The Key Club for young people with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC)

The Key Club for young people with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC)
The Key Club for young people with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC)
The Key Club for young people with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC)

The Key Club was devised and created by Turtle Key Arts in 2003 as a response to the lack of creative activities available to young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders following the end of full time education and support from schools and colleges. At the point of transition to adulthood, aged 16 – 30 years old, during this we time we provide continuity, social contact with peers and a creative project to inspire. Currently, there are three clubs running in London, High Wycombe and Leeds but the aim is to launch new clubs around the country either managed by TKA or in partnership with them.

The Key Club ‘season’ runs for 10 months and each year is ‘themed’ (eg circus, radio, visual art) which culminates in a ‘showing’ of work created, the club meets on a Saturday for two hours once a month. The Key Club not only allows members to create great art and learn new skills, it also helps them to develop friendships and inspires confidence. Members have become independent travellers as a result of skills developed at Key Club, developed and forged friendships for the first time and it has proved instrumental in helping young people onto further education courses and into employment. The Key Club in London has been running since 2003 at Paddington Arts in Westminster but in the autumn of 2016 the club will be moving to the Lyric Hammersmith.

Description of the arts activity

The sessions start in the same way with a circle and a name game and introduction. The workshop leader is then introduced and explains the structure of that month’s workshop which runs until the break at 12.15.

Every month a different professional artist will lead the session depending on the theme for the year. We have created exhibitions, radio programmes, animation, a book, television, plays, classical and contemporary music and even circus. Depending on the theme for the year or period, different artists come in to work with the group. In 2014 Ockham’s Razor – one of the Turtle Key portfolio of companies – came in and taught circus skills and the year culminated in a circus performance that included accro-balance, trapeze and clowning. In 2016 the London group will be working with artists from English Touring Opera to write and compose a new opera that will be toured by ETO in special schools.

During the workshops there are always opportunities for working in groups, listening, taking turns, practising the usual flow of conversation and trying to stick to the subject matter. Group members are frequently doing something new, thus encouraging a willingness to try the unknown. Invariably a goal is reached. This results in a feeling of communal accomplishment. It means that when people arrive at the break they have already communicated with others, they feel positive and have something to talk about.

Details of the project participants

The participants are aged between 16 and 30 with most members joining the club before they turn 20. They all have a diagnosis of Autistic spectrum conditions, often with other communication and learning issues associated. The club is appropriate for higher functioning young people who can participate in the activities . We speak to the young people themselves or to those referring them to establish the suitability of the clubs for their needs.

Many participants come to the clubs through other Turtle Key projects for younger cohorts. We also recruit through the National Autistic Society or through local parents groups, schools and organisations. Many members also find out about the club through word of mouth. We have new applications throughout the year but we usually only take on new members in September which is the beginning of our ‘year’. In recent years we have also had many referrals through social services and other support services.

The London Key Club currently has 25 members, Bucks Key Club has 15 and Leeds has 20.

Project management

The London and Bucks clubs are managed centrally by Turtle Key Arts who plan sessions and book and train workshop facilitators for each session. The Verve club is managed by the education department at Opera North.

Each club has a club co-ordinator who is the first point of contact for members and their families or carers and a number of pastoral assistants or volunteers based on the size and needs of the group.
TKA takes great care to train all Key Club pastoral assistants, volunteers, workshop facilitators and anyone else who may come to take part in Key Club activities in the nature of autism and specific difficulties associated with ASD. Many of the workshop leaders have experience of working with people with ASD. The Key Club Co-ordinator knows the members well and contacts them before every meeting. TKA is also in regular contact with many of the parents / carers of Key Club members.

The Key Club is free to members but they are asked to pay a £10 yearly fee if they are able to which covers refreshments.

Members sign consent forms to allow use of images and film as well as use of the creative content that they produce.

Evaluation methods and findings

A very thorough evaluation of the project that was funded by John Lyons foundation is attached. This includes filmed interviews with some of the members.

The project continues to be evaluated on a yearly basis and through regular communication with the members and their families and carers through questionnaires, focus groups and telephone surveys.

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England