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Alison looks into the camera as we sit and chat about the hot seat

Alison Short

Because all good ideas start with IF! (Mind the Gap, Ideas Forum Group)

Alison Short is on our current Sync Intensives Programme. Her work with Mind the Gap as Chair of the Ideas Forum or IF group has been one of the highlights of her working life. Chairing IF has allowed Alison to explore and support what matters to her in her own life but more importantly in the lives of other young people with learning disabilities.

(Mind the Gap is an award-winning theatre company that works with learning disabled and non-disabled artists as equals.)

Alison shares some of her learning in the ‘hot seat’.

The IF group in role in Thug Dance - the movie!

Curiosity didn't kill anyone

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. (Albert Einstein)

My name is Alison Short and I’m the Chair of Mind the Gap’s Ideas Forum or IF.

IF is a group of five young people with learning disabilities who come up with ideas and talk together about the kind of work Mind the Gap. The group discuss ideas and the meeting is recorded by a member of staff. What's important about the meeting is that everyone is heard.

As Chair, I never stop questioning. How can you lead without taking over? How can you chair without being bossy? How can you get things done, have fun and be taken seriously? And how can you hand the responsibility over to someone else?

Click here to see the IF group at the Ways of Looking Conference October 2011

Talking it about together!

What interests me in being chair of IF you might ask? I like the thinking behind the Ideas Forum, or 'IF' as we call ourselves.

We say all great ideas start with great questions and curiosity 'what if?' As Chair, it’s important that I don’t feel like the boss, or behave like the boss. It’s not about that – it’s about putting an idea up in the air and then talking about it together.

The way I lead as a Chair supports and develops other people to have their say. I think I do this well because I am someone who has been on the receiving end of bullying at school and there are times in my life when I’ve been too quiet and then other times when I’ve spoken too much. It’s hard to get the balance right.

I know first hand that many people with learning disabilities find it difficult to speak up because they are told to be quiet, or have been bullied along the way.

That's why we started our I’m with Stupid project looking at how the media show young people; especially young people with learning disabilities. They are shown as helpless and defenseless, which is not true.

If the media make people think this way about people with learning disabilities then surely bullying is more likely to happen? I know what bullying feels like and because of that, it’s important that I put the life of others before me and do everything I can to stop this happening.

Our big IF group project
One of Andy Kee's Oska Bright Trophies 2011

Getting everyone on Board

Alison is fearless. Alison took to chairing the meetings with real commitment and understanding. She brings clarity and fairness to the role. Her leadership skills and experience are growing all the time and thanks to Sync she has the opportunity to share with others who are helping to shape the future of equality in the arts. (Tim Wheeler, Mind the Gap)

There are big chunks of my life that I can’t remember but my first memory was kissing a boy at the kissing gate at school when I was 5. He was a loner. I felt real compassion for him but it was important to make him feel included, even though I was teased after I’d done it.

I think being a good Chair is about making sure that everyone has a fair say and feels included and being fearless. I don’t use kissing now, but I do make sure that people feel welcome and heard. Who helps me to keep on track with this? The staff at Mind the Gap support me to do this job and I have the wise words of my mum. It’s good to find people around you to help you in your work.

My mum was the one who told me that it was very easy to pass over someone and not listen to their opinion and that means we need to take time to be in the meeting together and really take on board someone’s opinion – even if it is different from our own. Getting every one on board! I like that. Thinking about it, is a bit like Sync Intensives – we are all very different but we share some things.

For me it was interesting to find someone in our group of 10 with epiliepsy like myself, but also a very different way of living with it and talking about it.

I’m no fool. Listening is one thing, but it’s also very important to me that we keep to deadlines and do our job: finishing our meetings on time. So, it’s a balancing act, but one I really enjoy. You have to use a mixture of soft and hard ways of doing things to get things done!

a multicoloured picture of brain waves

Brain Waves

I'd like to think that I could have still been the Chair with memory loss and different speech. (Alison Short)

I think my experience has given me the ‘edge’ in my role as Chair . I have has autism and epilepsy and I had major surgery for my epilepsy in October 2006.

Before the surgery, I remember having two days of tests for the doctors to see different parts of my brain's activity. A Wada test showed that both sides of the brain controlled my speech, so I wouldn't lose all my speech in a worse case scenario! I'd have liked to think i could have still been a Chair whatever the outcome of the surgery.

No one was quite sure what was going to happen to my memory and my speech. The fear was more for my memory: how much would I remember and for how long?

I got through the surgery, i lost some memory. How does it affect me? What I don’t always have now is the full picture. I constantly have to check how I’m coming across. I can be a mixture of shy but also very outspoken but this situation makes me better because I have to focus more. It’s a good thing.

Double Take

Opening people’s minds to another side of the story is a great thing. (Alison Short)

I’m proud of the work that the IF group has been doing. We played a part in the recent Ways of Looking Photography Festival in Bradford.

One of our films, Thug Dance was nominated for an Oska Bright Award this year and I went to the awards ceremony in Brighton in November.

I think it was nominated, because it had a lovely little twist in it – a double take, where something happens that you're not expecting. It's amazing what the sound of an icecream van will do! The moral of the story - don't judge a book by its cover.

Opening people’s minds to another side of the story, showing people how they really are is what we're all about. We are all so quick to judge each other in life.

Watch Thug Dance here

Dealing with Disappointment

Always look on the bright side of life. (Monty Python)

Another thing about this was that I didn’t get my hopes up too much. There were a lot of tears in the audience when people didn’t win. I controlled myself before hand. I was going to choose how I felt about it. I didn’t get too disappointed when we didn’t win one of Andy Kee’s Oska Bright trophies.

To be shortlisted for an International festival was more than good enough and I got a chance to dress up for the ceremony which was really lovely. You have to see how far we’ve come and not just what other people think. Winning is just one moment in time. It’s not everything. I think we can all forget that. We all get so caught up in winning, but it’s taking part.

Out of disappointment there is lots to learn. It made me realise that we are part of something bigger, that people with learning disabilities are making really good film work these days and we’re now going to go away and make even more films and projects that show just what we can do, leading the way on this one.

It’s important to keep trying harder. Take a look at the winning film crew and some of their work. Well done Surf Club Movie Makers.

uScreen Best Young Film Maker Award winners Surf Club Movie Makers, London Restless Dance Company

Taking a back Seat

At 23 years, I know I’m not getting any younger. I will have to hand over the reins of Chair to someone else in a few years time.

We can still keep on track perhaps do even better if we change who’s in the Chair! It doesn’t belong to me. Nothing is fixed. I’m excited to look at how I do a slow handover.

We’ve still got a lot to do as people with learning disabilities get bad press. We still must go on and on about the fact that people with learning disabilities can have successful lives. Look at Einstein – he was a great success and his brain gave birth to the theory of relativity and he was on the Autistic Spectrum!


Please add a comment below.


jez colborne

i have known alison for years now she has helped me through the bad times like heartbreak and such i love her to bits as she has been through the same thing as me so now we are a couple at the moment she can be pleased that i love her whole heartedly we are like the same in some ways. like alison a was also involved in sync so a big lot of love from me and iwas also bulled at school and at collage god bless her


Rita Marcalo

I was just re-reading this piece of your Alison. Love it!

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