Twice a year, venue leaders and colleagues in the house network are welcomed to a gathering at which there are keynote speeches, discussions and panels exploring issues affecting them and their venues. These gatherings are often influential enough to inspire change. Annie Smith, Arts Lead Officer at The Old Town Hall in Hemel Hempstead reflects on how a house network meeting in March 2018 gave her the confidence to take some small steps towards improving venue accessibility.
Nod, Smile, Agree… Act: an honest conversation about inclusion within the arts
So I rock up to another house network meeting. Always enjoyable, always interesting and informative, always meeting like-minded, inspiring people, always lovely to see the house team. Plus I get out of the office for a day, yessss – *makes small fist action*.
But do I/we skip away from these meetings feeling motivated and inspired, and then get bogged down with the day-to-day once back at work? Is it business as usual, all forgotten, or at least pushed to the side of the desk for ‘when I have time’? Do I/we act on what we’ve learned, or is it just ‘nice’ to talk about, feeling fulfilled and worthy – for a day?
‘A toilet with a basin in the cubicle is best’, says Producer, Jolie Booth, who introduces a new access and inclusion guide at the network day. I think, ‘Mmm, we have two disabled toilets with basins’. I speak with a colleague back at base, she prints and laminates a sign: and, wham! It’s done. We now have gender-neutral toilets, too. We welcome everyone.
Adam Taylor from The Garage in Norwich recalls how they checked that their alarm pulls in the toilets reached the floor. I get back and check our alarm pulls. Oooh, not all of them reach the floor. It goes straight on the summer jobs list for our technician. Pow!
Martin Prendergast from the National Theatre tells us they have set diversity targets. Surely we can do that, too, can’t we? I tell my boss I’d like to work on an Inclusion and Diversity Strategy for our venue. I ask a colleague if she wants to help, and she says yes. We are making a start. Zap!
Discussions are happening within the team, awareness is increasing, and we are working on improving our Access webpage.
There are small actions we are making now which are leading to bigger ideas that will take time. Thanks to those that spoke at that house network meeting for the seeds they have planted. It’s all about the little things that grow.
Annie Smith, Arts Lead Officer, The Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead