As part of the Inspiring Futures programme, Shape’s youth team was approached to help a proactive team of youth workers in Barnet, London, in their efforts to develop the vocational skills of their members.

For three months last autumn (2015), artist and film maker Ben Fredericks was working with a group of young adults with multiple learning disabilities. All are members of the youth organisation DALO. The workshops were focused on the participants’ ambitions for their future careers. Ben tells his story here:

I was aware from my own previous experiences the struggle and difficulties caused by having low aspirations when you are young and disabled, especially when trying to get motivated to work.

The challenge for myself was how I would inspire a group of young adults, most of whom have never been in work before. I thought that a creative tool was needed, to stimulate their interest using mixed media techniques: ie a combination of art, drama, and photography; and to bring the concept of ‘working’ into the sessions.

Participant visualising a career as an orchestra conductor

By allowing a creative environment to blossom, in which their ambitions could manifest themselves, I was hoping that this would allow the participants to think about what work actually is. The idea was to get the participants to think about what they would like to do (in life and at work) enabling them to imagine themselves in an artistic recreation of these ambitions.

To get started, I asked participants to reflect on their lives, and think about their everyday connections, looking at professionals, parents, friends etc - and to find out what jobs they do, to spark motivation.

This enabled me to provide them with printed images of chosen professions for inspiration, and given materials to draw how this job would be like, and what it might look like. They also explored images on the internet and went back to their drawings and images to create collages and combine the images in their own ways.

Once they had created their images or drawings of 'work', then each of them had to embody the job, taking on the actions and posture physically about what this work would require. This allowed them to explore the idea of work practically through creative and moving ways.

Image of a participant's work

Through the processes of mind mapping, drawing, collage, arts and drama, the participants started to take more ownership of the whole process of depicting their career choices. Alongside learning and practising varied artistic techniques, I believe that the workshops also gave them both hard and soft skills and aspirations for the future. Apart from being footballers, nurses or electricians, they also considered being orchestra conductors, cinema ushers, designers, shop managers.

Although some of the ambitions for work might seem impossible to gain in reality (how many people actually become an orchestra conductor?), the act of exploring such fields is a very positive activity - and increases the range of possibilities that can open up in the future. As one of the participants said:

“I feel that I got a lot out of the workshop with Shape, it built my confidence to become an artist.”

Overall, from exploring these different occupations with the group, I was pleased to see that the creative job roles and similar future career prospects had a good place in their imaginations. Jamal, one of the youth workers at DALO, commented: 

“The participants were definitely moved, especially as the project explored their future career goals, a question that has never been asked to them before, purely because of their disabilities.”

 It would have been brilliant to have had the opportunity to explore further and create more sessions. However I am glad that some young adults whose experiences of arts are limited were given access to a variety of forms and techniques to explore their choices.  I agreed with the youth group leaders that the workshop was a success, and hopefully we can bring together more such workshops in the future.

To continue our work inspiring young disabled people through arts engagement, you can visit our Inspiring Futures programme and support our youth campaign. Please visit:

Banner Image:  A participant at a DALO workshop.