About

For help explaining this page watch our explainer video

We are different.

Because how we do things is as important as what we do. 

What we do:

At a glance: 

  • We are a company of artists 
  • We are a day service for people with a learning disability
  • People express themselves with music, words, dance, song, poetry, art
  • We share stories – sometimes our own stories, sometimes the stories of others
  • Sometimes we perform to the public
  • We provide a welcoming place and a community where people can be themselves 

In more detail:

We are a place where people with a learning disability find their voice and then use it. We offer routes to self-expression, identity and creative community.  Alongside this journey of discovery, we create opportunities for that voice to be heard, through performances, conversations, self-advocacy, and real work. 

Everyone who comes here immediately BELONGS. We don’t expect people to change themselves to ‘fit in’ here. When you step through the door, you belong. Your uniqueness is our passion. 

We do not sign up to ‘outcomes’ or ‘goals’ that other people have decided SHOULD be achieved. This system of outcome monitoring and progress charts reinforces the notion that the person is not already ENOUGH. It can spread an unhelpful expectation that people need to continually improve or behave, or demonstrate learning. That is not how most adults live our lives. At OpenStoryTellers we reject this and instead rely on our creative output to show the full and purposeful roles people have here. People speak for themselves and show for themselves what being here means to them. 

How we do it:

At a glance:

  • We are activists who fight for the rights of people with a learning disability
  • We do not accept that life, health and wellbeing should be unfair 
  • We care about each other as equal members of a vibrant, artistic community – not as a ‘service users and staff’
  • We listen with our whole hearts. 
  • We do not accept that statutory funding is enough and we raise extra money so that we can do what we do.

In more detail:

We fight for change. We try to demonstrate anti-oppressive practice in everything we do. We will not be an organisation that papers over the cracks within society. When someone comes to us with a problem, we help. But we also ask “why is this problem being experienced by this person? What can we do to change that?” We may appear to be ‘just a day service’. But scratch the surface and you will find an ecosystem that challenges inequalities so that people can live lives full of expression, purpose and dignity. 

We do things for free: Our commitment to our low cost and no cost service as well as paid options is because there are plenty of people who should get financial support to come to us but don’t. 

We create employment: From creative consultants, to peer advocates, to supported internships, we create real work, with real pay and real contracts.

We step outside of our box: Pigeon productions allows us to do work that addresses unfair inequalities facing people with learning disabilities. This might working to shine a light on avoidable deaths, or promoting the rich diversity of lives under the umbrella of ‘learning disabilities’.

Why we do it:

At a glance:

  • For most people with a learning disability things are much better these days 
  • But life can still be very unfair 
  • People with a learning disability are still more likely to be poorer; in insecure housing; not have romantic and sexual relationships; have worse health; and die younger
  • We believe things can and will get better 

In more detail:

Gone are the days when people with a learning disability themselves were considered the problem – problems to be locked away in institutions, or worse. There is much to celebrate within the lifetimes of many people who come to OpenStoryTellers. But in recognising the progress that has been made, we mustn’t turn away from the unacceptable truths of our modern world. Systemic inequality is real. If you have a learning disability, your job status, your mental health, your likelihood of being a victim of a hate crime, or just of being in a romantic relationship…. All these outcomes are significantly worse for our community.   

And ‘our community’ is a deliberate choice of phrase. It is largely made up of people who have a learning disability. But it includes those of us at OpenStoryTellers who do not have a learning disability – all of whom are signed up to being active allies. We have the privilege not to experience inequality in the same way, and we choose to use that privilege to do whatever we can to make things better.  

 

Active allyship:

What does it mean to be an active ally? An active ally does not have a learning disability but cares a lot about people who do and the unfair things that society creates for them. It means that even though they are not on the receiving end of the unfair things, they choose to help make the world a better place. It means understanding that, as person without a learning disability, they are not unfairly treated in the same way and they can use their position to help make things better. 

We keep the arts and creative expression at the heart of everything we do. But as an organisation funded by and for people with a learning disability, we are proud of our fierce commitment to operating in a way that directly challenges unacceptable inequalities. 

We do not waste time waiting for others to change. Instead, we are changing ourselves so that we can be a working example of innovation in services for people with a learning disability.   

We do not expect or require people with a learning disability to want to campaign and fight against structural inequalities that they (knowingly or not) face on a day to day basis. We do that for and with them, at times championing their own voices, at other times doing the fighting for them. This is active allyship.  

We chose to acknowledge our potential to be part of the problem because we are part of ‘the system’. The heart of our work will always be creative expression and performance, but we cannot ignore the wider ongoing systemic injustices.  

Real work:

We build well paid roles into our organisation – these are only for people with a learning disability. This is not ‘work experience’ or ‘a training opportunity’ – it is real work. It is the duty of any learning disability organisation to make sure people with a learning disability can work if they want to in a way that makes sense for them.

Our roles include: 

Permanent contracts: Peer mentor, Resources officer, Hub Host (job share); all national living wage. 

Creative consultants:

Zero hours contracts for artists and experts by experience, £13.27/hr (7 people with contracts at the time of writing) 

Short term project workers: Each new grant funding project has short term posts built into the grant. 

