for themselves as families, friends and teachers are noticing the social and academic impact that introducing the arts into somebody’s life can make to their awareness, health and self-confidence.”

For further information about Arts Connect please contact Lynn Campbell by emailing lynn.campbell@newcastle.gov.uk or by calling 07906 854092.