Michael Price, award-winning composer of Sherlock and Hot Fuzz, is this year serving as co-producer at Allsorts: an arts-based programme tailored for adults with learning disabilities, now in its third year.
Allsorts was dreamt up by Heart n Soul, an award-winning creative arts company that provides people with learning disabilities a space to develop their skills and share their ideas. It has become an integral part of the community in Deptford as most of its events take place in The Albany theatre. “We’ve been in The Albany for 27 years now,” communications manager Sandra Reynolds told Eastlondonlines. “We’re part of the brickwork!”
Before getting involved with the project, Price said in a blog post: “Any notion you might have had about patronising ‘entertainment’ being put on for people with learning disabilities is quickly blown away as you realise that at every level in the organisation, it’s the people with the disabilities who are leading the whole event.”
Eastlondonlines visited The Albany, where Allsorts is held every Thursday. A session is held with people from different parts of the creative industry each week. This week, a group went to Mudchute City Farm to record sounds, while the participants that stayed back at The Albany immersed themselves in smells and spoken word.
Both Michael Price and Helen Lolljee, the main co-ordinator of the programme, were excited to talk about Allsorts and the kind of feedback they get from participants.
As its name suggests the programme is for “allsorts” of people. Participants range from anywhere between 15 and 50 years of age and it is clear that everyone gets along well. “The most feedback we get is that people come here and they really feel they can be themselves. There’s no pressure or stress,” Lolljee said. “I don’t think you can put a price on that.”
Price is also full of praise for Allsorts and the staff of Heart n Soul. He first learned about it through his publisher, who found out Price himself has a nephew with Down’s Syndrome and invited him to spend some time at the Squidz Club.
“[It’s] where the whole of The Albany is transformed into a sort of night club. In an instant, it looked like the kind of place where in a few years when my nephew turns 18, I would love for him to come and be a part of,” he explained.
“The activities are thoughtful and high quality in a sense that nothing that is done here is “dumbed down” for anybody. It’s incredibly different and empowering. “
After being impressed by Heart n Soul the first time, Price became involved in a couple of external programmes, including a radio series. After a while, he was asked to co-produce this season of Allsorts, “The Listening Season”, with Lolljee.
“It’s a real honour… I was thrilled, and a little terrified, because it’s such a responsibility. There’s already a heritage of great seasons from before, and they are great, massive, jolly-clown shoes to fill!” he said.
“[But] as soon as we started to talk and I started to understand that the only limitations to what we could do were really only what we placed on ourselves, this has been one of the most enriching and eye-opening and soul-enhancing things I’ve ever done.”
This is not the first time Loljee has heard such positive feedback from an outsider. Those who have worked with Allsorts in the past have consistently praised the experience.
“I think people are really worried about how to be with people with learning disabilities, because they just don’t have the experience,” she said. “[Our] advice is just be yourself. Treat people how you want to be treated, equally, and your experience will be lovely. It’s about taking away the fear factor that comes with being around people who are different and there is no fear here.”
Price added: “I think as an outsider, one of the things that’s so life-changing is that it makes you question your own assumptions. The segregation that may be associated with certain kinds of disabilities and community arts is just not present here at all.”
“I would suggest that I’m one of the people in this room who has learnt the most in the past few years – I’m not coming in as an expert to impart my wisdom and walk away again. I’m enriched by this experience and that’s what all the artists that come in say. You start the day one way and you end the day changed.”