Autograph Gallery, London: On adapting our Family SEND Workshops for Lockdown, April 2021

At Autograph we focus on exhibiting and publishing photography, which explores issues related to identity, diversity and human rights. We are strong advocates for representing and including people who are marginalised and have built our organisation around supporting those who have historically been excluded from participating in the arts.

In 2017, we joined a radical UK-wide project highlighting the extraordinary contribution neurodiverse people make to art and culture. The EXPLORERS Project, initiated by Project Art Works in Hastings, led to us rethink how we deliver our exhibitions, events and learning activities. Alongside, we thought through ways that we could be a more accessible and inclusive organisation for families with children with SEND.

We took time to speak to parents who often felt excluded from both gallery spaces and the family activities on offer. They told us they wanted specific activities designed for children with SEND in mind. We learned there was an experience gap between events in cultural spaces labelled as ‘inclusive’, and the reality families often found on arrival. These families wanted safe, fun and welcoming activities their entire family could enjoy: an opportunity for siblings with and without disabilities or complex support needs to creatively express themselves.

Autograph worked with artist-educator Katriona Beales to develop a new, monthly workshop programme. Informed by ideas of child-led creative play, activities full of sensory experimentation were developed for families. We watched the programme grow in popularity, with families returning to workshops time after time.

Then when the pandemic struck, we diverted our attention to the postal service! We commissioned Katriona to reimagine the workshop activities as a vibrant art kit that could be mailed to families. The art activities were adapted with an emphasis on fun, self-care, well-being and positive mental health – doing what we could to help reduce the anxiety, isolation and boredom of lockdown. Bursting with high-quality art supplies and hand-illustrated worksheets, our Family SEND Art Kits were posted free of charge to 20 of the families who regularly joined us at the gallery workshops.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive and full of excitement as families send us their snaps of the Art Kit in action. We’ve made the worksheets and make-along videos available to download and watch through our website, for any other families who want to take part. Find them here:

We are hoping to be able to run our physical workshops at our gallery in Shoreditch, London again later this year. If you’d be interested in attending, please sign up to our Family SEND newsletter for updates.

You can also follow Autograph on Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England. Autograph’s Family SEND programme is also supported by City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, City Bridge Trust.

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