I’d love to work in an environment which is actively anti-disablist

Rachel Bagshaw
Blog
17/06/2021

Inclusive Cultures is part of Clore Leadership's Inclusive Leadership delivery for Arts Council England’s Transforming Leadership programme, which prioritises activities to address existing gaps in diversity in the leadership of culture.

Image description: A woman with a blonde bob in a side parting. She is sat on a chair, looking to the side with her chin resting in her hand and holding a pencil. She is in a rehearsal room.

What kind of work do you do?

I’m a few things – usually one at a time but sometimes they all come out at once! My creative practice is as a director and theatre maker which I’ve been doing for about 15 years. About 10 years ago I had some coaching and fell in love with it, so I trained and now work as a coach across the creative sector. I also work as a facilitator, particularly in the areas of wellbeing, resilience and inclusive practice. I see my practice as being at the meeting point of these three roles – they inform and feed each other, and they are all underpinned by my lived experience as a disabled person and a view of the world in which I’d like to live and work.

What do you mean when you talk about resilience?

Resilience is a word, which is getting a lot of use right now, particularly in relation to the pandemic and events of the last 18 months. Often it’s related to the idea of having personal resilience – of being strong and able to cope with whatever is thrown at us. I much prefer its application to space – to cultivating and nurturing resilient rooms, organisations and practice.  When we really embed it in our cultures then we can make space for people to be what they need to be.

To me, resilience isn’t a fixed shape – it needs to be different things in different spaces. And even on different days within those same spaces! I see it as something that is a shared endeavour – we all work together to create that resilient space. And in turn that resilient space can support us all – it’s not just about access and inclusion but rather about mindsets and tools which support everyone.

How is your practice shaped by your lived experience?

Early on in my career I didn’t think my work was shaped by being disabled. And yet so many opportunities weren’t available to me.  As peers got jobs directing in upstairs fringe venues or assisted other directors with inflexible ways of working, I began to realise that my work was being shaped by the lack of access. I wanted to make work which was accessible in every way and to bring attention to stories of people we might not always hear from. Over time, I’ve developed approaches which are about access in the rehearsal room, the coaching space, the theatre, online… I want to make my work for as many people as possible as often as possible. My focus on resilient spaces was borne out of this – I began to notice that when we make things a better shape for me they invariably improve things for everyone.

What does Inclusive Cultures mean to you? 

The programme is an opportunity to deep dive into some question which are on our minds – about future cultural spaces and leadership, about the places for Deaf and disabled people within them, about how to make sure inclusion is meaningful and not just a series of practical tick boxes. I’d love to work in an environment which is actively anti-disablist. We’re not there yet; but these sessions will hopefully offer us some thoughts on why we’re not and how we might get there in the future.

What do you think people will get from the programme?

One of the things I crave the most: space. Space to listen, think, talk and process many different approaches and challenges. In our planning sessions so far, I’m finding that space can hold so much; it can be exhilarating, provoking, scary, calm… it’s not always easy but we’re making discoveries and new paths are forming each time we meet. I think people will experience their own version of this over the group session and beyond the programme.

Rachel is a director, accredited coach and facilitator whose practice meets at the intersection of these three roles. Her work has included projects with the National Theatre, the Young Vic, Royal Opera House and the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme. She has a particular interest in access, resilience and creative practice. She is Associate Director at the Unicorn Theatre and on the board of Camden People’s Theatre.