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With acting in mind;FE Focus

Kevin Berry reports on a dramatic offer being made to young people with learning disabilities.

A unique apprenticeship in performing arts for young people with learning disabilities has been launched by mindIthe gap, a Bradford-based theatre company.

The Making Waves programme -a two-and-a-half year scheme - will be funded initially from a National Lottery grant. It will lead to a nationally-recognised qualification and the prospect of paid employment.

Starting this September, Making Waves will provide training in all aspects of the performing arts, including directing, backstage and marketing. Ten people aged between 19 and 30 will be recruited in June and they will work in mindIthe gap's HQ in Bradford. Their training will be production specific with two shows each year. The final six months will be devoted to a regional tour. Placements with mainstream theatre companies and arts organisations in West Yorkshire are being arranged.

The first apprentices will be encouraged to establish their own theatre company and the apprenticeship scheme will continue to provide recruits for the new company.

In its 10-year history, much of mindIthe gap's work has been with young adults with learning disabilities and ranges from music and theatre workshops to producing plays. The plays have toured nationally and have attracted increasingly wider audiences and positive critical attention. Tim Wheeler, the artistic director, sees the apprenticeship as a natural progression.

"The young people we work with don't have any access to formal training and so we've had to provide that," he said. "We've always wanted to find ways in which they could be included in the formal training that exists already but it is such a complex issue, such a complex problem to solve. We thought that we needed to organise the training ourselves."

He is anxious to point out that the Making Waves programme is not just another excuse for drama therapy and is certainly not a soft option. It is a serious training opportunity. His colleagues at mindIthe gap are working closely with the west and north Yorkshire branch of the Open College Network to ensure that the apprentice qualification is accredited.

The Open College Network helps with the development of vocational qualifications and gives them national status.

Anyone leaving Making Waves before completing the course will be able to take or transfer accumulated credit points and mindIthe gap has promised to provide guidance should an apprentice wish to move on. There is even help and guidance for anyone who is not selected.

"We are looking for enthusiasm for the performing arts and a desire to learn," he says. He makes no mention of talent or performance ability - willingness and commitment are much more important.

"One of the values of mindIthe gap is that we really do believe that creativity is inherent within all human beings," he adds.

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