Orleans House Gallery - Museums Association

Orleans House Gallery

The Octagon Club is a weekly art club for young people between the ages of 11 and 18 with a range of Special Educational Needs (SEN).

It is run by at Orleans House Gallery in Richhmond, London, in partnership with artists and SEN professionals and encourages participants to be creative and experiment with new art skills while engaging with works in our exhibitions.

The programme also gives members the opportunity to achieve an Arts Award (accredited qualification) and display their work in an exhibition at the end of term.

The club has been successfully sustained following an Arts Council England-supported project called Culture Counts, which ran from 2009-10 and piloted a multi-agency approach to developing a gallery-based programme for children with special needs.

Above all, the Octagon Club aims to empower young people with additional needs by providing a safe and inspirational space where they can develop their social skills, self esteem, self confidence and artistic techniques.

In 2014 spring term the Octagon Club focused on the idea of identity through two projects which drew inspiration from portraits in the gallery’s Rose Dempster Bonnor exhibition.

The first encouraged participants to create their own hybrid portraits by digitally manipulating photographs they had taken. In the second, club members used unusual materials, such as chocolate and sweets, to produce collage self-portraits. Their work was then collated into a printed book called “(not that) facebook”.

The extensive experience of our artist-facilitators allowed them to effectively support participants and tailor the course to suit their needs. Each class focused on a different medium, giving participants a chance to work with various materials and techniques.

Following the structure used to teach the Arts Award, tutors also supported the integration of different skills such as critique, reflection, leadership and recording results.

The gallery worked in partnership with Crofters, the disabled children’s service for the Richmond Borough, who referred participants, arranged transport and provided expert support staff for each session.

The club provided a valuable creative outlet for their service users while the gallery in turn benefited from the skill-sharing opportunity of working with such experienced SEN professionals.

Our team of volunteers and an intern, recruited specifically for this project, developed new transferable skills and a greater awareness of safeguarding for children with additional needs.

To promote the project the gallery worked with Mencap and hosted a public seminar as part of Disability Awareness Week. This event allowed it to connect with 10 different SEN focused organisations and parents of children with additional needs.

It also allowed it to promote the work of the Octagon Club to the wider community.

In addition to this the gallery ran two outreach sessions at Clarendon, a local community special school, and fostered close communications with other SEN schools in the area in order to encourage referrals. It also promoted the programme on its website, on Facebook and in local news letters.

The project was financed through match funding from Hampton Fuel Allotment Charity and Richmond Parish Lands Charity. Orleans House Gallery provided the venue, coordination and refreshments in kind.

The project was evaluated both quantitatively, by recording participation numbers and demographics, and qualitatively by having participants, their parents and carers respond to surveys designed to gauge satisfaction.

In addition to this, a parent’s consultation event took place to review the term and its outcomes. Participants also reviewed their own work during this consultation.

Feedback from participants and parents was consistently positive. Members developed a range of new skills including photography and ICT.

They also developed social skills by working closely together on projects. Gaining an Arts Award and having their work in a printed book and on display at a public exhibition, provided participants a sense of confidence, self-esteem, progress and achievement.

These public outlets also serve to raise awareness of the positive achievements made by people with learning disabilities and much of the feedback we received mentioned that the club not only benefits the young people who attend it but also their families, carers, schools and partnership organisations, providing an important and positive role within the wider community.