What’s Under the Iceberg?

Our director talks about how we're bringing our programme for disabled children online.

Author: Jan Lennox
Tuesday, 26 May 2020

A while ago, I was talking to someone who comes to the cinema regularly about the community programmes that Watermans does. He was amazed at how much goes on which is often unseen by the general public, and commented that what happens in the arts centre is like the ‘tip of an iceberg’.

This is true – as well as all the performances, exhibitions and film screenings that happen every day in the venue, there is as much again happening in community spaces all over the borough, and sometimes beyond. In normal times, we will be putting on large-scale, outdoor arts events every other weekend at Bell Square in Hounslow town centre. We will be working with local community groups in Feltham to put on a local festival. With the Salisbury Cafe on Beavers Estate to put up another exhibition in the cafe. With schools across the borough to bring fantastic artists to inspire young people. And bringing new exhibitions and events to Hounslow’s libraries.

One of our large-scale outdoor arts events at Bell Square, Hounslow: Ockham's Razor

One programme we have developed over many years – in partnership with Hounslow Council – is for Disabled children and young people and their families. There are workshops for all ages and abilities through the year, and especially in the summer school holidays. There are also screenings of children’s films and children’s theatre performances, which are always really popular. I think my favourite day of the year at Watermans is the day of the Christmas Party. Hundreds of children, young people and their families take over the whole cafe and restaurant downstairs for traditional party food, balloons, face painting – and always the appearance of some kind of large (puppet) animal! We’ve had polar bears, reindeer, a giant yak, you name it, over the years. And then everyone goes to see a performance of Watermans’ Christmas show. Happy days!


Our Short Breaks summer programme welcomes children with disabilities and their families to bespoke creative workshops and events

When the coronavirus crisis struck in March and the venue had to close, it was clear that we would be closed for a while. We started thinking straight away about what we could do to help our audiences and local communities. Many of you will know that our creative team have been recommending some of the best performances and films to watch online, we’ve set up a new online film club and just last week, we launched our new Online Gallery.

one of our top priorities was to try and move the programmes we do with Disabled children and young people online

But we were also very conscious that some of the communities we work with would be feeling very isolated and struggling more than usual to deal with the challenges of social distancing. We decided straight away that one of our top priorities was to try and move the programmes we do with Disabled children and young people online. But that’s not the easiest thing or the cheapest thing to do. We still wanted to use the best artists possible doing the very best projects.

We quickly pitched the idea to a couple of funders and they agreed to fund the set up of the new online programme. We were so grateful to both the London Community Response Fund and to Youth Music. Together with the Council, their funding means that we can run weekly workshop sessions and activities for children and young people of different ages and with a variety of needs. They will be able to do an online Drum Circle, like they usually do at Watermans, when everyone learns new rhythms and plays different percussion instruments together. There will be dance and movement sessions – a bit like Joe Wicks, but accessible for all children and young people. And there will be magic sessions, too – this is new so I’m hoping it goes well!

There will also be children’s theatre and dance performances streamed to families, along with conversations with the performers – just like afternoons at Watermans.

All this will start in early June and continue through the summer.

But the really great thing is that we hope to keep this going in the future. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to the venue who is able to come over for activities. But we’ve always been really conscious that some children and young people can’t always come to the venue. Some who have higher or complex needs aren’t able to travel, even locally, and some have illnesses that mean they can sometimes come to sessions but at other times, they can’t.

The really great thing about this new online programme is that when lockdown is behind us, we have a programme in place for all the children and young people who always find it difficult to get out and about. We really hope they enjoy it – and we’ll let you know how it goes.

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