Fairytale ending

15 October 2019 | West and South West England

Bradley as Henry Bowerman

Inspirational storytelling project boosts people with learning disabilities

An inspirational group of people with learning disabilities are shattering expectations about what they can achieve, through storytelling.

They perform in schools, care homes, and recently even staged a show in a packed theatre.

It is all part of a project run by Openstorytellers, a charity that works to empower and enrich the lives of people with learning disabilities and autism.

As well as performing, participants also play a full role in planning and managing their shows.

“Our members are incredibly able,” says Emma Wilson from the charity. “Not only do they perform but they will make all the arrangements. They send emails, plan trips and organise the promotional material. We see our role as facilitating, enabling and empowering this group of people. That’s what our job is about. To help them share their skills and talents and to challenge the perception of what people with additional needs can actually achieve.”

Based in Frome, Somerset, the charity also helps individuals with work and life skills, employment opportunities and run multi-sensory storytelling sessions for people with profound disabilities. They believe stories play a major role in building relationships and helping people to participate in society.

Openstorytellers have developed a community hub and regularly support 65 local people with learning difficulties and autism. One of their members is a young man called Bradley.

Emma says: “Initially Bradley would often become frustrated because he couldn’t express what he wanted to say. But storytelling has changed all that for him. He absolutely loves performing and is a natural.  For Bradley, and his friends, storytelling is an important and unique way to express themselves and who they are.

“The stories they tell, often about their own lives, reflect how they live, and what could happen. Our storytelling projects tackle the big issues, like love and loss. Telling stories connects people and helps people build friendships. It is how you build empathy. Once you tell a small story, you can go on to tell about the big things. But the main thing with Bradley is that he has been able to reflect how he has developed and changed.”

He and his peers recently researched, devised and performed the story of an 18th Century heiress, Fanny Fust,  who had severe learning disabilities. Bradley played the villain of the piece. They performed at the Merlin Theatre in Frome.

Bradley, 29, says: “I don’t get nervous performing. It feels amazing. Before I did think, why am I here sitting at home when I have these talents. Now I know I have the right to do whatever other people do. And if it wasn't for me getting involved I wouldn't know where I would be today. Stress that builds on me during the day wears off after putting on a good show.

“The person I am today would never have dreamed half of this would happen when I was at school. It helps release anger and problems I have had running through my head. Stories I tell with Openstorytellers help with everyday life and relate to things I do. I would love to do this for the rest of my life! I love performing - it's my dream job and has changed my life.”

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