Heart n Soul’s Allsorts

Heart n Soul logo

Heart n Soul is an arts company and charity that widens opportunities for people with learning disabilities.  At Heart n Soul people with learning disabilities can take part in the arts, develop their skills and creativity, share their work and inspire others.

People with learning disabilities designed Allsorts as a place where they can try new arts activities, meet new people and have fun. 

Allsorts’ objectives are for participants to:

  • Grow in confidence
  • Develop self-esteem
  • Learn new skills
  • Be more connected with others
  • Work towards more independent lives

Description of the arts activity

Allsorts takes place seasonally over 6 weekly sessions four times a year. A diverse range of creative opportunities (ranging from circus skills, to beatboxing, life drawing to 3D printing) are on offer for people to try out. Two of the seasons are co-produced by a team of learning disabled co-producers and two seasons are co-produced by artists either new to Heart n Soul or who wish to have a deeper immersion experience with us. Recent co-producers haven included writer and performer Christopher Green, performance artist and DJ Will Dickie and composer Michael Price. One way to experience Allsorts is to watch this short video

Details of the project participants

A majority of participants are from South East London. Almost 50% are from BME communities and a high proportion from families on a low income.  An average of 40 people attend each event and over 100 attend during the year.  Many are referred by social services and support agencies.

Around 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability and they remain one of the most excluded groups in our society. They face multiple disadvantages - social isolation, poverty, unemployment and poor mental health - and have little in the way of confidence, self-esteem and ambition.

Project management

The project team consists of a manager, with the support of an event coordinator, 2 event assistants and up to 8 volunteers.  Our Artistic Director provides artistic leadership.  Allsorts is owned by its’ participants. A team of participants act as co-producers, deciding on the themes and content of seasons, hosting events and giving ongoing feedback.

Our aim is that participants with personal budgets use these to attend at a rate of £50/day, however this is often difficult due to processes and barriers within local Councils.  People not in receipt of personal budgets attend at a rate of £5/day.

Participants are at the heart of everything we do at Allsorts, with people with and without disabilities collaborating together.  We believe in the value for everyone of being present, open, creative, artist-led and loving.  We are flexible and responsive and share our experience widely.   We have strong policies and processes in place for safeguarding, health and safety, equality and diversity.  All participants complete starter forms with appropriate consents.    

Evaluation methods and findings

We gain feedback at each event and the end of each season from participants, artists, staff, volunteers, carers and families, and we track attendance and retention.  We document case studies and use photography, recording and filming to capture activities.  

In 2015 we commissioned an external evaluation of the programme by NPC Associates; and in July 2015 Allsorts was a Case Study for the NCVO Cultural Commissioning Programme.  The same year we co-hosted a learning event with the New Economics Foundation and Lewisham Council for social care and health commissioners and arts organisations.
Evaluation Findings

The external evaluation report concluded that:

Overall Allsorts provides a happy, stimulating and creative place for adults with learning disabilities to learn, relax and be with friends.  The combination of the overall ethos, the emphasis on self-esteem and enjoyment and the right community arts venue all create a unique environment which benefits all involved. Participants speak in a truly powerful way about the sense of warmth, joy and security they feel.

The report highlighted specific wellbeing outcomes:

Feeling connected, from:
Being with others
New friendships

“I feel close and connected, hanging out with new people”. Participant

Building self-esteem, by:
Growing aspirations
Speaking up for themselves
Following dreams
Learning new skills
Taking on new challenges

“Gives me a reason to get up – look forward to it.  So great to have a reason”.

Being more confident, by:
Feeling less shy
Being able to talk to strangers
Having a sense of feeling good about themselves
Being able to believe in one-self

“Made me pick myself up again and helped me believe in myself’ Participant

Creating enjoyment, from:
Stimulating and rewarding creative experiences

Influencing behavior, by:
Feeling safe and secure
Being in an open, non-judgemental and respectful environment
Experiencing equality and teamwork
Everyone looking out for each other

“Gives him a sense of balance, keeps him on an even level.  Doesn’t make him aggressive and keeps him in a good frame of mind”

Allsorts is part-funded by Lewisham Council as a key and highly valued part of their alternative day provision for adults with learning disabilities.  The creative, participative approach brings several benefits for Lewisham Council residents:

“It’s rewarding, stimulating, enjoyable and leads to enhanced well-being”
Commissioner, Lewisham Council –  NCVO case study

A recent case study of an Allsorts co-producer highlights the change Allsorts can make to wellbeing:

Everything I’ve done here is all new stuff, the biggest thing has been dancing with someone, as I would struggle with contact before.  When I was doing the salsa session I said to myself: I’m dancing with someone and I’m relaxed. I never dreamed I would conquer that. It helps me interact with people, which is where I struggle as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Case studies also show how people who have a dual diagnosis with a mental health condition can progress at Allsorts. John had previously been excluded from college and clubs, and is on a police caution.  After attending Allsorts for 6 weeks he wrote:

“ Had a great day today with Heart n Soul been going there every Thursday after Christmas and there real friends not the once and get me into trouble with the law and in trouble with people these people are like family 2 me at Heart n Soul nice people so thanks a lot guys”.

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England