Supporting the supporters: 

Our community is happier and stronger the more we support the supporters. This includes loved ones, service managers, PAs, support workers – essentially whoever loves them or who they rely on.  

This support might be help with funding applications, training on how social services works, help problems solving and often just a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on. The people who support our artists are part of our community too.

Meet the Team

Alex

Director

Alex has 25 years experience within adult social care, as a support worker, home manager, trainer and consultant. Specialising in innovation, change and a rights based approach to support. Alex lives near Frome with her wife, her dogs and occasionally a grown up son.

Ben

Lead Creative Facilitator

Ben’s story will be told soon!

Charlotte

Social Enterprise Manager

Charlotte started out working in community arts and theatre. She qualified as a Youth and Community Worker at Reading University. She has worked for many years with children, adults and families of people with learning disabilities. She taught Storytelling, Drama and Employability at Somerset Skills & Learning for 7 years. She joined OST in 2014.

Clemma

Peer Assistant

Clemma has been a member of OST for around 12 years. As well as being an amazing Storyteller and Poet, she also now works at OST as a Peer Assistant. She helps new people feel at ease when they join the group.

Emma W

Fundraising & Finance Director

Emma joined OST in 2010 and plays a very important role ‘behind the scenes’. She comes from a commercial background. Having worked as a regional manager has broad experience of HR, health & safety and financial management. 

Emma has also volunteered, fundraised and campaigned for many charities.

Simon

Artistic Director

Simon joined Openstorytellers as a freelance dramaturge and director for our Peter The Wild Boy project…. and he stayed!

He is an illustrator, theatre-maker and performer.

He lives in Frome with his family and LOVES boardgaming.

Kate

Lead creative facilitator

Kate is an actor-musician who plays a huge number of instruments, but with varying ability! She has a Masters researching non-verbal music practice and specialises in Intensive Interaction. But mostly she is noisy…

Kat

Lead creative facilitator

Kat has a wide variety of experience as a creative practitioner and since 2018 has been working with people with learning disabilities in art
studios, drama and music groups, as well as schools. 

At OST Kat enjoys
exploring ways everyone’s creative skills can work together to create
something new.

Leah

Project worker

Leah has a broad experience as a Learning Support Assistant and a Support Worker for children and young people with learning disabilities. 

She is competent in basic British Sign Language. She used to teach baby signing to help parents aid communication with their children.

Tracey

Peer Assistant

Tracey has been a member of OST for many years. She now works as a Peer Assistant at Get Connected. 

She is very organised and has a fantastic eye for detail.

Ruth

Lead creative facilitator

Ruth joined the team in 2022. She has a background in 1:1 support and leading drama workshops for children, young adults in hospital education and people with learning disabilities.

 She is an experienced
artist and drama practitioner. 

She enjoys creating art, illustrating and relaxing at home amongst her many house plants!

Joe Gilmer

Supported Internship

Coming soon…

Ellie Burton

Supported Internship

Coming Soon…

Dora Bishop

Creative Facilitator

Coming Soon…

Trustees

Jane Flood

Trustee

Jane started out as a teacher of children with learning disabilities. After having 3 daughters she moved to the west country and began the slow and careful path to becoming a professional storyteller. 

As well as working with traditional stories since 1994, she has been involved in many community projects supporting people who are disenfranchised. She is delighted to bring this skill set to the OST team.

 

Ben Banks

Trustee

Ben has led a high-performing team of trusts and philanthropic fundraisers at Barnardo’s, is responsible for managing the social investment streams at Somerset Community Foundation and brings with him a wealth of innovative project and relationship management experience.

Ben volunteers as a Visitor for the Henry Smith Charity and plays an active role in their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. He is seeking to cultivate an atmosphere of psychological safety for all.

Claire Edgar

Trustee

Claire is a social work manager with over 20 years experience working in local government and the charity sector. With extensive previous experience in strategic roles across adult social care locally, she is also a Fromie, keen to support local groups. 

Sarah Talbot - Williams Chair

Trustee

Sarah has been a senior leader in the voluntary sector for 20+ years, working as Chief Executive of a number of disability and health organisations. 

She now runs her own charity consultancy in strategic and governance review and advice. She is an Independent Lay Member for patient engagement for an NHS CCG. She is Vice Chair and Trustee for three other charities as well as OST.

Elanor Steel

Trustee

Elanor started her working life as a support worker in Trowbridge and continued as a learning disabilities social worker in London. She devoted some time to raising 3 humans, returning to live in Frome in 2013. Since 2018 she has worked as an independent advocate. She discovered OpenStoryTellers when she volunteered on our Art Box project and enjoyed meeting some inspiring artists. Eleanor also makes and occasionally sells jewellery and loves to sing. 

Jackie Lucas

Trustee

I’m a very proud mum of four children and married to my wonderful husband of 27 years together. I have worked in the care sector for many years, recently I’ve been a volunteer for Swallows who provide amazing support for adults with learning disabilities but have now taken a position of Support Worker.

In my spare time I love spending time with my daughter Charlotte who has been with OpenStoryTellers for the best part of 16 years! In my spare time I enjoy drawing and painting.

Sally Davenport

Trustee

Coming Soon..

open Story Tellers Frome

Explainer Video

Join Joe, Ellie and Alex who will explain what is on this webpage.

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