Inclusive Play with ‘Embracing Arts’

Matthew Davidson
January 16, 2024

Hi everyone, we are Embracing Arts, a company dedicated to producing inclusive theatre-based experiences that are accessible to all! Originally founded by West End performers and experienced facilitators Sue Appleby and Claire Sundin. Our work sprung from a shared passion for delivering high quality theatrical experiences to children with a range of care, educational and access needs.

Our journey started with our annual festive project, ‘Christmas for Kids’ (C4K) which, since 2009, has played across the UK with interactive sensory shows to children with complex care and educational needs, as well as those with life-limiting illnesses. In 2020, due to Covid safety requirements, we adapted our in-person show into a 40-minute digital film full of opportunity for interaction and live sensory facilitation. This was such a hit with our audiences, that our next digital show reached an estimated 2,885 beneficiaries, our largest outreach to date. The project currently serves over 140 children’s hospices and SEND schools UK-wide. Throughout the 12 years of our touring work with ‘Christmas for Kids’, we have received brilliant and constructive feedback that has taught us how best to adapt work to a vastly diverse audience; with beneficiaries from 0-18y/o often falling into PMLD, ASD and SEND groups.

One comment we regularly received from beneficiaries was that our work is so wonderful at Christmas time, but access to similar material year-round was very difficult to find. We heard about the lack of provision of inclusive parties for families and the SEN community as well as accessible workshops for schools – particularly for children with the most acute complex needs, and so Embracing Arts Parties & Workshops were born! Over time we have developed a successful facilitation approach that is organic and takes its audience’s lead: centring around intensive interaction and guided by sensory storytelling. Staff feed back to us that they gain new techniques, tools and knowledge from participating in and observing our work.

We have found that by basing our workshops and parties around Sensory Storytelling, we can engage and encourage communication, interaction and exploration. Successful elements are repetition, familiarity and sensory stimulation through the mediums of light, music, vibration, textiles, puppetry and instruments. We find that this range of stimulation gives opportunity for ALL to engage, and yes that does include the staff and adults! We strongly believe that there is always an avenue to connect with the human being sitting in front of us – we simply have to consider our approach.

A particular challenge we faced, in light of the COVID pandemic, was how to continue providing inclusive work for our isolating audience. We settled on the creation of digital content, in the form of virtual parties and classes as well as online filmed content, available to watch at our beneficiaries leisure. We noted significant benefits to this medium: an unlimited maximum audience capacity at no extra cost to us, the versatility of the viewing experience – providing the opportunity to re-watch particular moments that children engaged most with, and a whole new level of accessibility for beneficiaries who struggle to make it out of the house to access activities.

The main factor we considered was the lack of our “in-person presence” with our beneficiaries, particularly the loss of us being a facilitation tool to bring our shows to life for them. In order to mitigate this, we produced resource packs and videos to accompany our work. These packs included social stories, how-to-guides on making sensory props out of household items and, most importantly, guidance for parents, carers, teachers and family members on how to interact with and facilitate our work.

The response to our digital output has been wonderful, with many noting specifically the benefits they found in watching the content at home in a familiar setting. We also received comments on how brilliant it was to be able to interact and engage, albeit digitally, with others after isolating for so long. Additionally, we found that, through the provision of our resource packs, we were able to offer parents, carers and teachers the opportunity to develop their knowledge and confidence in sensory facilitation and storytelling; skills which they could then use to create their own content and activities at home.

In 2022, we are finally able to tour and visit venues ‘in person’ again, however we aren’t leaving the lessons we learnt from the pandemic behind…

We are starting small, producing a 20-venue live tour of a brand-new show in the South East of England, where we are based. Alongside this, we will be reworking our 2020 Digital C4K show, ‘Benson’s Christmas Letter’, and releasing a new version of it in December. We are acutely aware of the need for both live and digital platforms for our work and, moving forward, we will be employing a blended delivery for our productions and services.

We want to connect with as many children, families, schools and hospices as possible and, drawing on our experiences throughout the pandemic, as well as ten years of touring original shows prior to that, we feel more confident than ever that we can honour our mission to ‘make inclusive arts accessible for all’.

For more information on our 2022 plans, and to book an EA Workshop, Party or C4K show please visit our website embracingarts.org.uk.

The SEN Expert offers a range of services for young people, families and schools. We offer support for parents to help navigate the complex world of Special Educational Needs. We will work with you closely to ensure the best for your child.

The SEN Expert was set up by Claire in 2021 following a successful career spanning 12 years in school improvement, special educational needs, safeguarding and the arts.

Claire has worked as a Deputy Headteacher, Assistant Headteacher, Consultant and SENCO in both state and private schools in inner city London, the Southwest, the Midlands and the USA.

Throughout her career, Claire has ensured solid outcomes for the young people she has worked with. Be that a set of good exam grades, a placement in specialist setting or getting a part time job.

Claire is a working mother, and understands the challenges parents face trying to ensure their children are happy and successful. We aim to provide young people with a creative route to the personal and professional adult life they deserve.

Claire sits outside a café with a laptop

SEN consultancy
with a difference.

We offer support for families, children, and schools to navigate the complex world of SEN.

Check out our full list of services at our website www.thesenexpert.co.uk or follow us on Instagram @senexpert for daily advice on special educational needs.

The SEN Expert is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 13523478.