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Jez Colborne

Jez Colborne

Musician and Performer

Jez is a learning disabled musician and performer who works independently, with Mencap and with Mind the Gap. Jo Verrent caught up with Jez the day after he had returned from a successful trip working in Canada for a week, establishing a leadership training project for learning disabled people.

What does being a leader mean to you?

Well, a leader is a person who is very confident, a person who knows what they are doing, who knows how to influence people, who knows how to show people the way, who knows how to treat people – a leader wouldn’t discriminate against anyone for instance, because that wouldn’t be very fair.

I think leadership is a very big thing. I mean I have always been led so its very nice for me now to be a leader because now I can show other people that its not scary and I’m not a scary person even though I am being a leader.

Do you think being a disabled person has helped you be a leader or made it harder for you?

Well, it depends on the situation. I know I’m seen as a big, big leader in my music [Jez has previously won the European Learning Disabled Musican of the Year award] so it doesn’t stop me there but there are big barriers if I want to run a project or get a job, then there are people saying ‘oh well, you know you have a learning disability and we don’t know what to do, and you can’t really do it’ and so on so you still get that bit of discrimination you know, but I suppose that as a leader you have to pull on through all that and you have to do what you can, to show other people that you can do your job and that you can lead.

You were on the Leading Edge programme (a leadership training programme for learning disabled people run by Mind the Gap in 2007/8), what was the main things you learnt?

Well, to be very confident. I learnt how to address people, how to dress for certain situations. With Sarah [Pickthall who provided coaching for all the Leading Edge participants] I learnt to change how I look at life. I view life in a new and positive way now. I don’t let anything get to me anymore and I look to be a leader whenever I can be. When I am at home [Jez lives in a group home with a small group of other learning disabled people] and there are no support workers there, I have to lead. For instance at night time, we are very hot on security and so now I take a lead on that and make sure everyone else plays their part in locking up and keeping us all safe. Before the coaching I was only a leader in my music, now I can put my leadership hat on whenever its needed.

Tell me more about the coaching

The thing was I took a big, big weight off my shoulders with Sarah. Before it, I used to let things get to me and upset me – comments, name calling, being bullied. Then I worked with Sarah at CentreParcs, and she came to Nottingham. She helped me look at what I wanted my life to be in the future – we mapped it out in twigs at CentreParcs and then we talked about it. She said whatever you do now, just be yourself and don’t be scared of other people; if you find them intimidating, just walk away and that’s what I do now.

What leaders do you admire?

I admire Tim [Wheeler, Artistic Director of Mind the Gap] of course, and I admire Julie McNamara who I have just worked with in Calgary, Canada. I admire you [Jo Verrent, ADA inc] and really I admire people who have kind of shown me the way, who have given me insight and who see me for who I am and I like that. I don’t have to be in a shell and I don’t have to behave in a way that some people think disabled people should – I can just be myself. A lot of people have really given me support and I known I’m in debt to them – disabled people and non-disabled people.

What’s next on your list of things to do then?

Next year holds some exciting things. I’m going to be going to Hong Kong and I’m going to be doing the music for Boo! [Mind the Gap’s next show based on the character of Boo Radley from To Kill A Mocking Bird] – a lot of things really, we’ll see what goes on. Its all kind of cool – a lot of really good things going on for me.