Changing Our Lives was commissioned by The Westminster School in Sandwell to deliver a programme of leadership development.

Working with nine young disabled people from Key Stages 3 and 4, Changing Our Lives took one of the school’s key values as a starting point:

“To ensure that pupils develop confidence, self-esteem, independence, respect for themselves and others, preparing them to be active, responsible and tolerant members of the community.”

The programme had a creative arts emphasis, as it soon became very clear that the participants had a shared passion for visual and performing arts. Changing Our Lives introduced the group to performance poetry, spoken word and digital and textile arts, whilst emphasising the themes of the programme – leadership skills, ordinary lives, inspiring others and teamwork.

A poet encouraged the students to tell the world what they are good at and how they shine. Taking the titles “I will… I won’t...I am…I have…” the group created pieces about themselves as leaders and how they can support, enable and bring out the best in their peers. Students showcased their work in front of the Headteacher and the whole school from which they received rapturous applause.

“Thank you for organising the evening. The kids absolutely loved it. Preparation for adulthood in a nutshell. I look forward to continuing to work with such an inspirational and passionate organisation”

Assistant Headteacher

Once the group were confident in talking about their own qualities, they began to research other people who inspire and lead. Students thought about issues that they are passionate about, including litter, bullying, portrayal of young people in the media and the possible dangers of social media. Together we applied verbal and non-verbal communication skills, enabling the students to speak with energy and conviction to their peers. To ensure their fellow pupils feel safe and supported in school, they created memes and banners that reflect what others can expect from the leaders within the school community. These are now proudly displayed across the school.

Reflecting the ‘ordinary life’ aspirations of Changing Our Lives, students were connected to people who work in the professions they are keen to pursue. Students experienced live recording and rehearsals of BBC Doctors, interviewed the actors and had a go at acting on set themselves. Others watched the live broadcast of BBC West Midlands News, interviewed Shafali and Mary and even had a go with a camera. Another student, who aspires to own her own cafe, worked at a local tea room where she was able to experience what it is like to run a busy business and serve customers.

Finally, some students were introduced to Akala, Hip Hop rapper, historian and writer, before his sell out show in Birmingham. They talked to Akala about themselves as young men, leaders and mentors. He imparted words of wisdom and support and later they experienced their first ever gig. Altogether a magical experience!

“Thank you for chance to go to the Akala concert it was very good music and we had great fun. I appreciated you organising it for us, it was a new experience for me and I had a great time.”

Young leader participant

What can I say about this? Basically, I don’t want it to end.”

Young leader participant