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> > > Driving Inspiration: teams up disabled artists and Paralympians with disabled and non-disabled young people
photo of a seated audience looking at the image of an animation on a screen

Light up the World being shown at the Paralympic Flame Lighting Ceremony

Driving Inspiration – originally set up in partnership with Creative Bucks to take Paralympians and disabled artists into schools in Buckinghamshire – has been ongoing since 2009. Kristina Veasey talks about her involvement with the project.

I’ve just finished a collaborative video (please scroll to the end of the page to see video) about sledge hockey, made with young people from Oakwood School as part of Driving Inspiration. It’s been one of my most enjoyable projects to date, not least because it combines all my areas of work. 

As a Paralympic athlete, artist, participation worker and disability equality consultant I was in my element. The gains aren’t just to be had by me or by the young people involved. Driving Inspiration also encourages young people to discuss disability at a formative age in a way that schools generally fail to.

Whilst equality packs and lesson plans collect dust on a shelf at the back of the classroom, Driving Inspiration is bold and bright and there in person. It has the potential to change attitudes towards disabled people for future generations. 

Pupils spend time interviewing athletes and reflecting on the Paralympic values (determination, inspiration, courage and equality) before exploring a creative response through collaboration with an artist. 
Driving Inspiration has been running successfully for the last 7 years, ably driven by Vicky Hope-Walker. To date it has involved over 5000 young people directly and nearly 30,000 indirectly – more than any other South East Legacy project.

My first link with Driving Inspiration came through Accentuate (one of the original funders) in the run-up to the 2012 Paralympics. That year I joined animator Gary Schwartz and the pupils of a school in Bucks to give a presentation on my own experiences as a Paralympian. 

Our visit was just one part of a project that involved 500 young people from 12 countries. It resulted in the creation of Light up the World: an animation tracking the journey of the Paralympic torch around the world. It’s a great example of the quality of work mixed-ability students can make when given the opportunity and support to do so. Fantastically it went on to win the Youth Animation Award at the International Family Film Festival in Hollywood in 2013.

photo with the swimmer on the chest

Work by students at Oakwood School. Image © Kristina Veasey

A year later I visited Oakwood School as both Paralympian and artist. I was joined by judo player Ian Rose who really fired up the students interests and self-confidence. My week’s residency raised a number of things I found interesting.

Oakwood is a pupil referral unit for young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties, and some students are also learning disabled. Much of my work over the past fifteen years has been around inclusion and young people but this was the first time I was specifically using art as means of engagement around disability. Giving young people the space, time and stimulation to explore their thoughts and experiences without being judged doesn’t happen often in schools. 

I was fortunate to be able to work one-to-one, and the process was as much about talking and sharing as it was about creating artwork. In fact the creative process helped to facilitate the thinking and talking. I was very open to questions about my own life and the challenges of living with impairment, and they began to share experiences that were personal to them; ranging from being bullied, to off-road biking thrills. 

As Vicky explains "Driving Inspiration has a profoundly positive impact on the young people involved. It provides valuable role models, opportunities to talk about disability, and to reflect on personal aspirations. The work is designed in a way that can be fully inclusive to all’. It was a good way to sow seeds and get them thinking; challenging their preconceptions, drawing comparisons, and celebrating difference. 

“This has been so wonderful for our children. The tactile element was a real delight for some of our pupils, and the opportunity to work alongside other young people from another school.” 
Teacher Heritage House School

The responses from teachers at the different schools have highlighted what Driving Inspiration means for the students involved, but I think the success of Driving Inspiration is that it benefits both practitioners and students, and on so many different levels. 

In terms of artwork, the pupils learn new processes, share their work with others, collaborate, practice, experiment, and enjoy creating an end product they are proud of. For myself as an artist I was able to share my work, gain confidence, share skills, and learn from the young people I worked with. 

It’s not just about the end result. Watching the students do what I considered to be very simple activities like loading a paintbrush, mixing colours or tracing an image, I appreciated the constant learning they were doing and the need for self-confidence just to have a go (and not to destroy their work before it was finished). 

As a practitioner I felt a responsibility to take care of their work, and ensure they were able to produce something they would be proud of and feel positive about. I built room for flexibility, choice, fun and self-initiative into the framework so it could be largely student-led, but also included methods that would guarantee quality presentation of their work. It stretched my thinking and set challenges I enjoyed meeting.

image of a series of red mouse puppets lined up along a shelf against a white wall

Firebirds and Sugar Mountains by Pippa North

One of the great factors of Driving Inspiration is the linking up of schools, and working towards exhibiting work at events in the Paralympic calendar. The first residency I did at Oakwood resulted in the work being displayed as banners and large wall-mounted pieces at Stoke Mandeville Stadium; the national sports centre and birthplace of the Paralympic Games.

I joined some of the students to see the work at its launch there during the National Disability Youth Games. I was just as proud as the students to see our work blown up so big, bordering the race track and hanging above the swimming pool. I spent over ten years training at Stoke Mandeville and it felt really good to have returned in a new role and still to be leaving a mark there. 

I have just completed a second residency at Oakwood which enabled me to build on the relationships I’d previously formed as well as develop new ones.

Our collaboration this time was inspired by a visit from Sledge Hockey Paralympian Mark Briggs. Mark brought with him some replica sledges that could be used by students in the sports hall, ice sledges to look at and GB kit to dress up in.

I then spent time with students doing a variety of art practices: printing, drawing, sound, photo and video editing, and stop-frame animation. Our work resulted in the video montage and soundscape which was then exhibited at the Spirit in Motion heritage flame event to celebrate the Winter Paralympics. Also displayed was work led by artist Pippa North who had been creating sugar landscapes and firebirds with Redwood School.

It was a great opportunity to share our work with the public, and the young people were really excited to have their work included at the event. It was a real shame they weren’t allowed tickets to come to the event and see it in situ. Young people seemed to have dropped off the agenda sometime during the event planning. 

As well as all the adult performers it would be great to see disabled young people really celebrated and their work included as part of the main programme. Being able to show the work gives a clear message to both young disabled people and the viewing public that disabled people have something of value to share. 

As an artist looking to further my career events like this are also important as they often hold the key to networking and future opportunities. Hearing the event speakers and organisers championing support for disabled people was a recurring theme throughout the evening, so it would be brilliant if that could be echoed in practical terms too. I know Driving Inspiration have been keen to work with the event organisers to make this happen.

I hope as Driving Inspiration continues to flourish it will create more opportunities like this for both young people and disabled artists, and gain increased support from other organisations to highlight what is a really fabulous project.